It's been the subject of campfire stories for decades. A camera-elusive, grooming-challenged, bipedal ape-man that roams the mountain regions of North America. Some call it Sasquatch. Others know it as Bigfoot.
Thousands of people claim to have seen the hairy hominoid, but the evidence of its existence is fuzzy. There are few clear photographs of the oversized beast. No bones have ever been found.
Countless pranksters have admitted to faking footprints. Yet a small but vociferous number of scientists remain undeterred. Risking ridicule from other academics, they propose that there's enough forensic evidence to warrant something that has never been done: a comprehensive, scientific study to determine if the legendary primate actually exists.
"Given the scientific evidence that I have examined, I'm convinced there's a creature out there that is yet to be identified," said Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University in Pocatello.
Thousands of Sightings
Sasquatch stories go back centuries. Tales of mythical giant apes lurk in the oral traditions of most Native American tribes, as well as in Europe and Asia. The Himalaya has its Abominable Snowman, or the Yeti. In Australia, Bigfoot is known as the Yowie Man.
Bigfoot advocates hypothesize that the primate is the offspring of an ape from Asia that wandered to North America during the Ice Age. They believe there are at least 2,000 ape men walking upright in North America's woods today....
Now, Bigfoot advocates are increasingly turning to forensic evidence to prove the existence of the giant creature.
Investigator Jimmy Chilcutt of the Conroe Police Department in Texas, who specializes in finger- and footprints, has analyzed the more than 150 casts of Bigfoot prints that Meldrum, the Idaho State professor, keeps in a laboratory.
Chilcutt says one footprint found in 1987 in Walla Walla in Washington State has convinced him that Bigfoot is real....
"The bottom line is, they don't have a body," said Michael Dennett, who writes for Skeptical Inquirer magazine and who has followed the Bigfoot debate for 20 years.
Bigfoot buffs note that it's rare to find a carcass of a grizzly bear in the wild. While that's true, grizzlies have not escaped photographic documentation....
By Marguerite Holloway
for Scientific American
November 19, 2007
Sasquatch is just a legend, right? According to the evidence, maybe not, argues Jeffrey Meldrum--a position he holds despite ostracism from his fellow anthropologists and university colleagues
One overcast Sunday morning in 1996, Jeffrey Meldrum and his brother drove to Walla Walla, Wash., to see if they could find Paul Freeman, a man renowned in Bigfoot circles as a source of footprint casts.
Meldrum—who has followed Bigfoot lore since he was a boy—had heard that Freeman was a hoaxer, "so I was very dubious," he recalls. The brothers arrived unannounced, Meldrum says, and chatted with Freeman about his collection. Freeman said he had found tracks just that morning, but they were not good, not worth casting. The brothers wanted to see them regardless. "I thought we could use this to study the anatomy of a hoax," Meldrum says. Instead Meldrum's visit to a ridge in the Blue Mountains set him firmly on a quest he has been on since.
Meldrum, an associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, is an expert on foot morphology and locomotion in monkeys, apes and hominids. He has studied the evolution of bipedalism and edited From Biped to Strider (Springer, 2004), a well-respected textbook. He brought his anatomical expertise to the site outside Walla Walla. The 14-inch-long prints Freeman showed him were interesting, Meldrum says, because some turned out at a 45-degree angle, suggesting that whatever made them had looked back over its shoulder. Some showed skin whorls, some were flat with distinct anatomical detail, others were of running feet—imprints of the front part of the foot only, of toes gripping the mud. Meldrum made casts and decided it would be hard to hoax the running footprints, "unless you had some device, some cable-loaded flexible toes."
To Meldrum, the anatomy captured in those prints and the casts of others he has examined as well as still unidentified hairs, recordings of strange calls and certain witness testimonials all add up to valid evidence that warrants study. He reviews that evidence in Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science (Forge, 2006). "My book is not an attempt to convince people of the existence of Sasquatch," the 49-year-old Meldrum says emphatically; rather it argues that "the evidence that exists fully justifies the investigation and the pursuit of this question."
To Meldrum's critics—including university colleagues and scientists in his own field—that same collection does not constitute valid evidence, and Meldrum's examination of it is pseudoscientific: belief shrouded in the language of scientific rigor and analysis....
National Geographic also has a well-done special on the subject, The Truth Behind Bigfoot
Believers in the massive creature claim he's half man, half primate and roams the Pacific Northwest. Join a team of experts as they use advanced scientific analysis to investigate the phenomenon to reveal what's science, and what's science fiction. Follow along as we break down one of the most controversial pieces of evidence... a 40-year-old film that many believe is actual video of the apelike being.
The state-of-the-art analysis of the Roger Patterson film is quite impressive, although skepticism will remain, obviously. I am reminded of the same skepticism as concerns the mountain gorilla, described by native Africans for centuries but pooh-poohed by European scientists--until it was eventually found by them. These scientists likewise contended that nothing that big could have escaped notice or not left behind physical artifacts.
The History Channel also weighs in with a special featuring a panel of scientists in relevant fields, both skeptical and supportive, Bigfoot A Definitive Guide:
A team of top scientists come together with one goal: to create the definitive guide to Bigfoot. Does the creature exist? And if it does where is it? And how can it survive without being detected?
Using a new interactive map the team has plotted more than 10,000 Bigfoot type sightings from around the world. These sightings are of an unidentified creature which walks on two legs and is covered in a thick layer of hair. Many of theses sightings date back over 100 years. With their expert knowledge of the natural world they are able to dismiss nearly 90% of the sightings, but what emerges is a series of global hotspots that cannot be explained which indicate that something is out there.
The team examines these global hotspots and searches for explanations including new theories that suggest we may have been looking for the wrong creature all along?
Whatever the truth, the stories surrounding Bigfoot and other such hominids around the world for hundreds of years are certainly fascinating, as are the other aspects of this investigation.
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