Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science

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9780765312167: Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science
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In this landmark work on a subject too often dismissed as paranormal or disreputable, Jeffrey Meldrum gives us the first book on sasquatch to be written by a scientist with impeccable academic credentials, an objective look at the facts in a field mined with hoaxes and sensationalism. Meldrum reports on the work of a team of experts from a wide variety of fields who were assembled to examine the evidence for a large, yet undiscovered, North American primate. He reviews the long history of this mystery--which long predates the "bigfoot" flap of the late fifties--and explains all the scientific pros and cons in a clear and accessible style, amplified by over 150 illustrations. Anyone who has pondered the mysteries of human evolution will be fascinated and eager to join Dr. Meldrum in drawing their own conclusion.

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About the Author:

DR. JEFFREY MELDRUM is an Associate Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology at Idaho State University.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

Doug Hajicek, nature film producer, took a break with his cameraman, and wandered near the shoreline of Selma Lake, nearly 1000 miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. In the Arctic to film giant lake trout, they had flown into this remote location by floatplane. Along the isolated beach they encountered a crisp 17-inch footprint. The print was exceptionally clear and detailed, and except for its enormous proportions, clearly human-like in form, with distinct toes and a broad rounded heel. Some 40 inches further ahead was another similar footprint, followed by another, and so on trailing alternately into the distance. This resembled no bear track. Besides, a polar bear hind paw measures only between 10 and 14 inches long. The hind paw of an Alaskan brown bear may reach a full 16 inches in length, but their range is generally restricted to the Pacific coastline. Grizzlies do range farther to the east but their foot is only about 10 inches long. Could it be an out-of-the-way Alaskan Brown, or an over-sized grizzly, fishing for giant salmon? Hajicek weighed that possibility but he was familiar with bear sign from extensive documentary film-making with Lynn Rogers, the "man who walks with bears," and he knew that a bear track consists of a distinctive alternating pattern of hind and forepaw prints. The narrow interdigital pad of the fore paw is much abbreviated compared to the hind paw, to which is added an extended distinctly tapering heel pad. Whatever animal had left these tracks was walking upright, on hind feet only, and had struck off from the lakeshore in an apparently determined course with an impressive stride. Judging from the freshness of the tracks, it may even have been the filmcrew's arrival by floatplane that sent it on its way.

Hajicek's curiosity was piqued and together with his companion, they followed the advancing line of footprints. For over a mile they traced the creature's enormous strides, before deciding that they didn't actually want to catch up to whatever behemoth had left the immense tracks clearly and deeply impressed in the frosty tundra soil. The men remained mystified over what could have been responsible for these prodigious footprints. They returned to the lake thinking that they could readily follow the tracks from the air over the relatively treeless landscape and perhaps overtake the trackmaker. But the pilot of the floatplane refused to talk about the tracks and rebuffed their suggestions to pursue them, and so they gave up on the idea.

Hajicek was unfamiliar with Sasquatch and therefore had no real concept of a giant upright ape upon which to hang the enigma of the footprints. The obvious and unavoidable fact that some unusual animal had made this impressive trackway continued to dog him, and his thoughts frequently returned to the scene of the discovery. The suggestion that someone might have intentionally hoaxed them at that precise spot beside a 70-mile long lake in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, accessible only by floatplane, seemed absolutely nonsensical. Hajicek thought about it a great deal and eventually, with the advent of the Internet, encountered the website of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), and discovered that he was not alone in his experience. In fact, a surprising number of other people had discovered large inexplicable footprints in the wilds of North America. He also learned that the BFRO was compiling an electronic database of reports of sightings and footprints submitted by witnesses from all walks of life. A network of field investigators responded to and documented these reports, where possible, by interviewing witnesses and collecting corroborative evidence, or determining alternative explanations. Hajicek began to educate himself about the accumulated information concerning the history and nature of this hypothetical and strangely elusive primate. He was surprised and irritated that the public at large, and particularly the media, ignored the extensive evidence for the existence of this otherwise legendary animal. Being a filmmaker by profession, he thought what better project than to produce an informed documentary that dealt objectively with the data and explored the question of Sasquatch with an open mind. The folks at the Discovery Channel concurred and so the concept of Sasquacth: Legend Meets Science was conceived.

