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Pangboche Yeti Finger In Context: What Does Human Mean?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 28th, 2011

The complete BBC program on “The Yeti Finger” may be found here.

When this Pangboche finger is placed in the context of the history of what was previously said about it, other such relics and their discussion by Westerners, it is clear caution should have been a hallmark of the investigation from the beginning.

But then again a verdict of “human,” perhaps an “Asian,” must be further explored. What was meant by a finding of “human”?

As already mentioned, the story is in the details, and we need a full accounting of those.

This history of the Pangboche hand has been unfolding in the last few days. But for students of the Yeti, we have known for a long time this was thought to be “human,” whatever that means.

One of the Slick-Johnson Snowman Expedition photos from 1958 of the Pangboche Yeti Hand.

After digging and rediscovering material lost for decades, I wrote a biography of the famed San Antonio cryptozoology expedition sponsor, thirty years after his expeditions.  The Pangboche hand was an important piece of the unique nature of Slick’s work.

A Japanese expedition also photographed the Pangboche Yeti Hand.

In Tom Slick and the Search for the Yeti (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1989; page 79), I penned this: “Slick’s expedition also revealed for the first time that the lamas possessed ‘Yeti hands.’ Slick proved that a hand, wrist, and forearm at Makalu were actually those of a snow leopard. But the Slick-Johnson Snowman Expedition did obtain the very first photographs of a very old and mummified Yeti hand found at Pangboche. This discovery gave Slick’s associates much to ponder, to analyze, and to seek well into 1959.”

The “Malaku Yeti” hand and arm” were discovered by the Slick-Johnson Snowman Expedition of 1958, but quickly found to belong to a snow leopard.

Dr. W. C. Osman Hill, via Peter Byrne to Jimmy and Gloria Stewart to F. Kirk Johnson, Jr. to Hill (see p. 91 of Coleman, 1989), received the Pangboche Yeti Hand (“a grisly trophy”) on February 20, 1959.

On February 26, 1959, in a document I personally examined, from Hill to Slick, Hill wrote: “Pangboche Hand: This proves to be from examination of the thumb and phalanx to be human.”

But then great discussions occurred regarding the flatness of the metacarpals.

Anthropologist George Agogino pointed the “very flat metacarpals” as his reasoning for feeling the hand had “very primitive characteristics,” as quoted by Gardner Soule in 1967. Similar verdicts started coming in from other Slick consultants regarding the massive nature of the metacarpals (see page 91 of my book for the specific quotes).

In a letter to Tom Slick on July 5, 1959, Hill demonstrated he had changed his mind, slightly about the Pangboche hand. He no longer felt it was fully human. In 1960, Hill told Ivan T. Sanderson that the hand might have come from a Neandertaler. We have a record of these thoughts in Sanderson’s Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life, and in a scientific paper on the matter.

As my French cryptozoology associate Michel Raynal has emailed: “The first photographs of the hand of the temple of Pangboche were published in 1958. Since 1959, the primatologist William C. Osman Hill, who had studied the returned fragment from Nepal, concluded the artifact was a human hand, perhaps with affinities to Néandertals. That was still confirmed three years later in an article published in the Genus review: DEMENTIEV, G.P., Mr. F. NESTURKH, B.F. PORSHNEV 1962 ‘The mano di a ignoto primate superiore.’ Genus. Therefore, that 50 years later, a DNA test shows the artifact is a human hand, there is nothing new is such a revelation. The only question which is important is to know if affinities to Néandertals are confirmed or not [and] today with the genome of several Néanderthaliens, therefore if sequencing DNA of the finger in question is one day published, it will be interesting to make the comparison.”

Is the finger from a Neandertal or a Tibetan monk? What new chapter has this unpublished BBC analysis of the Yeti Hand added to this mystery? What comparative analyses might remain to be made?

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. 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.


20 Responses to “Pangboche Yeti Finger In Context: What Does Human Mean?”

  1. flightsuit responds:

    So, is there any hope that we might soon know conclusively whether this is a Neanderthal’s finger? Would this imply that Neanderthals might still survive to this day?

