Written by: Katy Meyers Emery
Primary Source: Bones Don’t Lie, October 29, 2015.
[This article is being co-written by myself, Katy Meyers Emery, and Lisa Bright, a graduate student at MSU in the mortuary archaeology program.]
Today’s article is a continuation of yesterday’s review of Bigfoot- if you haven’t already, read the first article, and then continue onto this one. To briefly review, Mitchel Townsend was featured in an article that announced that they had found archaeological evidence of Bigfoot and challenges scientists to refute their findings that the chewed bones they found are evidence for Bigfoot’s existence.
Challenge Accepted! Today, we continue with Lisa’s rebuttal of the evidence that Townsend found.
Challenging the Evidence
So let’s get back to the real news- that a professor has supposedly found evidence of Bigfoot. When we look deeper into this, we found two unpublished articles more closely documenting their findings: “Using Biotic Taphonomy Signature Analysis and Neoichnology Profiling to determine the identify of the carnivore taxa responsible for the deposition and mechanical mastication of three independent prey bone assemblages in the Mount St. Helen’s ecosystem of the Cascade mountain range” by Mills, Mills and Townsend (Forthcoming) and “Tooth Impression Analysis on Predator Killed Elk” also by Mills, Mills and Townsend (Forthcoming). The Mills and Townsend reports are interesting because they are not claiming to have located Bigfoot. Rather, they believe that they have located evidence of Bigfoot’s dinner.
Mills and Townsend “Evidence”
Stacked bones from Mills, Mills & Townsend 2015. Looks fairly natural to me…
Bone stacking technique: They argue that they found nicely stacked piles of bone, which is evidence of human-like behavior, and the Department of Fish and Game determined that the stacking of bones was not a type of behavior seen in any known animal.
- Skeletal evidence: Bones collected were mainly ribs and vertebrae from deer or elk.
- Bigfoot’s teeth: They claim that the impact marks are from incisors, canines, and double arched molars in a pattern that matches human teeth.
Bite mark image from Mills, Mills and Townsend 2015. This is what the authors are calling a single tooth impact mark. Although it may have begun that way, the rib shows evidence of crushing and additional fracturing that makes taking this measurement impossible.
Bite marks: They propose that the bite ratio can be reconstructed from the individual tooth impact marks, and that it is 2.5 times the width of the average human dental arcade.
- Tooth impact marks: They conclude that there were several individuals consuming the deer and elk based on the tooth impressions. They also conclude that the 1.5 inch tooth impact mark width could not have come from a known animal.
- Timing: The authors treat the “kill sites” as recent, even discussing evidence of grass trampling during the elk eating process.
What does this evidence mean? Bigfoot. Really? Yup, that is what it says- Bigfoot. But how does this evidence stand up to real scientific inquiry- here’s Lisa to dispute the claims!
Lisa’s Evidence and Research
The reason Lisa is qualified to dispute this, is it that they cite a public forum presentation she gave in 2010 as supporting their findings, which it definitely does not do. Her masters thesis, “Taphonomic Signatures of Animal Scavenging in Northern California: A Forensic Anthropological Analysis”, sought to better understand scavenger behavior and modification of human remains in northern California. She examined skeletal remains housed in the California State University, Chico Human Identification Laboratory collection for scavenging damage, documenting both the pattern of damage as well as tooth impact mark data.
Still from the video Lisa took during her experiment of bears scavenging a pig carcass.
She also conducted a scavenging experiment by placing pig carcasses in rural wooded areas and used motion activated trail cameras to document scavenging activity. In this case, it was mostly black bears (sometimes more than 12 different bears) scavenging the pig carcasses. Just like the human skeletal sample, Lisa documented the scavenging damage patterns and tooth impact marks on the pig remains. She concluded that the tooth impact measurements didn’t work. She had photographic evidence of what ate the pigs, and using standard methods those tooth pits and punctures by measurement alone could not be traced back to the bears that consumed them. Lisa did, however conclude that bears scavenge in a different pattern than other scavengers by eating areas of the highest fat concentration first (not the internal organs like dogs or coyotes do). If you’re interested, you can also check out her video of the bears scavenging on YouTube!
Lisa’s Interpretation of the Evidence
- Bone stacking technique: Just because the Department of Fish and Game said an animal didn’t pile the bones does not mean that it is otherworldly. Not only do the bones appear to be at the bottom of a slope (and we all know things roll down hill), but it’s also possible that other humans may have picked up and moved the bones, just like the authors did when they encountered them.
- Skeletal evidence: Ribs are difficult bones to take tooth impact measurements on because of their complex shape, and their delicate nature. Ribs and vertebrae are prone to easy fracturing and distortion when being chewed on.
- Bigfoot’s teeth: Incisors typically don’t leave impressions on bone, aside from small scrapes and furrows. Large pits and punctures are typically created by canine teeth.
- Bite marks: The authors are trying to take bite mark analysis and dental arcade reconstructions typically used on flesh or soft material, and translating it to bone. That just does not work.
- Tooth impact marks: When animal scavenge its possible for a single individual to leave a range of tooth impact marks dependent on the depth, pressure, and angle at which they are chewing. They specifically cite a public presentation Lisa gave during the beginning of her thesis research (Bright 2010), where she did talk about the potential ability to infer scavenger activity based on disarticulation sequence, scavenger behavior, and tried to look at tooth impression marks. However, her research concluded that it wasn’t possible to identify the scavenger to species, or potentially even taxa, based only on the tooth impact marks. She had remains that she watched bears scavenge, that did not match the typical tooth impact marks proposed by the literature. The final results are available in her thesis (2011 – articles forthcoming).
- Timing: The bones are highly weathered and sun bleached.Taphonomy is more than just scavenging; it’s anything that happens to the remains after death including movement by gravity or water, human intervention, natural decomposition, etc. At the low end, it’s likely that the bones have been there a minimum of six months, probably more.
In Lisa’s opinion, the damage to the elk and deer remains has a much more logical explanation than Bigfoot. She have not seen the bones, but based on the pictures provided in the reports, she argues that it is most likely bear or coyote scavenging. Although tooth impact analysis may sometimes work to determine the general characteristics of a possible scavenger, her experience with it indicated that method is questionable. There’s a lot of variation that can occur when a tooth impacts bone, especially on ribs. Taphonomy is also more than just animal activity. It involves considering the intrinsic and extrinsic properties of bone, length of outdoor exposure, weather patterns, decomposition timing, and a slew of other variables. All of these things need to be considered together when scavenged bones are analyzed.
Bright, Lisa 2011. Taphonomic Signatures of Animal Scavenging in Northern California: A Forensic Anthropological Analysis. Masters Thesis, UC Chico. Full Text Availale Online: https://www.academia.edu/9871150/Taphonomic_Signatures_of_Animal_Scavenging_in_Northern_California_A_Forensic_Anthropological_Analysis
Aaron Mills, Gerald Mills, M. N. Townsend [Forthcoming]. Using Biotic Taphonomy Signature Analysis and Neoichnology Profiling to determine the identity of the carnivore taxa responsible for the deposition and mechanical mastication of three independent prey bone assemblages in the Mount St. Helen’s ecosystem of the Cascade mountain range. Full Text Available Online: http://sasquatchgenomeproject.org/linked/biotic_taphonomic_signature_analysis_and_neoichnology1.pdf