Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) is the name given to a mythological simian, ape, or hominid-like creature that is said to inhabit forests, mainly in the Pacific Northwest. In North American folklore, Bigfoot is usually described as a large, hairy, bipedal humanoid. The term sasquatch is an Anglicized derivative of the Halkomelem word sásq'ets.
Scientists discount the existence of Bigfoot and consider it to be a combination of folklore, misidentification, and hoax, rather than a living animal, because of the lack of physical evidence and the large numbers of creatures that would be necessary to maintain a breeding population. Occasional new reports of sightings sustain a small group of self-described investigators. Most reports of sightings are attributed to being various animals, particularly black bears.
Individuals claiming to have seen Bigfoot described large eyes, a pronounced brow ridge, and a large, low-set forehead; the top of the head has been described as rounded and crested, similar to the sagittal crest of the male gorilla, with a strong, unpleasant smell. The enormous footprints for which it is named are claimed to be as large as 24 inches (60 cm) long and 8 inches (20 cm) wide. Some footprint casts have also contained claw marks, making it likely that they came from known animals, such as bears, which have five toes and claws. Proponents claim that Bigfoot is omnivorous and mainly nocturnal.
Wild men stories are found among the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Grover Krantz writes, "Native stories that can confidently be related to the sasquatch occur throughout the Pacific Northwest. Their distribution corresponds to the area where White Man accounts are concentrated." According to David Daegling, the legends existed before there was a single name for the creature; and that they differed in their details both regionally and between families in the same community; and that similar stories of wild men are found on every continent except Antarctica. Ecologist Robert Pyle argues that most cultures have human-like giants in their folk history: "We have this need for some larger-than-life creature." Each language had its own name for the creature featured in the local version of such legends. Many names meant something along the lines of "wild man" or "hairy man", although other names described common actions it was said to perform, e.g., eating clams.
Members of the Lummi tell tales about Ts'emekwes, the local version of Bigfoot. The stories are similar to each other in the general descriptions of Ts'emekwes, but details about the creature's diet and activities differed between family stories.
Some regional versions contained more nefarious creatures. The stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai were a nocturnal race that children were told not to say the names of lest the monsters hear and come to carry off a person—sometimes to be killed. In 1847, Paul Kane reported stories by the native people about skoocooms: a race of cannibalistic wildmen living on the peak of Mount St. Helens.
Less-menacing versions exist, such as the one recorded by Reverend Elkanah Walker. In 1840, Walker, a Protestant missionary, recorded stories of giants among the Native Americans living near present-day Spokane, Washington. The Indians said that these giants lived on and around the peaks of nearby mountains and stole salmon from the fishermen's nets.
Local stories were compiled by Indian Agent J. W. Burns in a series of Canadian newspaper articles in the 1920s recounting stories told to him by the Sts'Ailes people of Chehalis and others. The Sts'Ailes maintain, as do other indigenous peoples of the region, that the Sasquatch are very real and take great umbrage when it is suggested that they are legendary. According to Sts'Ailes eyewitness accounts, the Sasquatch prefer to avoid white men, and speak the "Douglas language", i.e. Ucwalmicwts, the language of the people at Port Douglas, British Columbia at the head of Harrison Lake. It was Burns who first borrowed the term Sasquatch from the Halkomelem sásq'ets (IPA: [ˈsæsqʼəts]) and used it in his articles to describe a hypothetical single type of creature reflected in the stories.
Each language had its own name for the local version. Many names meant something along the lines of "wild man" or "hairy man" although other names described common actions it was said to perform, e.g., eating clams.
About one-third of all claims of Bigfoot sightings are located in the Pacific Northwest, with the remaining reports spread throughout the rest of North America. Most reports are considered mistakes or hoaxes, even by researchers who maintain that Bigfoot exists.
As Bigfoot has become better known and a phenomenon in popular culture, sightings have spread throughout North America. In addition to the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region and the Southeastern United States have had many reports of Bigfoot sightings. The debate over the legitimacy of Bigfoot sightings reached a peak in the 1970s, and Bigfoot has been regarded as the first widely popularized example of pseudoscience in American culture.
