Bigfoot: Finally A Reasonable Scientific Inquiry?

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If you ask anyone on the street, they will almost always have an opinion. Does Bigfoot exist? That question has brought much laughter and skepticism in the last fifty years. throughout European history in this country Americans have been presented with eyewitness accounts of hairy wild men, roaming the deepest parts of the forest. Numerous foot and hand print castings have been made, and home movies shot. Unfortunately, the majority of the population chooses to not believe in Bigfoot. In reality, they choose to not look at the evidence.

Media has been the real culprit in setting the tone for Bigfoot perceptions. In fact the name Bigfoot was coined by a newspaper. The myth that grew in the 50's went something like this: Bigfoot, a lone monster, roamed the forests of the continental west. This creature was afforded the ability to walk with his feet backwards, throw full 55 gallon drums of grease 150 feet and become invisible, among others.

Bigfoot was always written of as something to mock, a jest. Those who stepped forward with sightings were quickly ridiculed, discredited and marginalized. Those witnesses who had ample credibility, such as policemen, biologists or other professionals were simply not brought up by the media. (Napier 79) Fast forward to today. The same "joke at the end of the hour" still pervades most media, and people's perceptions haven't changed much about the subject. The real crime here is that while public sentiment has remained static, the field of Bigfoot research has continued to progress, with some powerful new evidence, analysis and reasoning.

To begin, some basic facts and beliefs need to be ironed out. First and foremost, Bigfoot is not an individual. Modern scientists who further this work are looking for a small, endangered breeding population. Bigfoot does not have human emotions and thought processes. Media and human nature have painted Bigfoot with a human-like intelligence. This is most certainly false. The creature is probably is on the order of other contemporary primates in intelligence and reasoning. While often sighted alone, the animal seems to be part of a social framework, and likely belongs to a small band or family. Finally, Bigfoot is not alien, psychic, supernatural, good or evil. It is a rare, highly adapted, reclusive primate.

There is much to be said against the belief of Bigfoot. And much of it is right. The evidence even today is circumstantial, and as of this writing; no body, living or dead, has been produced. Neither skeletal remains nor recent fossil record exists. Skeptics say that footprints can be planted. Ape suits can be worn. People fabricate sightings for the excitement of the moment. Even movies can be staged for profit. But the devil is in the details, and the details are the heart of the matter when it comes to Bigfoot. As we progress through new evidence, we will consider the skeptics' arguments and how they fit in with modern science.

For the remainder of the text I will refer to the Bigfoot as sasquatch. This is an amalgam of common tribal names for the creature, created by a reservation schoolteacher in 1920. Translated it means "wild man of the woods." Sasquatch lore extends through the oral traditions of many Pacific Northwestern tribes, and some argue that the sasquatch is depicted on totems of some of these peoples, as well as masks and other carved artifacts.

The scientific community has long scoffed at the idea of sasquatch, and any evidence presented has been quickly dismissed with little examination. If one understands the scientific community this response is natural. Scientists have limited resources, and there are many, many fringe theories put forth by less than scientific people. Science has neither time nor desire to baby these more than likely false ideas, so in the interest of time and grant money they find a way to fake the evidence and summarily dismiss it as a hoax. Another factor in the scientific community, an irony really, is the status quo. Science works hard to create a theory which is then accepted as a foundation for the next accepted theory, and so on. When some rebel comes along and offers an idea that refutes or replaces one of these cornerstones the whole wall has to be rebuilt. Science doesn't like that. So in the interest of stability, some revolutionary and persuasive ideas are not allowed into the arena of scientific debate. (Krantz 238) Sasquatch is one of the victims of this mentality.

Within the last 10 or 15 years there has emerged a core of scientists who have had the courage to consider the sasquatch as a real possibility. They have not only postulated hoaxing explanations but have tested them to see what is a plausible hoax. They have turned to primate evolution, natural history, animal physiology and even dermal ridge analysis to prove or refute the evidence and hypothesis of an undiscovered great primate in North America.

The first and largest question is why don't we have a body? In well over 100 years of modern sightings and a few attempts to shoot a sasquatch there has been no body produced. How can this be? Let's take a quick look at what we know for sure: The animal's home range is some of the most impenetrable forestland in North America.