  2. Anthony P. Christie via Facebook responds:

    O stop it , it was a Human , thats like finding a chicken bone and saying ,what is chicken ???? its a HUMAN BONE ! move on

  3. Wendigo Truth Force responds:

    So I’m a little confused here, admittedly. They found this finger bone the other day? And DNA testing is already complete? I thought it took much longer, and that was part of the reason the Ketchum/Erickson debacle is taking so long

  4. Loren Coleman responds:

    The Pangboche finger was found some time ago, filming of interviews were conducted, Peter Byrne was flown in, more taping occurred, and in the meantime the DNA analysis was taking place. A timeline was not published, but it is apparent this BBC program has been in the works for some time. However, unlike the Erickson Project, there were no leaks.

  5. BunniesLair responds:

    I am rather surprised that the size of the supposed ‘Yeti’ finger was never questioned or remarked about. I am no a bone expert, but even I could tell if it was a true ‘Yeti finger’ it would have to be a small, young, or sub-adult Yeti. And if that was the case, would that not be bigger news than a ‘regular Yeti’ finger?

  6. Steve Byrne responds:

    I’m just more curious about the specifics of the DNA… Are they saying that no segments were found at all, that they could not identify in Genbank as modern human? Or are they just saying that they found SOME segments that are identical to segments known to be found in humans? Is there an official publication with more details or is this weak-assed interview all we’re gonna get? It’s like saying they found an aircraft carrier when maybe all they have is an old “Mission Accomplished” banner.

  7. DWA responds:

    Human means: so much for the fanfare.

    If it’s human, it means it came from somebody who lived there (Um, no longer, unless some local was missing a finger) in the same general time period. I mean that’s what Occam would say. A few assumptions glom onto “a Neanderthal dropped by to donate a finger.”

    If more analysis will give the techies jollies good on ‘em. I’m done, and wasn’t a bit surprised.

    Until there is a type specimen no finding like this will be significant. We’ve already had ‘unknown primate’ more than once. Science has clearly chosen not to hang any hats on that.

  8. airgunner responds:

    We seem to be in a bit of a dilemma here. The much-anticipated Yeti finger has been determined to be human.

    Before the verdict was returned, the question was “is it human or non-human”? The point being, “Human or Yeti”?

    Now, the question has shifted. Not wanting to concede that the finger is not from a Yeti, the question assumes that the finger is, indeed from a Yeti, and the new question is, “Is the Yeti really a human”?

    What I see here is a refusal to admit the obvious conclusion of the DNA test: that, as far as being a Yeti finger, no, it isn’t. It is a human finger represented as a Yeti finger. At best, a case of mistaken identity (like crown jewels of the medieval era being really cut glass), and, at worst, a deliberate fraud.

    Since the legitimate owners of the finger, the Nepalese Monks, had no way of benefiting from representing the finger as a Yeti relic, I would think it was a case of mistaken identity. These people are isolated and reclusive, reportedly reluctant to even show outsiders their relics. They had no way to gain by scamming anyone.

    Instead of getting sidetracked by insisting the finger was part of a Yeti and debating whether or not the Yeti was therefore human, I think we would be better served by putting this whole line of investigation on the back shelf. We should be putting our efforts on the verification of the Yeti itself, and determine if it is human or not by first-hand examination of the creature’s body, alive or dead.

  9. trapper9990 responds:

    Hi Wendigo,
    I think the reason that the results came back so quickly involved several things. First we dont know how long they have had the finger to study. But even if they got it, a quick run of the mitochondrial dna (female side dna) would reveal very quickly what female lineage this animal came from. Therefore if the predecessor to this bone was a female who lets just say got abducted by something and impregnated, then the feale or mitochondrial dna would come back absolutely human, whereas nuclear dna would have to be run to see what the father lineage was. Nuclear dna takes much more time and is much more expensive. Not to mention having to come up with and design primers for the test. Money is another big issue, ketchum and erickson, although well funded didnt have the backing of a museum, thus its a slower process for them. But erickson and ketchum are trying to cover all their bases and run complete thorough tetsts, probably even mapping out the genome. Im sure they consulted other labs in order to duplicate results.So im sure it had been a huge task working on all the dna. I sincerely hope their results come out soon and the truth is known. Will we ever know the complete truth on this finger, no…. Even if they do decide to run nuclear dna on it and it comes back something strange, we would never hear about it. Scientists just dont want to have egg all over their faces.