The format of the documentary was a noticeable departure from the established formula for "monster" media. Instead of trotting out a series of sensational eyewitness accounts with interviews and dramatic recreations, then "balancing" them with retorts by armchair skeptics and willfully ignorant scientific experts, Hajicek opted to let the data stand on their own. He would present the accumulated evidence on its own merits and enlist the expertise of scientists willing to evaluate it objectively and to pursue their analysis wherever it might lead them with out prejudice. Several of these recruited scientists were previously unconcerned with the matter of sasquatch, but nevertheless, in the spirit of exploration, were quite willing to ply their skills to evaluate the evidence laid before them. Others harbored a longstanding interest in the subject, but had rarely spoken openly of it for fear of ridicule and a concern for their reputed credibility. A few of the scientists, like Dr. Bindernagel, Dr. Fahrenbach, and me, had already crossed paths with the evidence and were actively engaged in ongoing research into the matter, in spite of its unpopularity within mainstream science, and even our own institutional colleagues.

The Internet has provided a novel and readily accessible forum for the exchange of ideas and information. Like Hajicek, other witnesses frequently submit reports of their encounters with sasquatch to the many sites on the Internet concerned with the topic. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization was one of an overwhelming number of websites that one is confronted with when searching the Internet for information relating to sasquatch or bigfoot. It was the one that captured Hajicek's attention and subsequently cooperate during the development of the documentary concept. Many of the pioneering scientists Hajicek would work with were associated at one time or another with the BFRO. For a time the BFRO took the lead among a new generation of amateur and professional investigators. There were a number of organizations of various stripe, but the BFRO boldly touted the distinction of being "the only scientific organization probing the Bigfoot/Sasquatch mystery." A rather grandious assertion perhaps, but, in so far as efforts were made by its investigators to adhere to the principles and methods of scientific research during the collection, handling, and evaluation of objective evidence, that standard was applied with varying success. Like any community, the BFRO was not without its volatile personalities, egos, strong wills, deep-seated opinions, conflicting agendas, and other controversies. However, in spite of intermittent lapses, there has been a degree of cooperation, collegiality, and professionalism among its individual membership.

Matthew Moneymaker, the founder and driving force behind the organization, recruited and sometimes rode rough shod over a line-up of amateur curators and investigators with varied skills and backgrounds. Affiliated with their ranks have been a number of credentialed scientists -- primatologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, wildlife biologists, geologists, and engineers, which pursue a professional interest in the matter. Some of the most dedicated field researchers, however, have little, or no formal training in the sciences, but often possess a vast experience in the outdoors and keen powers of observation and discernment. The self-described aim of the BFRO is as follows:

The mission of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) is multifaceted, but the organization essentially seeks to resolve the mystery surrounding the Bigfoot phenomenon, that is, to derive conclusive documentation of the species' existence. This goal is pursued through the proactive collection of empirical data and physical evidence from the field and by means of activities designed to promote an awareness and understanding of the nature and origin of the evidence.

The BFRO, the oldest and largest organization of its kind, is directed by a virtual community of scientists, journalists, and specialists from diverse backgrounds. The researchers who compose the BFRO are engaged in projects, including field and laboratory investigations, designed to address various aspects of the bigfoot phenomenon. As a result of the education and experience of its members and the quality of their efforts, the BFRO is widely considered as the most credible and respected investigative network involved in the study of this subject.

When compelling evidence is collected by or submitted to the BFRO, it is presented to scientific and forensic specialists for evaluation. The BFRO organizes and reports observations and data and publishes research material. Through this process, the BFRO steadily improves the size and scope of its collective expertise.

Those in the organization anticipate that this emphasis on cooperation and professionalism is not only the most realistic approach to resolving the mystery, but that it furthers the BFRO's long term goal: determining how these rare and elusive animals can and should be protected and studied after their existence is generally acknowledged by governmental agencies and the scientific community.

Admittedly, this is not a wholly "scientific" posture, i.e. "to derive conclusive documentation of the species' existence." The strictly scientific stance would be to seek to resolve the question of the existence of sasquatch either way, without any appearance of a "pro-Bigfoot" bias. To its credit, the BFRO investigators are routinely critical of reports and go to pains to winnow the kernel from the chaff, concerning both potential evidence and would-be debunkers. Indeed, it is the proponent that is frequently responsible for refuting misidentified or misinterpreted evidence or claims. It must be appreciated that many of the individuals involved in the investigation lay claim to firsthand experiences that have effectively laid the question to rest for them personally. They are motivated by a conviction that eventually well-documented evidence will bear out their experiences or convictions and resolve for them a vexing and persistent mystery.

