Friday, October 18, 2013

The bear facts about anthropological nonsense

Well, now we know who Yeti really was--or wasn't! The silliness by which some biological anthropologists (my profession) tried to carry on legitimate careers tracking down the Abominable Snowman (in Asia, known as Yeti) was bad enough.  Now it has been shown in a new Astounding Finding--this time definitively??--that it was a bear-faced lie all along.  The best match of DNA from putative Yeti hairs is to a hybrid of a brown bear and a polar bear, though how the researchers know the hairs they tested were Yeti's is unclear.  

Let's not mention a certain US anthropologist who for years tried with a straight face to take home a paycheck while spending their research time following Sasquatch Man (the US equivalent, also often called Big Foot). The idea of a primate, ape-like giant humanoid of some sort, goes back a long way.  The idea circulated in China in various ways.

Yeti painting by Philippe Semeria, Wikipedia
There were, up until perhaps 100,000 years ago, a variety of human-related ape-like primates in Asia. Many of their fossils have been found.  One group is called Gigantopithecus because of its large body size.  However neither it, nor any of other apelike fossils called Dryopithecines, have been found to have living descendants.  If the fossils are known, and Asia has been inhabited for tens of millennia by modern humans, the odds that any such animals are still alive would be miniscule: we would have found their bones at recent archeological camp sites, or on or in the ground, or they'd have clearly been seen--even if they're shy or elusive when humans are around.  Even to ask whether their hair is identifiable, if there is even some plausible excuse for saying the hair was Yeti's, is rather preposterous, if it's not just a publicity stunt.

Reconstruction from fossils of what Gigantopithecus may have looked like compared to a (real) human (left, in case you were wondering); from Iowa State University

Now, there is an interesting book written by a Polish military officer named Slawomir Rawicz, who was arrested by the Soviets early in World War II and put in a very nasty, isolated, frozen wasteland of a Siberian prison (the area called Kolyma).  In The Long Walk this officer narrates a harrowing escape he and a few others made from this prison, taking months to elude recapture, manage through the awful cold and barren terrain, even including the Gobi desert, and the Himalayas, eventually to reach freedom in Ally controlled India.

In this tale, there was a point at which, cresting a ridge, the escaping band saw in a small dale they had to cross, a pair of huge ape-like creatures.  They watched them for a number of hours before deciding to dare skirting the valley to keep on their escape march.  There was no trouble from the creatures, and no real further mention (that I recall, at least) in the book.

These creatures would (given as described) qualify as Yetis. Could they have been bears?  Some have discredited this whole story, but it is the only thing we know of that is even remotely like a real sighting.  Indeed, how could it be true?  It is simply not believable that the same critters would not have been seen hundreds or thousands of times---and, knowing our species, hunted to real extinction by now.

A bear, in case you'd forgotten what they look like. National Geographic image.

The silliness of asserting the existence of such creatures in populated areas like the NW US, where surely clear evidence rather than professors in Halloween suits would have been very well known....doesn't deserve further comment.  Likewise other investigators who know better and who are, in essence, engaging in media circuses.  We often ask, given social issues and priorities, whether money, especially public money, was spent on this sort of 'research'.  And there is a solution: stop abusing the public purse, and get Hollywood to pay for it.

Well, the Yeti and Abominable Snowman tales are amusing, but to give them credence, even partial credibility, as the media have done with this itself to lose credibility.

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