Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Concept Review: A Plethora of Bigfeet

Dear Constant Readers,

It seems perhaps Heuvelmans was right after all and the great days of Zoology are not done. I strongly urge anybody even remotely interested in wildlife to read these Darren Naish posts (Parts I, II, III and IV) and visit Marc van Roosmalen's website.

So why should I mention this before a mystery primate post? First it should be noted that none of these animals has had any Cryptozoological interest whatsoever except for minor mentions of the new big cat. All of these animals also have fairly close living relatives, hinting that perhaps some will turn out to be subspecies/regional variation. Regardless, this really has to be one of the most spectacular things I've ever heard of happening in the world of Zoology. It gives hope for the discovery of new species...but I don't feel it helps support the case of "cryptids" and traditional Cryptozoology.

If a large species of hominid was discovered living in Western North America it would probably be even more spectacular than the amazing work of van Roosmalen. They would be perhaps one of (if not the) largest primates ever to live, would be among the largest animals on the continent (up to brown bear sized), require a significant ghost lineage and range extension for hominids, and given how close it lives to humans...imply them to be one of the smartest and most intentionally cryptic animals ever. Notice how there are no potential local relatives (unless they're H. sapiens derivatives) and there is a great deal of Cryptozoological attention in a flip of the situation with van Roosmalen's. They also hasn't been discovered.

Now, how is one to react to the notion that there is not just one species wandering around, but a plethora of them? Perhaps in the more naive 50's and 60's Sanderson's, Heuvelmans' and others' theorizing about four or so species (Heuvelmans wasn't clear) could be conceivable, but in this modern day...in places like North America? Incredibly, it has been proposed about a decade ago by Cryptozoologists that there are no fewer than nine "classes" of moderately large to outrageously large primates. It should be noted that these artificial "classes" appear to hold multiple species apiece, implying that there could be dozens of separate species. This is an order of magnitude more spectacular than van Roosmalen's work and I personally think most of it is an outright fantasy.

Most. There still is a chance that a few of the more reasonably sized and isolated types could be discovered. Regardless of my opinion on the matter, I still think that the subject matter deserves a fair and critical treatment. I'm not a cynical rejectionist, I'm a skeptic...our language does not differentiate between the two but they are quite distinct. Those masquerading as "skeptics" are often as close-minded and unscientific as those with blind faith. There's always a ray of hope, even if it is increasingly slim.

Oh yes, I should have mentioned by now that the books that I will covering are The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide by Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe (Avon Books, New York, 1999) and The Yeti, Bigfoot & True Giants Revised Edition by Mark A. Hall (Mark A. Hall Publications, Minneapolis, 1997). There was another edition of Hall's book in 2005 as well as another book called Living Fossils on the more "human" of the hominids which I could not find due to rarity. Coleman and Huyghe's book covers the same subject regardless, so it shouldn't hinder me reviewing the subject. According to this website, Hall and Coleman will be publishing more books on this subject in the near future, so I'll probably create an addendum (probably a separate post) to this when I can read them.

As I have not even started discussing the nine types yet, this post will certainly become one of the most outrageously long I've ever written. For those of you brave enough here is the alleged classification of unknown anthropoids, this Plethora of Bigfeet:



Neo-Giants

This is the "sasquatch" of popular conceptualization (Cryptozoological and otherwise): a big hairy biped living in the Pacific Northwest. This "class" also extends down the Andes mountains and the Himalayas of Central Asia, implying one to three closely related species. It appears that most of the description of this "class" is taken from familiar sasquatch. These cryptids range from 6 to 9 feet tall and have pronounced sexual dimorphism although both genders are hugely robust and have a pronounced sagittal crest. They also have prognathous jaws, a heavy brow-ridge, and small round eyes. In other words, these look like big bipedal gorillas. The authors theorize the creatures are nocturnal and lean heavily towards herbivory. The estimated weight for the 6-7 foot tall Patterson-Gimlin film subject at 5-700 pounds implies the big 9-foot males weigh roughly 1500 or more pounds. The footprints are huge human-like tracks apparently averaging 16 inches, but allegedly reach 20 inches long by 9 inches wide. There is a distinctive "split ball" feature and the toes are similarly sized.

