October 26, 2017

On the Plausibility of Another Bipedal Primate Species Existing in North America

This is a stabilized version of the Patterson-Gimlin footage from Bluff Creek, a remote area in northern California. It was shot by two amateur sasquatch researchers, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, on October 20th, 1967. The 16 mm film consists of 954 frames and is one of the most thoroughly analyzed film sequences ever recorded. Although the integrity of the film has been established and numerous anatomical details of the creature have been revealed, it is virtually impossible to conclusively authenticate the film to everyone’s satisfaction. Several individuals have explicitly postulated this film being a hoax, but failed to put forward crucial elements that would support this claim, such as the “suit,” comparable test shots, or a recreation of the film clip with “actors.”

Editorial

What do continental drift and the birth of neurons in the adult human brain have in common? Their common link is that the proponents of both concepts were met with fierce opposition by the authorities in their respective fields, and it took decades for either of these hypotheses to become accepted by mainstream science. Now continental drift and adult neurogenesis are not really tangible phenomena, but what about the notion of a hitherto undescribed large bipedal primate species existing in North America? As outlandish as this hypothesis may sound, it is even more outlandish to ignore all of the supporting evidence out of hand. And yet this is exactly what has happened with regard to what has become known as the sasquatch hypothesis. It is now 50 years that this ancient legend of Native Americans took center stage in anthropology and primatology. Fifty years ago an amateur researcher and his partner recorded footage in a remote corner of northern California, showing a large primate walking upright across a dry river bed. There has since been an ongoing debate on the creature’s authenticity and although the pro arguments seem to clearly outweigh the cons in a hypothetical trial, this filmographic evidence was put down by the authorities in anthropology and primatology of that time as being a fake that was not worthy of any further investigation. And that was basically it! No research institution has ever conducted an extensive field survey in a relevant part of the Pacific Northwest and no grants have ever been made available to individual enthusiasts wanting to follow up on this observation; in fact, expressing a serious interest in this subject was likely to put one’s academic career at risk. Although a blurry 5 second video of a bird was hailed by Science as proof of the existence of the ivory-billed woodpecker, and putative sonar images of Nessie made it into Nature, no evidence in support of the existence of another primate species in North America has ever been accepted by any of the mainstream scientific journals. Jeff Meldrum is one of the very few scientists who has not been dissuaded from pursuing research on sasquatch, despite taking heavy flak from mainstream peers. In numerous field trips to remote areas in the north-western part of the United States Jeff has collected interesting evidence that is consistent with the existence in that area of a relict population of an unknown reclusive primate species. Here is his story.

As I knelt beside the 38 cm footprint, one of several dozen distinctly impressed in the muddy side road in the foothills of the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington, the hair literally stood up on my neck with the incredulous sensation that a sasquatch may indeed have passed by here just hours earlier. The clarity of detail and dynamic signatures left no ambiguity, no room for misidentification. These footprints were either a very clever hoax or the track of an unknown living creature. The spontaneity, variation and animation of the footprints tipped the scales decidedly in favor of the latter option. But what were the implications of that conclusion? As a budding physical anthropologist, I had essentially shelved my youthful curiosity about Bigfoot and assumed that the passage of decades without any physical evidence justified a skeptical indictment of the subject as nothing more than folklore and legend. Here, on an overcast afternoon in February 1996, was stark evidence to the contrary. Of course it was not definitive, as in the form of a specimen, a type to establish conclusively the existence of a novel hominoid species. And short of that, I was to learn, there was no accommodating by the anthropological discipline of even the proposition of such a species, regardless of the accumulating affirmative evidence.

