Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 14th, 2009
In the midst of debates about evidence for unknown hairy hominoids, people often overlook the fact that almost half a century ago, in Ivan T. Sanderson’s 1961 book, Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come To Life, he detailed his view of the studies of footprint material. In two specific sections of the book (in Chapter 15, “Some Obnoxious Items” and his “Appendix B”), Sanderson examined the cognate physical evidence left by the alleged feet of unknown hairy hominoids.
Sanderson’s book is in public domain, and one of the reasons I wanted to see it republished in a fine hardbound edition (see here) was so this material would not be so easily forgotten in the consideration of unknown hairy hominoids (which Sanderson termed “ABSMs” throughout this book). Due to my attempt to retain Sanderson’s italics, his passages below are in bold.
Ichnology, or the study of tracks of all kinds, forms a science of its own, with a sound methodology, and a very high degree of competence. It is divided into three major divisions: (1) that of animals, (2) that of people, and (3) police work generally, or that of everything that can leave a track. There is a strange thing about ABSM enthusiasts of both schools—pro and con—and this is that they simply do not seem ever to have realized that the most detailed studies have been made of all manner of man and animal tracks, and that photographs of many and detailed scale drawings of most have been published and are readily available. It seems, also, that the skeptics have not ever really looked at the published photographs of ABSM tracks or of the extant plaster casts of them. Had they done so, an enormous amount of verbiage and published mileage would automatically have been eliminated.
As an example, people are still suggesting that Meh-Teh tracks are made by bears. Bernard Heuvelmans’ book, On the Track of Unknown Animals, has been available in English since 1958, and in it he shows in the simplest of terms the difference between bear tracks and hominid tracks, and how one may invariably be distinguished from the other. There is nothing difficult about this: it is, in fact so simple that one would have thought that even the skeptics would have spotted it. [Simply stated, bears walk with their toes turned in and have their outer toe the biggest, whereas hominids walk either straight ahead or with their feet turned a bit outward, and they have their first or inner toes the biggest.]
The tracks of all bears and almost all other Himalayan, Tibetan, North and South American, and most other mammals are now known and on record. At the same time, the police forces of the whole world have for over a century been studying intensively all manner of tracks left by everything that moves and especially of people. If you only knew how much they can deduce from a single heel imprint, you would think a few more times before breaking and entering even your own home when you have forgotten your keys. Then again, as Tschernezky has shown, criminologists have made a special study of human feet—and come up with some extremely odd ones; such as those illustrating his paper (see Bibliography). Engineers—and especially road engineers—can work out to the last pound the weight of anything that leaves an imprint on any kind of soil or other compressible surface. Thus, with a large enough set of scale-drawings of animal imprints and tracks before you on the one side, of human footprints on the other, and some proper ones of ABSMs in the middle you don’t have to wade through all the tripe that has been written upon this matter. All you have to do is take a good look.
The more technical details I have assembled in Appendix B. There are displayed the prints allegedly left by the various ABSMs, each duly tagged and, following these, you will find those of all the animals that have been brought up in this discussion with the exception of some absolute absurdities like one-legged giant birds and so forth. Then, there are the human feet and imprints from normal babies to grown giants; dwarfs, midgets, and abnormalities. Alongside these are those of the Pongids or apes. It has been said that one picture is worth a thousand words: these I think are worth a volume apiece.
In fact, without going into a lot of detail, technical or otherwise, it is quite plain that none of the ABSMs are either those of any known animal or any known type of human being. It but remains for me at this point, therefore, to draw your attention to a few salient and outstanding facts about these ABSM prints.
The thing to observe in the Sasquatch-Oh-Mah-Sisemite-Mapinguary type is that it apparently walks straight ahead with its feet turning neither inward nor outward. Therefore, it must bend or flex between the foot (the metacarpals) and the toes (digits) along a line at right angles to the line of travel. This gives us a point of reference to begin our study. If this is so, what at first looks like the “ball of the foot” is really a subsidiary pad at the base of the big toe [that, in all Hominids, unlike the other toes has only two joints]. The real ball of the foot is behind this so that, it is, despite its enormous size, really very short and broad. It has, in this example, what is called an Index of only 1.61—i.e. the number of times the width goes into the length. Further, the big toe is enormous. Then again, it will be noted from the photograph of this same print that there is a very pronounced and sharp ridge of clay running right across under the angle formed by the toes as they curve downward to obtain purchase. This is an invariable feature of the Oh-Mah prints. Now, even with our kind of short toes, mud would squeeze up between them in leaving a print of this nature. With these very long toes it should leave an imprint like that of a long-toed monkey. As it does not, something must have stopped it and piled it up. This can only be a webbing that runs up to the base of the terminal joints on all the toes.
