Written by: Katy Meyers Emery
Primary Source: Bones Don’t Lie, October 28, 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.]
In 2015, Mitchel Townsend was featured in an article that announced that they had found archaeological evidence of Bigfoot, the mysterious ape-man said to wander the woods in the Northwest of North America. The article “Proof of Bigfoot is in the bones, college instructor says” reported that Townsend had found stacked bones in the woods with evidence of large human bite marks, and that this was evidence for the existence of Sasquatch. At the end of the article, Townsend challenges scientists to refute their findings that the chewed bones they found are evidence for Bigfoot’s existence.
Challenge Accepted! Luckily for me, I have the wonderfully brilliant Lisa Bright as a colleague at MSU, and her research on taphonomy is cited in the Mills, Mills and Townsend study (not yet published). Today, I’ll be sharing the background and possible interpretations of what the bioarchaeology and archaeology of Bigfoot would be if there was evidence, and tomorrow Lisa will share her research and discuss the issues with the Mills et al. [Forthcoming] studies. To preface this- Bigfoot is a combination of myth and hoax, not reality. This is a fun Halloween post, not something to be taken seriously. Enjoy!
Sign on Pikes Peak Highway, via Wikimedia
First, let’s get some background and history on the big hairy guy. Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch or Samsquanch if you’re a Trailer Park Boys fan, is a crytid simian or ape-hominid creature that is said to inhabit the forests and woods in the Pacific Northwest region of the USA and Canada. Many native groups in this region have stories of wild or ape-like men, varying slightly by region and culture. The folklore ranges from stories about nefarious human-like beasts that will carry away children, to more benign creatures who hide in the woods and avoid the modern world. The first major compilation of stories about Bigfoot appeared in the 1920s, a collection of local tales by J. W. Burns. Burns’ articles took different native stories describing similar man-like beasts and argued that they were all evidence of a single entity, which popularized the name of Sasquatch.
Records of Bigfoot sightings by non-natives in the USA begin around the 1850s, with records of hunters being felled by beasts who walked on two legs. Other stories from the 19th century include the “Wild Man of Crow Canyon” and “The Winsted Wildman” both reporting large hairy creatures that looked like men but were not human. In 1924, a prospector in Vancouver reported that he had been kidnapped by Sasquatch, and miners in Washington state reported that they were attacked by wildmen.
The famous Bigfoot sighting from “Patterson–Gimlin film frame 352” by Patterson-Gimlin film. Via Wikipedia
The most famous sightings of the creature have been in the past half century or so. One of the most famous is the discovery of large barefoot prints found around a construction site in California in 1958. A construction worker took plaster casts of the footprints, and the event popularized the name ‘Bigfoot’ as a psuedonym for the beast. Years later, it was revealed that the foot prints were a hoax- the large feet were created by Ray Wallace, the brother of the construction crew’s overseer. Wallace’s nephew and other relatives shared the story and the pair of 16 inch wooden feet that were used to create the prints. Probably the best known evidence for Bigfoot is the Patterson-Grimlin video taken in 1967 by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin in California, which documents a large creature taking long strides through the forest. Patternson and Grimlin had the video examined by experts from the special effects department at Universal Studios in Hollywood, who argued that “We could try (faking it), but we would have to create a completely new system of artificial muscles and find an actor who could be trained to walk like that. It might be done, but we would have to say that it would be almost impossible.” However, in 1999, Bob Heironimus, a friend of Patterson’s, said that he had worn the ape costume for the making of the film, and that the whole thing was a hoax.
Most scientists discount the existence of Bigfoot, considering it as a combination of folklore, misidentification and hoax. There is very little physical evidence for the creature and large numbers of the beast would be required to maintain the population (Despite this, a few researchers have focused their scientific work on the creature: see see the work of Grover Krantz, Jeffrey Meldrum, and John Bindernagel). Also, you can check out the work of Kathy Moskowitz, who tracks archaeological evidence of Bigfoot pictographs (Thanks to Jeb Card for sharing this with us!).
What would Sasquatch look like from a bioarchaeological perspective if we did find the remains of the creature? Reports of Bigfoot describe it as being between 5.9 to 9.8 feet tall, weighing between 320 to 1000 pounds, covered with black to brownish red hair, wide shoulders and hips, long arms with stubby hands and non-opposable thumbs, a large pronounced brow-ridge and a crest at the top of the skull. Many of these traits could be found in human remains- the lower range of height and weight, pronounced brow ridges, and hairier bodies are possible.
Primates without opposable thumbs includes the Marmoset… definitely no relationship to Bigfoot. Via Wikimedia.
Other traits like the non-opposable thumbs would be obvious in the skeleton- opposable thumbs are found in most primates, so this trait would be very odd unless the creature is part human and part Tarsier or marmoset (which would be adorable but unlikley). The hair could be recovered from a burial if the conditions were correct- we find hair in burials where individuals are in dry or anarobic conditions (like peat bogs). If we were actually to find a Bigfoot skeleton, it is likely that we would be able to identify it based on the irregular height and frame- if it was 8.9 feet and 1000 pounds it would have very large bones- and the lack of opposable thumbs would be very obvious.
But we don’t have evidence of Bigfoot bones. According to the Bigfoot Evidence blog, the lack of bones is because they have gone missing. Their news articles report findings of large human-like skeletons around 7 to 8 feet tall, but argue that the Smithsonian Museum discounted them as fakes and they were lost. Robert Lindsay argues that full skeletal remains are rarely found in the woods, and that Bigfoot creatures likely bury their dead, making finding their remains near impossible. Lindsay presents evidence that there are records of Bigfoot burials every 4 years and deaths every 2 years- you can visit his blog for an extensive evidence list. For those who find Bigfoot evidence, he suggests that “there seems to be a government conspiracy to cover up Bigfoot existence dating back 31 years. Therefore, the state is not to be trusted one bit with Bigfoot evidence. Universities have a nasty habit of losing Bigfoot hard evidence, so we should not automatically turn evidence over to them.”
For a great rundown of Bigfoot hoaxes, see the Museum of Hoaxes website.
Is Bigfoot Real?
A couple of journal articles by Townsend claim that they have evidence of Bigfoot scavenging- stacked bones with large human-like teeth marks. Tomorrow, Lisa Bright will share her research and rebuttal of the evidence. Stay tuned!