Due to the cube law, larger animals tend to need more muscle attachment area, so a sagittal crest on a huge primate is not a surprise (think chimpanzees vs. gorillas). The authors unconvincingly theorize that the animals are from the hominid genus Paranthropus, which are comparatively tiny (up to ~4'7" and 110 lbs) African creatures that did have sagittal crests in both genders. Hall explicitly connects Meganthropus to this creature as he thinks it is a "highly developed primate some 8 feet tall" and a Southeast Asian representation of robust Australopithecines. Coleman/Huyghe explicitly state that Meganthropus is Paranthropus, implying a connection. As Constant Readers may recall, the idea of Meganthropus as Paranthropus is a minority view to say the least, all the recent research implies this to be some sort of "giant" Homo erectus-like creature. I say "giant" because height estimates are not possible without post-cranial fossils and "Meganthropus" could very well just be an outrageously robust erectine of normal height. The cherry-picking of facts (often decades outdated) and selection of dubious morphological traits is typical fare for these books.

Gargantuan though these primates may be, the sasquatch creature's evidence is at least fairly respectable. Even though this discovery is still improbable and would be incredibly spectacular, it appears to be one of the most probable of the mystery primates. As for reports in other locations, their connection to this class appears due to size and the robust physique. I have not heard of the distinctive "double ball" footprint turning up in these locations, and I am not quite convinced that these cryptids belong to this class. Well, I'm not convinced the idea of a "class" is a very good idea at all frankly.



True Giants

By comparison, this "class" makes the Neo-Giants look all but certain. Unlike the last type, reports are sparse and occur over a huge area: most of North America, NW South America, Siberia, Central and SE Asia, Central and NE Africa, Northern Australia (!), and apparently...South Central Greenland (!?!?). It apparently formerly lived in Europe as well. The feet have four toes, are quite symmetrical and measure 21 by 10 inches "or larger". The implied maximum height given by the authors is...20 feet tall. 20 feet tall. 20 feet tall! This is simply outrageous in light that the tallest giraffe was 19.2 feet tall. Hall makes matters worse by discussing a vast three-toed track 22 by 40 inches long which he believed possibly belonged to a 27-footer. Due to a posture change in Brachiosaurids, it appears that Sauroposeidon was "only" around 10 meters/33 feet tall. This is a living King Kong that rivals the tallest dinosaurs for height. Unlike Kong though, these animals are depicted as being apparently "lean" even with a coat of fur and are prone to "wobbly" movements. Thanks to the cube law again, if you're going to get bigger and try and preserve some of your muscular strength, you're going to have to get more robust and not leaner. Even at the apparently more "normal" 12 feet or so for this "class", I'm significantly doubting how well it would be able to function. I have the feeling that most of the apparent size of this class would be due to exaggeration, of course assuming it is based on anything at all. But don't worry, this "class" gets weirder.

The authors all connect this "class" to the fossil primate Gigantopithecus which is classified as a Sivapithecine ape. Though most reconstructions dubiously portray it as a super-Gorilla; judging by its close relation to the orangutan and quite orangutan-like Sivapithecus it should have reasonably looked like a beefed up ground-dwelling orangutan. You can find out more about this spectacular genus here. According to Grover Krantz, who believed that the sasquatch/"neo giant" was Gigantopithecus, the parabolic shape of the jaw indicated a foramen magnum underneath the skull which indicates bipedalism. You can see the jaw isn't that parabolic and I do not find it convincing that the jaw couldn't have acquired that (slight) shape through some other pressure. The Coleman/Huyghe book oddly states that the most recent work by "some scientists" indicates a biped upwards of 10 feet tall. Implying that this isn't an extreme minority viewpoint is deceptive to say the least, and further indication of the rampant fact cherry-picking. Their whole case is based on size, another poor morphological character.