  10. William responds:

    I find this discussion interesting if for no other reason that in my observation (and I could be wrong) it seems some folks posting here are becoming a bit irritated or even worse, acutally P.O.’d by where this “analysis” has headed. That is, that either the famous hand has been merely a normal human hand fraudulently (or a simply more innocent case of mistaken identity) portrayed as orginating from a Yeti. The other possibility (which seems to be the immense source of irritation to some) is that it is from a Yeti and their DNA is similar enough to human to be determined just that. As such, that is the only true conclusion that can be drawn here. It is an either/or proposition and really not a solid conclusion at this point. Now, before I draw some ire from those who are somehow certain the term “fake” is the sole conclusion, I ask you to consider this: how does anyone know what a Yeti is as far as DNA goes? Who is to say that they are not some human variant with our same DNA. Is that automatically beyond possible here? I think not, since nobody can prove their existence beyond a shadow of doubt!

  11. William responds:

    I find this discussion interesting if for no other reason that in my observation (and I could be wrong) it seems some folks posting here are becoming a bit irritated or even worse, actually P.O.’d by where this “analysis” has headed. That is, that either the famous hand has been merely a normal human hand fraudulently (or a simply more innocent case of mistaken identity) portrayed as orginating from a Yeti. The other possibility (which seems to be the immense source of irritation to some) is that it is from a Yeti and their DNA is similar enough to human to be determined just that. As such, that is the only true conclusion that can be drawn here. It is an either/or proposition and really not a solid conclusion at this point. Now, before I draw some ire from those who are somehow certain the term “fake” is the sole conclusion, I ask you to consider this: how does anyone know what a Yeti is as far as DNA goes? Who is to say that they are not some human variant with our same DNA. Is that automatically beyond possible here? I think not, since nobody can prove their existence beyond a shadow of doubt!

  12. MattBille responds:

    Re the comment: “Even if they do decide to run nuclear dna on it and it comes back something strange, we would never hear about it. Scientists just dont want to have egg all over their faces.”

    When physicists had anomalous results from a test of the speed of a beam of neutrinos – indicating these particles moved faster than light, contrary to a host of previous experiments and well-established dogma – we immediately heard about it, in the media and an open scientific meeting. Claiming the existence of a new primate is small potatoes compared to the degree to which these people put their reputations, and maybe livelihoods, on the line.

  13. Steve Byrne responds:

    I’m just saying here… Is it “modern” human? A bunch of related discussion has many of these creatures being “human”, but not modern. These things tend to get the old, “Yep, the human primer pulled up some fragments. Case closed, yeti is myth”. It will probably go into the skeptics’ armory now, as a great example of how “open minded science” always seems to come up empty handed on yeti and bigfoot. The complete opposite may only be some nuclear DNA testing and analysis away. If all they did was the mitochondrial dna testing and it came back “human” they should at least be able to say either that it is modern or how recently it may have had mother related to one of us.

    I really don’t care what the truth is, I just want to understand it.

  14. Ragnar responds:

    The “yeti finger” is just another in a very long line of fakes. Intentional or not, its obviously a human finger. Reminds me very much of the relics craze in the middle ages. Every monastery had a saint’s hand, head, finger, piece of the true cross, etc. And nearly all were fakes, manufactured in various places and sold to credulous souls.

    Not surprised at all that Nepalese monks would have a hand they thought was a yeti’s; sometimes faith isn’t about the truth.

  15. Cass_of_MPLS responds:

    I lived Ivan T. Sanderson’s book it was, if not my first—at least one of my earliest exposures to the subject. It was originally published in 1961 and I was eleven years old. Just the right age. You can read it for free.

    Always kinda wished he’d returned my Thunderbird photo before he died, though. My grandpa gave me that (just kidding).

    ANYWAY…

    Once again we are faced with it. The Truth vs What We Hoped Was True. If the Pangboche Hand is homo sapiens and nothing else than so be it.

    The Quest Continues.

    THIS we know…the world IS stranger than Mainstream Science (as it was taught in school) has ever allowed for. Ask any Quantum Physicist.

  16. norman-uk responds:

    matte bille,

    The huge billionaire cern project is quite a lot different to DNA tests on a suggested yeti or bigfoot sample and was the result they got anomalous or was the paradigm? For a start the yeti is a bit thin on official scientific credibility. Then it appears to be uncomfortably close to human affairs. Anything in that area of human identity is usually more political than scientific. Science has also often been shown to be mistaken or fraudulent, (as have yeti believers or non-believers).