It is one matter to address the theoretical possibility of a relict species of hominoid in North America, and the obligate shift in paradigm to accommodate it, but there must also be something substantial to place within that revised framework. There must be essential evidence to lend weight to the hypotheses, and counter the critics’ various aspersions. I was once confronted by a colleague, who declared, “After all, these are just stories.” My response: “Stories that apparently leave tracks, shed hair, void scat, vocalize, are observed and described by reliable experienced witnesses. Hardly just stories.” Others mock the notion as “pseudoscience,” but fail to explain their justification for that label, let alone provide a defensible rationale for their pat disqualification of the evidence at hand. Then there is the now popularized statement by ideological skeptic Michael Shermer, which eventually became the basis of a column in Scientific American, 2003 – “The science starts once you have a body.” On the contrary, most serious investigators would contend that the science starts once you have a question, followed by observation, and the accumulation of data. Each of these detractions begs the question of evidentiary substance that motivates investigation, and instead either off-handedly dismisses all evidence, or demands conclusive proof up front, a priori. That is hardly the method or process of explorative science.

Many remain skeptical of the premise simply due to what they assume to be an exceptionally low probability that such creatures could remain undetected and unacknowledged today by modern science, especially within the continental United States. It has been pointed out that there is no history of known hominoids  in North America. Indeed the original primates to have ever inhabited North America were squirrel-sized to cat-sized Eocene prosimian primates, most closely related to modern lemurs and lorises, not apes or hominins. South and Central America would subsequently be colonized by platyrrhine primates, a diverse radiation now represented by marmosets to spider monkeys.

What would be the source of a giant relict hominoid in North America?

The most likely source would be Asia. After all 75% of the mammal species now inhabiting this continent are in fact immigrants from Asia. There was indeed a giant ape in East Asia during the late Pleistocene – Gigantopithecus blacki – leaving meager fossil remains as recently as 300,000 years ago. With molar dimensions implying a body mass in the neighborhood of 450 kg, Gigantopithecus presents a species that is the right size, in the right place, at the right time to serve as an ancestral candidate for a North American relict hominoid. However, two jaws and isolated teeth leave its posture and locomotion uncertain. It has been suggested that bipedalism is a uniquely derived trait of the hominin clade, therefore sasquatch must be specifically a hominin. In that case, its apparent lack of associated material culture would suggest a very early offshoot from the hominin tree, perhaps a Paranthropus, given its robust craniodental proportions. But here we have a candidate that based on the known fossil record seems to be the wrong size, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Is it reasonable to propose connecting dots separated by 800,000 years and the breadth of the Asian continent? The discovery of the relict species Homo floresiensis cast a novel perspective on at least a part of that hurdle. Here was a species with fossil remains in the farthest southeast corner of Asia as young as 50,000 years that most resembles the skeleton of a late australopithecine or a very early form of Homo, such as Homo habilis only known from Africa some 2 million years ago. Now the prospect of a paranthropine extending its range across Asia, achieving gigantism, alongside other Pleistocene megafauna as its range spread into more northerly latitudes, seems less improbable.

Why is there no fossil record of sasquatch in North America?

The foregoing examples illustrate the incompleteness of the fossil record. That a 450 kg ape species, with a 1.5 million year tenure in East Asia, is represented by merely two mandibles and a thousand or so isolated teeth is a point that should not be lost on anyone. Moreover, we only have those remains because of the action of porcupines accumulating and gnawing upon the bony scraps accumulated in limestone caves. No porcupines or no caves equals no fossils. It is estimated that the sampled taxonomic diversity in the primate fossil record is about 8% of what actually existed in the past, based on comparisons with extant primate community diversity. It is also likely that sasquatch is a relatively recent immigrant to North America, perhaps occupying this continent only for the last several hundred thousand years. In fact, some of its former range may now lie below sea level, or have only recently been exposed as Ice Age glaciers receded.

Read the rest of Dr. Jeff Meldrum’s excellent article here.

About Craig Woolheater

Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005.

I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films:

OLN’s Mysterious Encounters: “Caddo Critter”, Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel’s Weird Travels: “Bigfoot”, History Channel’s MonsterQuest: “Swamp Stalker”, The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America’s Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror – Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

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Filed under Bigfoot, Bigfoot Report, Cryptozoologists, Cryptozoology, Evidence, Footprint Evidence, Forensic Science, Sasquatch