Despite the link with Giganto, the "true giant" is portrayed as an exceedingly human-like creature with a flat face, long head hair, occasional tool use (e.g. clubs, drums?!), occasional clothing use, and perhaps a primitive form of language. Hall theorizes that these may be some sort of human imitators (convergent evolution implied?) that eventually fought with us, became estranged, and then wound up as the degenerate wanderers we have left today. This is a pretty good idea for a science fiction novel and I am considering stealing it. The universal folklore of giants (and little people, dragons, deities et cetera) is indeed an interesting one, but I do not find the giant human imitator hypothesis to be plausible in this reality. There sure as heck isn't any hard evidence for it, but Hall seems convinced that there is a Vast Scientific Conspiracy Against The Noble Lone Researcher keeping him from proving his case...rather than considering that he could be wrong.

Hall states many vague folklore mentions of giants to support his case, and Coleman/Huyghe unfortunately put one of these into the book. Tolkien would surely cringe at the notion that Grendel from Beowulf was a representation of a "true giant"! There isn't much of a physical description given, and the authors use "matted, reed-covered hair" as the "distinguishing characteristic". Why the hell does this need to be presented as a field guide anyways? Given that the poem had a long oral history, using it as "evidence" of any kind for an unknown animal is a joke. Is this the best that they could do? Is this "field guide" worthy? I personally like the idea that Grendel is a berserker (beats the occasional Creationist opinion of a Tyrannosaurus, yeesh), but the authors act as if their answer is the only one. There is very little critical thought in either of these books at all, and it would be folly to try and point out every example.

Coleman and Hall are coming out with a "true giant" book which I hope is a vast improvement on this very preliminary and sketchy research. I am genuinely interested by those bizarre four-toed tracks appearing in Asia and America (the Australian reports curiously mention footprint but not toe count, hmmmm) but I remain much more skeptical to this than the "neo giant" and most of the other types presented...and that's really saying something. I'm convinced that nobody will find a "true giant" fossil or otherwise, but I'd be glad to be proven wrong.



Marked Hominids

This is the smallest of the "bigfeet" which stands 6.5 to 7 feet tall. Mark A. Hall reached into the realm of hyper obscure archeology to select the Gardarene skull, daringly named Homo gardarensis, as the candidate for this type. It was found in a 12th century Viking graveyard in Greenland; and while the reconstruction is low vaulted, that lower jaw looks suspiciously similar to our own as opposed to the H. heidelbergensis shape. Hall's illustration only compared it to the Mauer mandible, not the most convincing method. It was examined by four studies later on which found it to be acromegalic H. sapiens, but since there was a trend at the time to dismiss some non H. sapiens hominids as pathological perhaps the fragments should at least be re-examined. I'm not suggesting that it is anything but our species, but it should at least be interesting to look at. The authors claim that this species is in fact a survivor of the "giant European man Homo heidelbergensis" (apparently = H. gardarensis) which while tall at 1.8 meters ~ 6 feet average is only as tall as a normal Dutch person whom I personally would not regard as "giants".

Tales of the Tornit by the Inuit are attributed to this "class", and while they are described as long limbed (from an Inuit perspective) and very strong. The burden of evidence is on the authors to try and convince me that this is not a member of our species, but a near-human. Hall equates tales of the Tornit with Dorset culture (which may be right) and essentially claims that what archaeologists assumed was a pre-Inuit culture was in fact a separate species! It is quite possible that the Dorset culture survived until as recently as 1902, in which case I find it quite hard to believe that they were "trolls" and not real people. He also claimed that they wore high collars in order to enhance hearing like giant amplifiers. Hmm.