As many youngsters then and now, I discovered a fascination with extinct dinosaurs and prehistoric ape-men. I knew the author Jack London, not for his Call of the Wild, but for his less well-known novel, Before Adam, which explored the main character's dream-like racial memories that nightly hurled him back to the vicarious experiences of remote forebears who lived in trees at the dawn of humanity. Growing up in Pacific Northwest I eventually was exposed to the legend of sasquatch. At the age of eleven, I encountered Roger Patterson from a third-row seat in the Spokane Coliseum, where he was showing his captivating documentary film about "America's Abominable Snowman." Its centerpiece was the famous 60 seconds of jumpy footage of what he and partner Bob Gimlin claimed to have witnessed along Bluff Creek in the Siskiyou Mountains of northern California. The larger-than-life image of a Bigfoot deliberately striding across the screen made a lasting impression on a young and adventurous mind and served to reinforce my fascination with the evolution of the primates and primitive humans. Was this creature some "missing link" or some relic from a spent diversity of man-apes? I hadn't yet been indoctrinated concerning what could and what could not exist. The possibility that a giant human-like ape, or some remnant ape-like human, perhaps a relic of the Pleistocene Ice Ages, could have survived to the present in the remote corners of western North America, or elsewhere in the world, seemed to offer the prospect for a fascinating adventure in exploration. Patterson's dramatic film seemed to draw back the curtain on the legend, revealing what could be one of the most intriguing questions facing zoologists and anthropologists today. Does a giant upright ape inhabit our wilderness today? What, if anything, might it disclose about human history?

The Patterson-Gimlin film did not bring a speedy resolution to the mystery of the sasquatch, as Patterson and others had optimistically anticipated. In fact, it made very little lasting impact on the scientific experts of the day, in the absence of a body or some bones. The years that followed yielded no conclusive physical evidence, no type specimen required by hard science, and sasquatch remained stuck in the company of assorted legendary "monsters" and other occult subjects.

Very few physical anthropologists ventured to openly pursue a critical look at the matter. One exception was Dr. Grover Krantz, then a young anthropology professor at Washington State University, and not one inclined to shy away from a controversial idea, whether anthropological or cryptozoological (the search for "hidden" animals). He studied Patterson's film and concluded that it was in all probability authentic. He examined the tracks and concluded an unknown animal had left them; but more importantly, he persisted in thrusting the broader matter of the evidence for sasquatch under the noses of the "Scientific Establishment" as he came to rather critically refer to it. His colleague at the nearby University of Idaho, Roderick Sprague, editor of the Northwest Anthropological Research Notes (NARN), noted the lack of anthropological literature on sasquatch, and in a 1970 editorial invited responsible articles on the subject at a time when it was downright dangerous to one's career to do so. Over the next decade, a series of submissions was published in NARN, and these contributions were eventually assembled by Sprague and Krantz as a collected volume under the title The Scientist Looks at the Sasquatch. Without the early attentions of a few intrepid anthropologists, the subject might well have been altogether ignored by science and been relegated wholly to the realm of folklore and fantasy.

Krantz was an accomplished anatomist, and his detailed analysis of the Patterson-Gimlin film, his published evaluations of the accumulated footprints, and his discovery of dermatoglyphics (skin ridge detail) on the soles of the sasquatch feet could not be so off-handedly dismissed. However, dealing with "evidence" of such a controversial nature is not without its challenges and pitfalls, and Krantz became the target of criticism springing not only from skeptical professional colleagues but also from the volatile elements of the community of amateur Bigfoot researchers. In the end, Dr. Krantz did not live to see the mystery conclusively resolved, but he and others held the door ajar, creating the opportunity for further investigators to take an objective look at the matter.

My own early interests in apes and prehumans led me eventually into a career in academia, specializing in primate evolutionary biology. I was focused on the emergence of human locomotor adaptations, especially our apparently singular trait of walking on two feet - bipedalism. Rather than center my investigations directly on the earliest initiation of hominid bipedalism, I have turned to the more recent pattern of emergence of the distinctive modern form of human walking, characterized by a striding stiff-legged gait and endurance walking and running.

Eventually, my path crossed that of Dr. Krantz. In 1996, during a visit with family in Boise...

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