    Trapper said;

    ”Will we ever know the complete truth on this finger, no…. Even if they do decide to run nuclear dna on it and it comes back something strange, we would never hear about it. Scientists just dont want to have egg all over their faces.”

    Though in my opinion this is over the top I think it does apply somewhat in reality even if its only shading, especially where careers or funding are at stake. You know how it is!

  17. Cass_of_MPLS responds:

    Now, about the DNA on this hand. Don’t imagine any cover up, please. The hand just didn’t belong to a Yeti.

    Doesn’t say anything about the possible existence of said “beastie.”

    Let it go…let it go….

  18. norman-uk responds:

    There seems to be some confusion about the pangboche hand business. Sanderson reported there were two mummified hands (not including the leopard paw). One of which had neanderthal features, which is which?

    In discussing the size of the hands, what seems to have been left out is that Sanderson reported more than one kind of yeti from the area. Both large and small species. So the average human size of the hand, without considering maturity issues, does not rule out it was a mummified yeti.

    Seems to me there is a lot to be found out about the TWO hand specimens and where they are now. Maybe there has been government intervention as the early history of the samples does not seem to have been a happy one. I would imagine there are with modern sensitivities, reason for some retreat from openness by Nepal authorities. Which ever version you accept of how the finger bone was obtained from the monastery, either by whiskey or cash! Could there be more potential yeti artifacts that under the right conditions of respect be made available for ethical examination?

    +++++++++
    INSTANT REPLY FROM LOREN COLEMAN:

    I respond here so that the reading of this comment from “norman-uk” will not lead to any further confusion.

    As I have written before, even Ivan T. Sanderson was human and could get confused. Beyond the Makalu “forearm” that did turn out to be from a snow leopard), Sanderson mistakenly mentions “two hands” at Pangboche because he is looking at 1958 photographs and post-1959 photographs. He is comparing the rougher pre-Peter Byrne reworked hand with the post-1959, wired-bone hand. The photographs that the 1960 World Book expedition, for example, as well as some Japanese expedition pictures, took, do look remarkably like a “new hand.” There were not “two hand specimens” but only Sanderson’s confusion.

    These misindentifications over the hand have nothing to do with the completely different concept that there are two, or more correctly, three types of Yetis, which are small, mansized, and huge (e.g. Thelma, Met-Teh, Dzu-Teh). These three forms are discussed in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and the area. The Dzu-Teh is generally considered to be a mixed tradition of blue bear and True Giants.

    ~ Loren

  19. alan borky responds:

    ‘What was meant by a finding of “human”?’

    Nailed it in one, Loren: that’s the crux of the whole thing, given we don’t know what yeti DNA looks like.

    They’re people saying, “It’s human, move on!” but on that basis, “Otzi’s human – move on!” “Denisovans? Human – move on!” “Neanderthals? Human – move on!” “Laetoli footprints? Human – move on!”

    Given it seems like every other day researchers’re finding less and less difference between human and ape DNA, that alone should send alarm bells ringing when someone peremptorily decides dispensing the mere term ‘human’ constitutes any kind of explanation of anything.

    Because what if the remains of some ‘yetis’ are actually Tibet’s hitherto unknown equivalent of Mexico’s Wolf Boys?

    What if the whole yeti legend evolved out of hypothetical Tibetan Wolf Boys – or something similar?

    Well the truth is we’re never go’n’o find out so long as ‘human’ passes for a sufficient answer!

  20. norman-uk responds:

    Thank you loren for your clarification.

    We are left with a likely human hand but which in addition is reported by some as having marked neanderthal features. The Dna result shows that the sample is basicaly human too but does not rule out it may be something more. The appearance and size of the hand suggets it wouldnt seem to be from the large manimal yeti which is normally meant when people discuss the hymalayan version. But it could more easily be from the medium and human size ‘yeti’. Maybe a neanderthal or part neanderthal or something a bit closer geneticaly than the ususal european. Maybe something else !

    Scat and hair samples are still available from W C Osmans hills collection, but is the source known? Potential of these samples isnt great but you never know!

    What we have is an incomplete solution to this old mystery and there is always a chance that it can and will be solved.



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