The Meh-Teh or classical “Abominable Snowman” prints of the Himalayas, at first sight look just about man-sized but, when you handle a plaster cast of one, you get a profound shock. The thing is positively enormous and in some respects rivals the Oh-Mah prints which, though longer, look almost delicate and which are certainly in comparison most “refined.” These things, as may be seen from the depiction of an impression of one alongside that of an ordinary human footprint are grotesque, and bestial. They also show features that, though not at all apelike in fact, digress from the human pattern most widely. They have an enormous big toe; but they also have an even more enormous second toe; and both are widely separated from the other three little toes, and they curl curiously inward toward them. This thing is not human at all.
The Ksy-Giik—Almas of Eurasia are notable for the size of their great toes and also for that of their “little toes,” both of which are wide. The whole foot, moreover, is very short and broad and splays out in front. Otherwise it is human enough. I would just ask you to look at the outline of an imprint left by Neanderthal Man in the cave of Toraino in Italy. I do not think that I need to say any more on this score, except to remind of the Russian scientists’ identification of one of the mummified hands.
The Pigmy type—Agogwe—Sedapa—Teh-lma—show a rather wider variety of form, but most display the peculiarity of a pointed heel, combined with small size, compactness, and more or less equality of toe length. This is the easiest print to fake and it is the nearest to some animals, but it has its oddities. Actually, I do not think we have enough accurate tracings or photos of them to assess, and the only plaster casts that seem to have survived are not worth-while. [The best proved to be those of Malayan Sun-Bears!]
Whatever is making the so-called ABSM prints thus comes in at least four forms. Moreover, these four forms have persisted for centuries. If this is all the work of a secret society it has four national chapters, but each of these would appear to be allowed to operate in the territory of others, for often three types will appear in one area, and in several there are two. The method of indentation of the prints also is most ingenious, for it has been estimated by road engineers that some in North America—which had no “impact-ridge” around them, as they would have if they had been stamped into the ground, but had distinct “pressure-cracks” all around all of them, which can be caused only by a steady push downward —have been calculated to have needed a minimum of 800-lbs each to be made! Also, if a device is used, it must stride along, not roll, for it can surmount inclines that no man can, can step over things, go around things, alter its stride on either side or both sides, pivot, flex, dig in with its toes going up and its heels going down, and do a lot of other things that no machine built could do unless it stood about 50 feet tall, and was so loaded with gadgetry that it would weigh tons. Yet, whatever does make the “Bigfeet” can go under an 8-foot tangle of branches without doing more than break off the little dead twigs.
* * *
The Importance of Feet
The study of footprints and foot-tracks—the difference between which was discussed earlier in this book—form the subject of a very precise science called Ichnology. This discipline is employed in quite a number of fields, notably in police work and in palaeontology. The identification of the tracks of living animals in snow and mud has, of course also been an art in hunting since time immemorial, and it is of great interest to the field naturalist. Its more psychological aspects were also discussed when we first introduced the matter of ABSM tracks. We should now consider the details of this discipline.
Tracks [the word I shall use from now on, unless dealing specifically with a single print] are caused by gravity. The first requirement is that the object on top that presses down be composed of a denser material than that upon which it is pressed, but this does not mean that tracks will invariably result. Thus, a body made of steel if rolled across a sheet of lead need not leave tracks. There appears here another factor—that of weight—which results in the beginning of the erection of a complicated formula. Above a certain weight the upper body will leave tracks, but the point at which it starts to do so is also dependent upon the compressibility of the under body, or surface. Then again, tracks can be either pressed or punched into a substance: in other words energy, in addition to mere gravity, may be exerted. In this case the point at which an impression begins varies according to quite a number of factors which fortunately need not concern us since they lie in realms of engineering that do not apply to purely biological matters. Nevertheless, one must bear in mind that there is a considerable difference in appearance between a print made by pressing and one made by punching an object downward into a surface. The former will be found to be surrounded by little cracks all running inward to the “gutter” of the print, while the latter will be surrounded by a sort of levee or ridge.
