Monday, October 21, 2013

No Abominable Snowman After All?

Todd Wood points in the direction of this story about the Yeti, or abominable snowman.  Alan Boyle of NBC Science writes:
After a yearlong quest, a British geneticist says he has matched the DNA from hairs attributed to Himalayan Yetis, also known as "Abominable Snowmen," to a breed of Arctic bear that lived tens of thousands of years ago. Other researchers say that might be as good an explanation as any.

The claim is being made by Oxford University's Bryan Sykes, already well-known for his research on human ancestry. Sykes says his findings suggest that sightings of the legendary Yeti may actually represent observations of a previously unknown creature in the Himalayas — perhaps a hybrid of polar bears and brown bears.

Sykes told NBC News that his aim is to bring the Yeti out of the realm of myth and fantasy. "All my colleagues think I'm taking a risk in doing this, but I'm curious, and I am in a position to actually do something to answer the questions," he said.

Outside experts didn't reject Sykes' conclusion out of hand. Tom Gilbert, professor of paleogenomics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, told The Associated Press that Sykes' research provided a "reasonable explanation" for past Yeti sightings.
Based on the interview in the story, Sykes appears to believe that these animals exist and that the reason that they have not been found is that they are few and far between with enormous home ranges. This sounds a tad too convenient. Oddly, the new findings don't seem to have deflated his enthusiasm any.

I think that he is off the mark, anyway. As I wrote sometime back, as nearly as I can tell, the earliest stories of these huge creatures are from China and India.   I believe that their source is the extinct ape Gigantopithecus. This ape consisted of three species and the genus ranged very widely, from India to China and northern Vietnam. The largest species, G. blacki stood almost ten feet tall and is estimated to have weighed over 1100 pounds.   Put simply, if you found the fossilized remains, you would come away thinking there was a very, very large animal on the loose. Given the comparative lack of understanding of what a fossil was and how old these animals were when they were alive, it is quite conceivable, even believable that stories would have arisen about them.The earliest Gigantopithecus remains date to around 10 million years ago but G. bilaspurensis lived as recently as 100 k years ago, coeval with late archaic Homo sapiens.  When people came to the New World (from the Amur River area of China) through the Bering Strait, they brought the stories with them, which is why you get stories of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest. 

I have no evidence for this, only, as Mr. Spock would say, an hypothesis "which just happens to fit the facts." 

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