Thursday, October 17, 2013

Where are the Cryptoarcheologists?

Yeah, yeah, yeah...the hot Bigfoot news today is the report that studies of DNA samples taken in the High Himalayas indicate that a previously unknow species of brown bear might be the source of Yeti sightings.  Not surprising - Big Foot sightings and bear sightings in North America seem strikingly similar.  If you want to read about that, check out the news here.  

But as I see more and more episodes of "Finding Bigfoot" and get wind of new "Squatching" clubs cropping up, I have a simple question to ask: where the hell are the cryptoarcheologists and cryptopaleontologists?  

In the world of science it works like this: if you want to discover a new species, you have two choices: 1) find it in nature or 2) find its fossil remains.  We already have cryptozoology - the search for "living" legendary creatures.  So where are the researchers looking for these creatures in the fossil record?  It's pretty clear that Bigfoot is an elusive guy - finding him in the woods is a moving target.  That hasn't worked out so well.  But he's not immortal - he has to die.  Even if he scatters the remains of his dead, they're going to turn up eventually.  Cryptozoologists like to famously proclaim that "no one finds bear bones in the woods."  OK.  I don't think that's true...but even if it is, we sure as hell find bear bones in the fossil record.  

And we sure as hell find the remains of gigantic primates in the fossil record, as well.  In 1935 Ralph von Koenigswald turned up the first known fossils of the mega-ape Gigantopithecus in an apothecary shop. Where are the researchers scouring the riverbanks of the Pacific Northwest for washed out Bigfoot teeth or combing through museum collections for anomalistic fossils? This is an aspect of Squatchology that has always bothered me, for a rather simple reason: I don't think Bigfooters, deep down, actually take what they're doing seriously.  This especially includes those who have actual scientific training.  Two of the leading lights of cryptozoology over the past century have been men with university training in physical anthropology: Grover Krantz and Jeff Meldrum.  Admittedly neither of these scholars are "fieldmen," but their professions rest on the work of analyzing data extracted from the environment.  Without "physical" remains, "physical" anthropology has no work to do.  It has always struck me as irresponsible on the part of these researchers to approach the question of Bigfoot without access to the kind of evidence upon which their professional opinion would necessarily be based.

Forget about the dodgy folklore upon which Bigfootery rests and approach this question as a matter of serious scholarship.  Like a police investigation, other than establishing a claim, it is a waste of time to rely on witness testimony as a source of objective cryptozoological evidence.  Here's an example of why this fails.  If someone comes to the local university's paleontology department and describes the bones of a new species of dinosaur that they have found on their property the paleontologist is not going publish a paper establishing this new species based on that information alone.  The researcher is going to want to go to the site, examine the evidence for themselves, examine the remains, and perform an objective analysis.  WITHOUT ACCESS to those remains there's nothing for the researcher to do but stay in their lab - otherwise they're merely adding to the extant body of dubious folklore by putting themselves on the record.  In other words, it's the remains that speak - not the expert.  All the opinons of all the physical anthropologists in the world matter nothing, if those opinions have no foundation in evidence upon which to rest.   

This is why I doubt the sincereity of so-called Bigfoot researchers - even those with professional training. They know better.  They know that without physical evidence they have no work to do.  Sure, Meldrum's interest in footprints brings him a bit closer to the realm of seriousness, but without understanding the means by which that print was created, that evidence is little better than worthless.

In fact, a serious Bigfooter - as opposed to someone trying to get on TV, earn publicity for themselves, or simply having fun with their buddies in the woods, would spend their time doing what Raymond Dart, Ralph von Koenigswald, the Leakey family, Donald Johanson, and a whole host of anthropoligsts and archaeologists have done to better understand our human origins: dig for the remains.  By digging, I don't just mean in the ground.  Diggers have been pulling fossils out of North America for close to two hundred years by now.  A serious Bigfooter would begin their search for evidence in the collections of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History or the American Museum of Natural History.  If Bigfoot were truly real, there's a very good chance one of his teeth or digits got dug up and tossed into a bag or box at some point during a field expedition.  New species are discovered every year by researchers working in old collections.  This is a common practice of grad students looking for material with which to break new ground.

So if you're looking for Bigfoot - or any cryptid, for that matter - put down the infrared camera and pick up a book on anatomy and get busy combing the museums for remains.  Read old journals and catalogs of finds. Ask your local fossil club to let you tag along when they go to "Bigfoot country."  In short, if you're serious, get serious about finding REAL physical evidence.  If a great ape ever lived in North America, he had to leave some of himself behind.  


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