One of the easiest ways to spot an artificially made print is to find such an impact ridge around a print where there is no cause for it under the natural conditions pertaining on the terrain. By this is meant, where the creature [and this does not apply to machines] had no cause to jump. Jumping results in the application of “weight” to the normal gravity and so is equivalent to “punching.” Thus a creature running, rather than walking, will leave differently formed individual prints, and when going downhill, they will be quite other than when it is going uphill. Already the matter becomes, as you may readily agree, complicated. But there are several further complexities.
Perhaps the most notable is the area of the object which makes any print and, in the case of animals, the number of such objects [i.e. hands, feet, tail, or other appendages] employed in so walking, running, hopping, jumping, or otherwise progressing. The other most important factor is naturally the nature of the material or surface into which the tracks are impressed. This is itself an enormously complicated subject.
Tracks may be left in gravels or sands, all of which are of course much denser than any animal foot that passes over them. This is due to their particulation or “looseness.” They are dry, and such substances range widely in consistency from what are called screes, of sometimes enormous boulders piled against the sides of mountains, to dry plaster of Paris. Much finer substances have now been artificially developed but in Nature we need not concern ourselves with anything much finer than what we call a fine dried silt, which is a little coarser than dry plaster.
There are two other types of solids in which imprints may be left. These are, first, materials, such as lead, that are themselves malleable or what is commonly called “soft” and, secondly “solutions” in the widest sense of that word. This means, popularly speaking, wet. We need not overly concern ourselves with the first since such substances may be regarded as nonexistent in Nature—that is to say in the nonhuman world. The second is of course the most important type of material in which the tracks of animals appear—and this goes for snow, which in many respects holds an intermediate position, since, dependent upon temperature, it may be either a particulated material, or a mere wet mixture. Prints can thus be left in three kinds of substances—(1) dry, as sands, (2) wet, as in muds, or (3) snow, which has to be separately classified.
There are those, such as the technologists of police laboratories and road-construction engineers, who know so much about the factors just named and the results of making impressions in various substances that it would really startle you. On another hand, certain palaeontologists have made profound studies of this subject, and most notably in connection with the interpretation of fossil footprints of early amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. The findings of all three groups of specialists of course coincide for, as I say, Ichnology is a very precise science. However, most unfortunately, totally insufficient application has been made of their findings in ABSMery. Also, there has been an extraordinary lack of appreciation of the basic theorem of Ichnology which is, simply stated, that a print can be left only by an object that exactly “mirrors” it—a term that should be self-explanatory. This brings us to the questions arising from the conformation of vertebrate animals’ feet.
For some reason—and there may well be no real reason—it just so happens that the first creatures with backbones to crawl out of water on to land dispensed with all but five of the rays (digits) on the four appendages they retained. This gave all of us land vertebrates a basic pentadactyl pattern—i.e. four “legs” each with five “fingers” or toes. True, there are some animals like whales that have somehow again reduplicated the number of phalanges in their digital extremities. This is, actually, one of the most extraordinary things in zoology as it flies in the face of one of the basic precepts of
genetics; namely, that a characteristic once lost cannot be resuscitated from the same source. [The additional phalanges of the Cetaceans are phylogenetically developed by reduplication.] This basic five-fingered and five-toed pattern speaks much for the unitary origin of all land vertebrates—the amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
Many forms of all these major groups have at one time or another lost one or more phalanges on various digits, whole digits, or even whole limbs. The snakes, for instance, have lost everything. The results may be most readily seen in the [mirrored] prints left by the hands and feet of the various types; and from such prints a great deal about their makers may, by inference from known types, be reconstructed. This brings us to the classification of feet and specifically of mammalian extremities. Happily we do not have to go into this vast question and may concentrate upon those of the Primates—i.e. the Order to which we belong, together with the apes, monkeys, lemuroids, and a few more abstruse types like the Feathertails.
The Primate foot [as opposed to their hands, which we may also from now on ignore] is pentadactyl—i.e. five-toed- but is otherwise of a variety of forms. These forms may be classified in various ways but two sets of factors are of particular interest to us. The first is whether they are what is called wholly plantigrade or not; the second, whether the big, great, or first toe is opposed to or lies alongside and points in the same direction as [and/or is bound to] the other toes. A plantigrade foot means that its owner stands and walks with the whole under surface, from the tips of its toes to its heel—which is to say the last bone of the ankle—on the ground. Some Primates, such as the tiny Tarsiers, do not do this, the ankle bones being greatly elongated. Men (Hominids), Apes (Pongids), and most Monkeys (Simioids) are plantigrade. Further, none of these three groups of higher Primates have long enough nails to produce clawlike excrescences which touch the ground and leave noticeable marks though those of some Cynocephaloids (i.e. Baboons and Macaques) may do so when they are running or galloping. There are few—if any, as a matter of fact—other mammals that do not leave claw marks. Then again, claws and nails although having a similar origin anatomically, are not identical structures: but this also need not, fortunately, concern us further.
