I am a folklore historian with degrees in history. Within every story is a seed of truth.
The Legend of the Wild Man
Since the dawn of time, cultures throughout the world have told stories of the "Wild Man" or "Hairy Man." Petroglyphs at Painted Rock in Tulare, CA depict both a “Hairy Man” and an entire family of these wild men dating back 500-1000 years. Painted Rock is a sacred site of the Yokuts people. To Spanish explorers in California during the 16th century, the wild men were called Dark Watchers. In the Himalayas, the wild man is called Yeti, and in Russia he is known as Almas. And for most people in North America, the wild man is known as Sasquatch—or more commonly—Bigfoot.
The Science Behind the Legend
Dr. Jeff Meldrum, anthropologist and professor of anatomy, remarks that in each culture the native language for such a creature typically referred to a hairy or wild man. In some instances, it could refer to the actions of said creature. For example, in central Pennsylvania is the legend of the Albatwitch, which is similar to the Bigfoot legend. The Albatwitch stands only four feet tall and has features similar to Sasquatch. It gained its name from its habit of stealing apples. Hence, an apple snitch, or Albatwitch.
Although the existence of such creatures has not been seriously studied by scholars, recent investigations are lending a scientific understanding to the legends, thereby bringing the study of Sasquatch into scholarly circles. Some anthropologists and primatologists believe Sasquatch is a lasting population of a previously believed extinct Asian ape. Alternately, Boris Porshev, a Soviet historian, has put forth the theory that the creatures are remnants of Neanderthals. However, this theory has been largely ignored by most.
According to Folklorists, the origin of the Yeti is traced to a variety of combining factors. One of which is the idea that Sherpa, natives of the mountains of Nepal, misidentified plants and/or bears. In Tibetan folklore, there are three types of Yetis, the Nayalmo, Chuti, and the Ranf Shim Bombo.
The Nyalmo has black fur and stands 15 feet tall. He is the largest and fiercest of the three. The Chuti lives around 9,000 feet above sea level and stands approximately eight feet tall. The Rang Shim Bombo has reddish-brown fur and, like the Albatwitch of Pennsylvania, stands about four feet tall. Like Bigfoot in America, the Yeti is often simply referred to as the Abominable Snowman.
Indigenous Tribes of the Americas
While the Salish tribe gave us the name for Sasquatch with Sasquits, the Algonquian tribe refers to it as Witiko. The Ojibway of the Northern Plains told stories of the Rugaru, who appeared in times of danger. Many other tribes agree that a hairy apparition was an omen of warning that man must change his ways or face troubles. In many areas of Louisiana today, stories of the Rugaru abound. The legend has metamorphosed into a creature that more closely resembles a werewolf in modern terms. Similarly, the legend of the Wedigo or Witiko has shifted from that of a Sasquatch to something more sinister.
In the most popular sighting area of the Pacific Northwest, Indigenous tribes have deeply rooted Sasquatch into their cultural significance. They relate ancient tales of wild men who lurked near villages and left very large footprints. Both stories and sightings of Sasquatch continue on reservations today, thus representing a deep spiritual connection between Sasquatch and tribal heritage.
Read More From Exemplore
Unsurprisingly, only two scientific publications report DNA sequence data from atypical primates. This was done in a tongue-in-cheek manner. However, in 2012, the hair samples used in the two studies were requested from their respective locations. 57 samples were recovered and subjected to serious scientific examination. Based upon provenance and/or historic interest, 37 samples were chosen for genetic analysis. Out of these samples, seven did not offer any DNA sequences. Of the other 30 samples, common animal identification was found. While the scientists who conducted this research were able to find mundane identifications, they acknowledge that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
With advances in DNA sequencing, it is reasonable to assume that more research will be conducted in regard to Sasquatch. With this in mind, the field of biology, specifically evolutionary biologists, will likely also enter into the field. As scientific techniques continue to improve, testing becomes more accurate. Soon the world will no longer need to rely upon stories and fuzzy photos. Slowly but surely, as Sasquatch investigation becomes more scholarly, it may soon lead to discovering a new unknown species.
Human or Beast?
Many researchers point to a primate descendant as the most likely reality behind the Sasquatch myth. To that point, the ancient, and presumably extinct, Gigantopithecus is suggested as a possible answer. Living during the early to middle Pleistocene era, Gigantopithecus was native to Asia, however, advocates suggest that during the Ice Age, these creatures crossed the Bering ice bridge and migrated to what is now America. Based upon skull fragments, it is estimated that this ancient species grew to approximately 12 feet tall and weighed between 400-600 pounds.
Yet, one thing can not be ignored. In native languages for cultures having a “Sasquatch” myth, the name translates to a wild or hairy “man”. Man, not creature or beast. A recent independent genetic test by Dr. Melba S. Ketchum on genomes from Sasquatch samples, suggests that Sasquatch is a hybrid creature. Dr. Ketchum puts forth that her DNA research reveals Sasquatch is a human relative, which rose about 15,000 years ago. The study is currently undergoing peer review, a process that can take some time to complete. Perhaps in the future scholars will find the answers to this age old legend.
Legend of Bigfoot, https://mil.wa.gov/the-legend-of-bigfoot
Moskowitz, Kathy (August 13, 2004). "Mayak datat: An Archaeological Viewpoint of the Hairy Man Pictographs". bigfootproject.org.
Bourne, Geoffrey H.; Cohen, Maury (1975). The Gentle Giants: The Gorilla Story. G.P. Putnam's Sons. p. 296.
Loxton, Daniel; Prothero, Donald (2013). Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. Columbia University Press. pp. 103-104.
Bhairav, J. Furcifer; Khanna, Rakesh (2020). Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India. India: Blaft Publications Pvt. Ltd. pp. 428–429.
Walls, Robert, Bigfoot (Sasquatch) Legend (2021), Oregon Historical Society, https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/bigfoot_sasquatch_legend/#.YnGMdNrMI2w
Sykes, B. C., Mullis, R. A., Hagenmuller, C., Melton, T. W., & Sartori, M. (2014). Genetic analysis of hair samples attributed to yeti, bigfoot and other anomalous primates. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 281(1789), 20140161. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.0161
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 BR Williams