While Hall's...interesting...website mostly covers this "class" in the past, the field guide gives us a view of the modern reports. These are the most human looking of the bigfeet according to the field guide's description, but the illustrations confusingly portray them as having an ape-like head and massive upper body with super-long (~4 feet) arms. An eyewitness-based drawing (not in the book) of the Mecheny sighting does seem to show a rather ape-ish hominid as well, so this isn't artistic licence. Everything derived from H. ergaster/erectus (including us) essentially seemed to have basic body plan. The authors also attribute strange narrow, long, curved footprints to this "class" despite the fact that Homo heidelbergensis footprints are known and they look nothing like them. So basically it looks like once again the identity has once again been chosen from a few not-too-diagnostic traits.

That aside, this type is supposed to be seen from the high Arctic of Baffin Island, coastal Greenland, Novaya Zemlya, Iceland (?!?!), and Northern Europe down until the temperate and near-subtropics of Asia and North America. Perhaps due to the generic appearance the authors are not certain if it exists globally or not. And that is just the problem with the "class", it is so instinctive looking! The field guide differentiates it due to its (alleged) frequent lighter patches of hair coloration, which is also not a very convincing trait. This just seems to be another tall hairy person which either resembles the other types or humans whose primitive living conditions have been exaggerated. Well there's the MoMo which strongly resembles a person in a ghillie suit.



An Early Conclusion

This really demonstrates the problems with classification systems. Reading through reports there just isn't that much diagnostic said about these creatures other than they are big, man-like, and hairy. I get the impression that the authors have chosen a few unusally detailed sightings and have made a classification system around them, much as Heuvelmans appears to have done in his sea-serpent classification. I have the feeling that this classification system is not splitting, but is in fact lumping together potentially different phenomenon under the same unnatural "class" label. The "field guide" classification system in conjunction with the "class" system just causes confusion. Are the three North American "Marked Hominids" variation, separate species, or something else? It just isn't very well explained or really necessary.

So what should be done? I feel bad criticizing without trying to be constructive. If the authors are to tackle this subject again, they need to stop comparing these sightings to fossils. Seriously, the connections are extremely tenuous and the "facts" stated are poorly researched and look very unprofessional. Perhaps instead of relying so much on the "class" system, the different phenomenon can be looked at in their respective hot-spots. After then attempts to connect the classes could be made, but they'd have to be tenous. The field guide format would have to be dropped and many more interesting and synergetic sample sightings can be used other than rambling samplings. Not showing one's work is not exactly the most convincing method. At the end of the field guide, the authors give their "best bets" for which ones are real, and they are logical selections. Why not focus on these probabilities and treat the anomalous reports of 20-foot tall pointy eared monsters as what they are...curiousities.

Perhaps if there really is something out there and Cryptozoologists use more professional methods like van Roosmalen's, something may actually get accomplished.

If I were to guess now, I'd say its all a load of bullocks...but there is still that nagging single photon of hope.


-Cameron



P.S.

Yes, this post did get a bit too long and I did indeed conclude a little early. That's the problem with these posts, the stream-of-conciousness format can be a bit unpredictable. If there is some interest in the other types, I'd be glad to write on them too even after the conclusion. Well, even if there isn't I may do it anyways.



P.P.S.

Due to my hatred of Old Man Copyright and my love of illustrations, I have decided to quickly sketch out my own versions of the above three types. Well actually not that quickly, hair is a real pain in the butt to draw. I can draw better (so he says...) but if anybody wants to use this image consider it in the public domain. I felt oddly compelled to write "Merry Christmas" on this for some reason, but I'm not sure why. All the beards, myself half included?


2 comments:

Caitling said...

I have to admit that this blog post is much more interesting when being read outload to an audiance who fully understand the subject matter.

I loved the humor in all of this, you really need to send this post to the authors of that book. I mean the worst they can do is send "grendel" out to get you.

I'm looking forward to seeing all of the pictures and the continuation of this.

I am fairly certain that all things described if actually real, are just hairy, homeless men.

Cameron McCormick said...

20 foot tall homeless men? Balderdash, only the hobos can grow that tall and mighty on their bean juice. Look again (putting a comment here doesn't help) the illustrations have combined and pooled at the bottom.