In dealing with Primate footprints we are therefore primarily concerned with the nature and position of the big or great toe. Among the photographs is one showing a wide variety of Primate feet. From this it will be seen that the only one that does not have an opposed big toe is the Hominid group. Nonetheless, this digit in Hominids also varies considerably in the degree to which it is set off from the other four toes. From both the prints found in the cave at Toirano in Italy and from the skeleton of a whole foot found in the Crimea, we now know that the big toe of the Neanderthalers was rather widely separated. There are people living today who have feet not unlike those of Neanderthalers —notably certain Amerinds from the extreme southern end of South America (see a photograph in an article by Dr. Carleton S. Coon, in Natural History, January, 1961) and some Australoids. However, there is no indication, even among those which we know, of any evidence whatsoever of a truly “opposed” big toe, among any Hominid.
One known fact about abnormalities among human feet is nonetheless of some significance to our story. This is that shown in the two photographs of a strange type in which the second toe is longer than the first, sometimes more massive, and also widely separated from the remaining three toes. This is the more odd in that the second and third toes of normal Modern Man are partially webbed. If a foot, normal or abnormal, of this nature developed [or even merely occurred] one would have supposed that the second and third toes [together] would have become widely separated from, on the one hand the big toe, and on the other, the remaining two. When this abnormality occurs, both the big and the second toes tend to curl downward and inward not unlike those of the Meh-Teh. But they are still not opposed.
Let us now analyze or try to analyze the prints left by the four types of ABSMs. These, we will arrange in the following order: (1) the Proto-Pigmies, (2) the Almas, (3) the Neo-Giants, and (4) the very different Meh-Teh type. It will be seen from the sketches of the outstanding types of known human feet [accompanying this Appendix] that those of the living pigmy human types such as the Negrillos and Negritos show a distinct tendency toward a very short broad foot with rather large [in proportion] and widely splayed toes and a very constricted or narrow heel. It is hardly even a “step” from them to the Sedapas, Teh-lmas, and other alleged pigmy ABSMs. Such a tiny, human-type, plantigrade, flat foot does not however begin to approach the form of the various bears, and not even the Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos).
Coming to the prints allegedly left by what I have called the Alma type, one finds that they are hardly in any respect different from those of the Neanderthalers left in the cave in Italy. This, in turn, perfectly accords with the now expressed belief of the Russian scientists that the former are but living representatives of the latter. Despite their relatively low plantar index [i.e. the number of times their width goes into their length] they are hardly at all nonhuman: in fact, they can be matched by the prints left by not a few Modern Men living today and most notably by persons who have never worn shoes or other footgear. We hardly have to discuss these tracks any further, except to mention that such have been rumored from many places other than eastern Eurasia—such as, I may say, northwest North America, South America, and Africa. But how are we to tell whether such prints—if they ever really existed—were left by some wild thing or by local men, walking without footgear and happening to have Neanderthaloid-type feet?
Our real problems begin with the Neo-Giants. Here, I want first to try and wipe away a lot of dross. It has been said, and repeatedly, that such tracks and prints have been found all over northern Indo-China, and on northward through the arc formed by the uplands and mountains of Szechwan via the Tsin Lings to Manchuria. The same—up to 20-inch-long humanoid-type prints—are also said to have been found in the Matto Grosso and in Patagonia in South America. This may be so but after, lo, these many years, I have been completely unable to obtain any photograph or even sketch of one that is stated to have been made on the spot. I have several “sketches” made by members of expeditions to these places but sketches made in retrospect after questioning and mostly in my apartment in New York, but nothing “original.” The only areas from which I have been able to obtain such firsthand photos or sketches, and plaster casts has been from British Columbia and northern California.
These prints at first look wholly human and, I may say, a bit ridiculous. However, on further analysis they display other qualities. As may be seen from the accompanying sketch, they show one or two extremely odd characteristics that are definitely not typically human. As photographs of whole tracks of these monsters have shown, they walk with their feet pointing straight forward: not pigeon-toed, like bears, or in any way out-turned like most men. Thus, they must flex about [or across] a line that forms an arc at right angles to that line of travel behind the toes. Then this means that, although the whole foot is enormous and at first looks very long, it is really a very short and broad one [with an index of only 1.61].