Proposed explanations for sightings
Various types of creatures have been suggested to explain both the sightings and what type of creature Bigfoot would be. The scientific community typically attributes sightings to either hoaxes or misidentification of known animals and their tracks, particularly black bears. While cryptozoologists generally explain Bigfoot as an unknown ape, some attribute the phenomenon to other causes.
In 2007, the Pennsylvania Game Commission said that the photos that the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization said showed a juvenile Bigfoot were of a bear with mange. Jeffrey Meldrum, on the other hand, said that the limb proportions of the suspected juvenile in question were not bear-like, and stated that he felt they were "more like a chimpanzee."
Both Bigfoot believers and non-believers agree that many of the sightings are hoaxes or misidentified animals.
Bigfoot sightings or footprints have, in some cases, been shown to be hoaxes. Author Jerome Clark argues that the Jacko Affair, involving an 1884 newspaper report of an apelike creature captured in British Columbia, was a hoax. Citing research by John Green, who found that several contemporary British Columbia newspapers regarded the alleged capture as very dubious, Clark notes that the Mainland Guardian of New Westminster, British Columbia, wrote, "Absurdity is written on the face of it."
On July 14, 2005, Tom Biscardi, a long-time Bigfoot enthusiast and CEO of Searching for Bigfoot Inc., appeared on the Coast to Coast AM paranormal radio show and announced that he was "98% sure that his group will be able to capture a Bigfoot which they have been tracking in the Happy Camp, California area." A month later, Biscardi announced on the same radio show that he had access to a captured Bigfoot and was arranging a pay-per-view event for people to see it. Biscardi appeared on Coast to Coast AM again a few days later to announce that there was no captive Bigfoot. Biscardi blamed an unnamed woman for misleading him and the show's audience for being gullible.
On July 9, 2008, Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton posted a video to YouTube claiming that they had discovered the body of a dead Sasquatch in a forest in northern Georgia. Tom Biscardi was contacted to investigate. Dyer and Whitton received $50,000 from Searching for Bigfoot, Inc. as a good faith gesture. The story of the men claims was covered by many major news networks, including BBC, CNN, ABC News, and Fox News. Soon after a press conference, the alleged Bigfoot body arrived in a block of ice in a freezer with the Searching for Bigfoot team. When the contents were thawed, it was discovered that the hair was not real, the head was hollow, and the feet were rubber. Dyer and Whitton subsequently admitted it was a hoax after being confronted by Steve Kulls, executive director of SquatchDetective.com.
In January 2014, Rick Dyer, perpetrator of a previous Bigfoot hoax, said he had killed a Bigfoot creature in September 2012 outside of San Antonio, Texas. He said he had scientific tests performed on the body, "from DNA tests to 3D optical scans to body scans. It is the real deal. It's Bigfoot, and Bigfoot's here, and I shot it, and now I'm proving it to the world." He stated that he intended to take the body, which he had kept in a hidden location, on tour across North America in 2014. He released photos of the body and a video showing a few individuals' reactions to seeing it, but never released any of the tests or scans. He refused to disclose the test results or provide biological samples, although he stated that the DNA results, which were done by an undisclosed lab, could not identify any known animal. Dyer stated he would reveal the body and tests on February 9 at a news conference at Washington University, but the test results were never made available. After the Phoenix tour, the body traveled to Houston. On March 28, 2014, Dyer admitted on his Facebook page that his "Bigfoot corpse" was another hoax. He had paid Chris Russel of Twisted Toy Box to manufacture the prop, which he nicknamed "Hank", from latex, foam, and camel hair. Dyer earned approximately US$60,000 from the tour of this second fake Bigfoot corpse. He maintains that he did kill a Bigfoot, but states that he did not take the real body on tour for fear that it would be stolen.