In Northern California alone there are roughly 35,000 square miles of rugged, remote, unpopulated wilderness. This land is full of steep sided mountains, canyons and thick forests. Liebig's Law of the Minimum shows us that growth is controlled not by the total of resources available, but by the scarcest resource. (Barnett 116) This means that sasquatch populations cannot grow beyond the ability of the land to provide food for the population. The temperate forests of the Northwest are known for their lack abundance, therefore greatly limiting any large animal's population. We also know that the animal flees from humans consistently. There have been a few accounts of sasquatchs interacting with humans, but in reality the bulk of the sightings have shown the creature to shun humans. Finally, some have asked why have there been no bones from a natural sasquatch death. As any biologist will tell you, finding the remains of large top-tier predator are virtually impossible. Large animals such as bear and cougars hole-up, or hide, when they are sick or wounded. If they die, their remains are hidden in the earth. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that a sasquatch would do they same. (Bourne 399) Alongside of personal testimony, the oldest and most common evidence we have of sasquatch is the footprint. The authentic footprints we have recorded, while anatomically consistent with one another, display individuality in size and shape consistent with a natural variance within a population. Just as you and your mother's feet are not the same, sasquatch prints exhibit the same unique characteristics. The best and most accurate record of a footprint is a casting. A casting is in actuality a "negative" of a footprint, wherein a border is built up around a footprint with wood or dirt, then plaster of paris or other casting material is poured in. When dried, you have an inverse of the print, so that the deepest depression becomes the highest feature. Study of the castings easily dismisses the fakes. First off, the physics of a rigid fake "foot" create an easily recognized print. The fake digs in deeper at the heel edge, grows shallow at the center, then digs in at the toe edge as the print is removed. True sasquatch prints represent an organic foot that interacts with the ground as the creature strides. Expansion of the toes and edges into the sides of the print as weight is applies shows that the foot is flesh, not wood. (Meldrum ) The pressure and indentation of foot and toes can be studied by those who understand podiatry and/or primate physiology. Dr. Jeff Meldrum of Idaho State University is a primate physiology specialist, and a well known sasquatch footprint researcher. His interest began 12 years ago, when he came across tracks in Washington. His and others' study of sasquatch castings has revealed a distinct locomotion, similar to, but distinct from, humans. An interesting note on the imprints is that some have been recorded with anatomically correct crippled or damaged feet. (Meldrum) The most compelling evidence of sasquatch existence comes from the footprints. "Dermal ridges" is a name that is more commonly known as fingerprints. All primates have them, and sasquatch is no exception. Some of the better castings (hand and foot) show dermal ridges that, until recently, were not analyzed. This was because no one knew of a primate fingerprinting specialist. Fortunately in 1995, Jimmy Chilcutt, a well-respected fingerprinting specialist from Texas began studying primate fingerprinting to expand his understanding of the human prints. Over the next 3 years Officer Chilcutt convinced zoos and research centers to allow him to catalogue the prints of their primates. In 1998 he was watching a show on sasquatch research and heard Dr. Meldrum explain and show dermal ridges in a casting. A sasquatch nonbeliever, Chilcutt thought if anyone could debunk this hoax, it was him. He visited Pocatello's ISU campus in April 1999 and examined several castings containing dermal ridges. In fact the casting used in the show was a hoax; the perpetrator's fingerprints remained from forming the sasquatch print with their hands. In spite of that, Officer Chilcutt confirmed 5 specimens that not only had non-human dermal ridges, but that the ridging did not correspond to any known large primate in existence.

"No way do human footprints do that -- never, ever. The skeptic in me had to believe that (all of the prints were from) the same species of animal," Chilcutt said. "I believe that this is an animal in the Pacific Northwest that we have never documented." (Houston Chronicle) The best and most controversial piece of sasquatch evidence is in the form of the Patterson film. The film is a motion picture of a purported Bigfoot, filmed by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin on October 20, 1967. There is an incredible amount of dispute about this film, beginning with Patterson himself. Described by many as shifty, opportunistic and deceptive, Patterson had the habit of borrowing money to fund his sasquatch film and never paying it back. In fact, the camera he used was rented and overdue. An arrest warrant was out on him for stealing the camera. Grover Krantz, preeminent in the field sasquatch research knew Patterson in the last years of his life.

"In my judgment of his character, Patterson might have tried to fake a film of this kind if he had the ability to do so. Also in my judgment he had nowhere near the knowledge or facilities to do so - nor, for that matter, had anyone else." The scientific details in the Patterson film revolve around exact height, weight, stride style and physiology of the subject. The merits and detractions have been argued for nearly 40 years, with no one yet able to disprove or recreate the events recorded on film. (Meldrum) So what are we to do with all this evidence? We know that there have been over 1000 documented sasquatch sightings. Even if 9 of 10 people are lying, that leaves us 100 good, credible witnesses. The dermal ridges are not a stretch of imagination. They can be seen and examined. They are real. The footprints they are on are real too, and proper study and analyzation shows much more than a wooden shoe. Patterson's film raises some serious questions; chiefly that no one in 1967 had the special effects talents to pull off such an anatomically unique creature.

It is clear that the idea of an orchestrated, complex hoax spanning over one hundred years is absurd. It is also beyond reason to think that one or more primate anatomy experts has created an articulated, lifelike foot and made prints all over North America. These prints have been proven to be made with 500-1000 pounds of pressure, With a stride well beyond the ability of a man to reproduce. All this evidence aside, the hoaxing of unique primate fingerprints, while technically possible, would require so much scientific knowledge that the hoaxer would indeed be a "mad scientist".

The reality of the modern evidence strips away the myth of Bigfoot. Anyone looking objectively at what scientists have cannot dismiss sasquatch out of hand. Sometimes we have to step back from our accepted ideas, suspend disbelief and process new data in order to understand something we are presented with. Sasquatch deserves at least our open-mindedness as a legitimate inquiry.

Works Cited Napier, John Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality. New York; EP Dutton & Co., 1973 Krantz, Grover S. Big Footprints, a Scientific Inquiry Into the Reality of Sasquatch. Boulder, Johnson Books, 1992 Barnett, S.A. Instinct and Intelligence: Behavior of Animals and Man. New Jersey, Prentice Hall Inc., 1967 Bourne, Geoffrey H. Primate Odyssey. New York, G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1974 Meldrum, Dr. Jeff, Evaluation of Alleged Sasquatch Footprints… University of Idaho, 20 Sep 2005 ( Meldrum, Dr. Jeff, Press Release, Idaho State University, 20 Sep 2005 ( Houston Chronicle, Bigfoot Fingerprints. Houston Chronicle, 20 Sep 2005 (