A friend of mine, Mr. Fred Laue, long in the shoe business, has worked out the trade equivalents of these proportions. Working from one of our plaster casts with an over-all length of 15¾” and a width of 7″, a No. 21 shoe would be needed but no less than 13 sizes in width greater than the widest shoe made—i.e., a EEE. Second, it means that the curious double inner pad under the ball of the foot has something to do with the basal joint of the big toe and not with the end or outer end of the first metacarpal. If this is so, and the foot bends or flexes along the arc that runs between the two pads all the other toes are not just extraordinarily but so exceptionally long that they cannot be of the typically human form. But, if they are that long, why don’t they splay or, alternatively, why does not the mud in which the tracks were left well or squeeze up between them as it does with even a normal human foot?
In all the tens of thousands of prints that have now been found and examined of these creatures this has never been observed to have occurred. The only thing that I know of that could prevent this—and at the same time produce such a sharp left-to-right ridge under the flexure of the toes—is an almost complete web between all of them. Thus, although the Neo-Giant prints at first look almost completely human they are not. They have a double first subdigital pad; they are extremely short and broad for their size; and, the second to fifth toes seem to be conjoined. The significance of these points should by now be appreciated.
This leaves us with the most abominable problem of all—the Meh-Teh-type prints—and abominable this is, indeed. These simply do not fit into any pattern. They are definitely not Pongid in that the big toe though enormous is not truly apposed. Similarly, they are no more Hominid in that said big toe is “set off.” However the second toe looks for all the world like a semi-apposed digit. Such a condition is not known in any mammal. As we already pointed out, the development of such a condition is somewhat more likely to be able to be undertaken by a Pongid [with an already offset and apposed big toe] than by a Hominid without one. These prints are not those of a string of foxes all jumping into the same hole in the snow as we by now know all too well; also, and this has perhaps not yet been sufficiently stressed, the prints show very clear indication of a rather complex musculature which, although so far unknown in any other animal, accords perfectly with what would be expected if one developed such a foot and was bipedal.
Most but by no means all of the Meh-Teh tracks have been found in snow. The others have been in mud and sometimes first in one and then in the other in a continuous line. This absolutely and positively disposes of another proposition that has constantly been put forward; namely, that the prints were made by a comparatively small creature and were then subsequently enlarged by melting of the snow with or without regelation. Considerable work has now been done on this phenomenon [John Napier writes me that he carried out experiments in the Juras in the winter of 1960-61. Unfortunately his findings will not be available in time for inclusion here.] It is true that small prints may become large ones in this way, and it is an extraordinary fact that the tracks seem or appear in some uncanny way to grow to fit them. By this I mean that, optical illusion or whatever, the stride seems to grow. This of course is physically impossible whereas exactly the reverse should occur because, as the prints get bigger and bigger, their peripheries must get closer together. I observed this most closely at my farm by excluding all from going near a set of tracks made by my small wife wearing close-fitting boots in fresh firm snow from the house to the trash-disposal affair beyond our lawn. In a few days her prints had grown to enormous proportions and looked incredibly sinister and as seen from an upper floor window appearing for all the world like those of a positive giant—and with a giant stride. Actual measurement however showed that the stride had of course remained as originally laid down. Nevertheless, none of these things, actual or illusory can occur in mud.
The Meh-Teh tracks and prints are, in fact, by far the most puzzling of all, and especially since such persons as Shipton, Bordet, and others obtained clear photographs of them taken from directly above. Here is obviously a bipedal creature of considerable size and weight that inhabits the Himalayas and the ranges north of the Tibetan Plateau. It was the original “Abominable Snowman” and it comes out as the last “abominable enigma.”
Needless to say, looking back from 2009 on this material written in 1958-1960 by Ivan T. Sanderson, we would have much to revise the above information. Indeed, the Ray Wallace fakes have poisoned some of the early California data, and that would have to be subtracted. Elsewhere, new information on the Orang Pendek prints would need to be added. In Nepal, the considered thoughts of many of us would call for revisions due to the “melt-out” involved in the classic Meh-Teh prints shown in the 1951 Shipton/Ward photos.
But in general, Sanderson’s words are always good to read and think about in the broader scheme of hominological studies.
Refer to your local library’s copy or order Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come To Life for your reference shelf, regarding other important text, track photographs and Sanderson’s footprint drawings.
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.