Bigfoot proponents Grover Krantz and Geoffrey H. Bourne believed that Bigfoot could be a relict population of Gigantopithecus. According to Bourne, all Gigantopithecus fossils were found in Asia, and, as many species of animals migrated across the Bering land bridge, it is not unreasonable to assume that Gigantopithecus might have as well.
Gigantopithecus fossils have not been found in the Americas. The only recovered fossils are of mandibles and teeth, leaving uncertainty about Gigantopithecus's locomotion. Krantz has argued, based on his extrapolation of the shape of its mandible, that Gigantopithecus blacki could have been bipedal. However, the relevant part of the mandible is not present in any fossils. An alternative view is that Gigantopithecus was quadrupedal, and it has been said that Gigantopithecus's enormous mass would have made it difficult for it to adopt a bipedal gait.
Matt Cartmill presents another view regarding the Gigantopithecus hypothesis: "The trouble with this account is that Gigantopithecus was not a hominin and maybe not even a crown group hominoid; yet the physical evidence implies that Bigfoot is an upright biped with buttocks and a long, stout, permanently adducted hallux. These are hominin autapomorphies, not found in other mammals or other bipeds. It seems unlikely that Gigantopithecus would have evolved these uniquely hominin traits in parallel."
Bernard G. Campbell wrote: "That Gigantopithecus is in fact extinct has been questioned by those who believe it survives as the Yeti of the Himalayas and the Sasquatch of the north-west American coast. But the evidence for these creatures is not convincing."
A species of Paranthropus, such as Paranthropus robustus, with its crested skull and bipedal gait, was suggested by primatologist John R. Napier and anthropologist Gordon Strasenburg as a possible candidate for Bigfoot's identity, despite the fact that fossils of Paranthropus are found only in Africa.
Michael Rugg, of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum, presented a comparison between human, Gigantopithecus and Meganthropus skulls (reconstructions made by Grover Krantz) in episodes 131 and 132 of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum Show. He favorably compares a modern tooth suspected of coming from a Bigfoot to the Meganthropus fossil teeth, noting the worn enamel on the occlusal surface. The Meganthropus fossils originated from Asia, and the tooth was found near Santa Cruz, California.
The evidence that does exist supporting the survival of such a large, prehistoric ape-like creature has been attributed to hoaxes or delusion rather than to sightings of a genuine creature. In a 1996 USA Today article, Washington State zoologist John Crane said, "There is no such thing as Bigfoot. No data other than material that's clearly been fabricated has ever been presented." In addition, scientists cite the fact that Bigfoot is alleged to live in regions unusual for a large, nonhuman primate, i.e., temperate latitudes in the northern hemisphere; all recognized apes are found in the tropics of Africa and Asia.
Mainstream scientists do not consider the subject of Bigfoot an area of credible science and there have been a limited number of formal scientific studies of Bigfoot.
Evidence such as the 1967 Patterson–Gimlin film has provided "no supportive data of any scientific value".
As with other proposed megafauna cryptids, climate and food supply issues would make such a creature's survival in reported habitats unlikely. Great apes have not been found in the fossil record in the Americas, and no Bigfoot remains are known to have been found. The breeding population of such an animal would be so large that it would account for many more purported sightings than currently occur, making the existence of such an animal an almost certain impossibility. In the 1970s, when Bigfoot experts were frequently given high-profile media coverage, Mcleod writes that the scientific community generally avoided lending credence to the theories by debating them.
Ivan T. Sanderson and Bernard Heuvelmans have spent parts of their career searching for Bigfoot. Later scientists who researched the topic included Carleton S. Coon, George Allen Agogino and William Charles Osman Hill, although they came to no definite conclusions and later drifted from this research.
Jeffrey Meldrum has said that the fossil remains of an ancient giant ape called Gigantopithecus could turn out to be ancestors of today's commonly known Bigfoot. John Napier asserts that the scientific community's attitude towards Bigfoot stems primarily from insufficient evidence. Other scientists who have shown varying degrees of interest in the creature are David J. Daegling, George Schaller, Russell Mittermeier, Daris Swindler, Esteban Sarmiento, and Carleton S. Coon.
The first scientific study of available evidence was conducted by John Napier and published in his book, Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality, in 1973. Napier wrote that if a conclusion is to be reached based on scant extant "'hard' evidence," science must declare "Bigfoot does not exist." However, he found it difficult to entirely reject thousands of alleged tracks, "scattered over 125,000 square miles" or to dismiss all "the many hundreds" of eyewitness accounts. Napier concluded, "I am convinced that Sasquatch exists, but whether it is all it is cracked up to be is another matter altogether. There must be something in north-west America that needs explaining, and that something leaves man-like footprints."
In 1974, the National Wildlife Federation funded a field study seeking Bigfoot evidence. No formal federation members were involved and the study made no notable discoveries.
Beginning in the late 1970s, physical anthropologist Grover Krantz published several articles and four book-length treatments of Sasquatch. However, his work was found to contain multiple scientific failings including falling for hoaxes.
A study published in the Journal of Biogeography in 2009 by J.D. Lozier et al. used ecological niche modeling on reported sightings of Bigfoot, using their locations to infer Bigfoot's preferred ecological parameters. They found a very close match with the ecological parameters of the American black bear, Ursus americanus. They also note that an upright bear looks much like Bigfoot's purported appearance and consider it highly improbable that two species should have very similar ecological preferences, concluding that Bigfoot sightings are likely sightings of black bears.
In the first systematic genetic analysis of 30 hair samples that were suspected to be from bigfoot, yeti, sasquatch, almasty or other anomalous primates, only one was found to be primate in origin, and that was identified as human. A joint study by the University of Oxford and Lausanne's Cantonal Museum of Zoology and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B in 2014, the team used a previously published cleaning method to remove all surface contamination and the ribosomal mitochondrial DNA 12S fragment of the sample was sequenced and then compared to GenBank to identify the species origin. The samples submitted were from different parts of the world, including the United States, Russia, the Himalayas, and Sumatra. Other than one sample of human origin, all but two are from common animals. Black and brown bear accounted for most of the samples, other animals include cow, horse, dog/wolf/coyote, sheep, goat, raccoon, porcupine, deer and tapir. The last two samples matched a fossilized genetic sample of a 40,000 year old polar bear of the Pleistocene Epoch.
After what The Huffington Post described as "a five-year study of purported Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) DNA samples," Texas veterinarian Melba Ketchum and her team announced that they had found proof that the Sasquatch "is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species". Ketchum called for this to be recognized officially, saying that "Government at all levels must recognize them as an indigenous people and immediately protect their human and Constitutional rights against those who would see in their physical and cultural differences a 'license' to hunt, trap, or kill them." Failing to find a scientific journal that would publish their results, Ketchum announced on February 13, 2013 that their research had been published in the DeNovo Journal of Science. The Huffington Post discovered that the journal's domain had been registered anonymously only nine days before the announcement. The only edition of DeNovo was listed as Volume 1, Issue 1, and its only content was the Bigfoot research.
There are several organizations dedicated to the research and investigation of Bigfoot sightings in the United States. The oldest and largest is the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO). The BFRO also provides a free database to individuals and other organizations. Their website includes reports from across North America that have been investigated by researchers to determine credibility.
In popular culture
Bigfoot has had a demonstrable impact as a popular culture phenomenon. It has "become entrenched in American popular culture and it is as viable an icon as Michael Jordan" with more than forty-five years having passed since reported sightings in California, and neither an animal nor "a satisfying explanation as to why folks see giant hairy men that don't exist".
When asked for her opinion of Bigfoot in a September 27, 2002, interview on National Public Radio's "Science Friday", Jane Goodall said "I'm sure they exist", and later said, chuckling, "Well, I'm a romantic, so I always wanted them to exist", and finally, "You know, why isn't there a body? I can't answer that, and maybe they don't exist, but I want them to." In 2012, when asked again by the Huffington Post, Goodall said "I'm fascinated and would actually love them to exist", adding, "Of course, it's strange that there has never been a single authentic hide or hair of the Bigfoot, but I've read all the accounts."
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