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  Columnist: Marlon Heimerl

Image credit: Todd Standing

Decoding Bigfoot

Posted on Tuesday, 15 January, 2013 | 1 comment
Columnist: Marlon Heimerl

Occam's razor will tell you that a 10-foot-tall, bipedal apeman would attract some attention. Indeed, this incongruity of "common sense" is at the very crux of many skeptics' biggest qualms with the purported existence of Bigfoot.

In short, how could something as large, brutish and, well, obvious as a Bigfoot go undiscovered for centuries or even millennia?

In search of definitive proof, the question of Bigfoot (or the Sasquatch) has been a hot potato for decades, passed from cryptzoologists to genealogists, evolutionists, biologists, hobbyists, TV producers and skeptics to no avail. Perhaps, that is, until now.

Dr. Melba S. Ketchum, founder of DNA Diagnostics, Inc., has a few things to say on the subject that may raise some eyebrows. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Ketchum laid out the results of a five-year study which examined over 100 DNA samples believed to belong to the legendary creature. The samples included blood, saliva, hair and urine – a DNA analyst's proverbial cornucopia.

From the samples, Ketchum's team believes they have isolated a profile with origins dating back to 15,000 years ago in the form of a Homo sapien hybrid cross with an unknown primate.

Lee Speigel of the Huffington Post writes, "[Ketchum] believes that over the past five years, the team has successfully found three Sasquatch nuclear genomes -- an organism's hereditary code -- leading them to suggest that the animal is real and a human hybrid."

Ketchum's study is currently under peer review. As the world anxiously awaits the results, people on both ends of the spectrum take a collective breath before the plunge.

The ‘Third Helix' to the Puzzle

One could argue that the burden of proof doesn't land solely on hard science. The double-helix is made stronger with a third strand of evidence, so to speak: call it circumstantial.

That is to say, despite field evidence and DNA - the obvious core ‘proof' - could setting a precedent or drawing from a natural analogy win some jurors in the trial for the existence of Bigfoot? To win a case in the court of law, both forensic and circumstantial evidence are ideally used in tandem to create an airtight case. Why should the treatment of Bigfoot be any different?

There is much to be said for analogies drawn from actual recent mammalian discoveries that add credence (or at least give pause) when considering the possibility of the existence of a large, undiscovered mammal in the wild.

In fact, the discovery of new species and even larger mammalian species is much more common than one may naturally assume. Consider that 300 new mammals have been discovered in the last decade alone and you start to get the picture. That's 2.5 new mammalian species discovered each month!

And while many of these species are small enough to go reasonably undetected until now, many of the species are large or even specifically of the primate order. Here are just a few of the species that draw affinities with the theoretical existence of Bigfoot by their emergence as primates.

Meet the Mammals

Cercopithecus lomamiensis (locally known as Lesula) The Democratic Republic of Congo ( 2012 )

Burmese snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri) Myanmar 2010 (dead) and 2012 (alive)

Callicebus caquetensis Columbian Amazon ( 2010 )

Bili Ape Democratic Republic of Congo ( Wide range of sightings )

Kipunji Tanzania ( 2003 )

It is important to note that many of these "discoveries" are caste in Western light. As is usually the case, many of the creatures mentioned above were first recognized by indigenous hunters and only later, scientifically catalogued. Surely, until scientifically proven, many of these species could have easily been chocked up to local legend or mistaken identification (a familiar sound to most Bigfoot true-believers).

Then there is the public opinion to consider in strengthening the case. Nationally representative samples from a March 2012 Angus-Reid poll revealed that roughly one in three Americans believe Bigfoot "is ‘definitely' or ‘probably' real."

Compare that to the 32% of people who tallied a belief in a June 25 Gallop poll that "humans evolved with god guiding," and the prevalence of the belief in Bigfoot becomes clearer. (In the same Gallup poll, an additional 15% of respondents believed "Humans evolved, but God had no part in [the] process.")

Despite where you break on either of the issues is irrelevant for this treatment. Rather, one implication is starkly evident from this comparison: With the theory of evolution playing a major role in biology classes throughout the world, could cryptzoology have a stronger foothold in public (and scholarly) opinion than previously estimated?

Could this legend, in fact, be emerging as less science fiction and more science with time? If nothing else, one-third of the nation believing in anything is certainly hard to ignore.

Homosapien Hybridization

In a time when mysteries melt in the face of science, where the Hubble Space Telescope scours the cosmos and where quantum physics challenges the very nature of our material existence, it is natural to demand tangible proof for any form of scientific inquiry. But sometimes evidence can surface in a roundabout fashion to reveal interesting and unintended insights.

In 2004 for instance, the idea of Neanderthal DNA in the human gene pool seemed unlikely. That March, PLOS Biology reported that "…while it cannot be excluded that Neanderthals contributed variants at some genetic loci to contemporary humans, no positive evidence of any such contribution has yet been detected."

Fast forward to December 2011 and a report by PLOS Genetics tells a very different story. Sarah Zielinski of National Geographic summarized the findings in 2012 by saying, "Researchers, under the direction of Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, found that 2.5 percent of the genome of an average human living outside Africa today is made up of Neanderthal DNA."

A core insight is gleaned from this groundbreaking study: that Homosapiens could have been party to interbreeding with other hominid species as recently as 37,000 years ago.

But the jury is still out for some scientists. Zielinski points to another study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which asserts that the shared DNA could be tied to an earlier common ancestor of both species.

Either way, it's safe to assume that clarity through additional study will emerge in the coming years. Nonetheless, in the cases of mules (half horse, half donkey), Ligers/Tigons (half lion, half tiger) and Zebroids/Zorses (half horse, half zebra), the cross breeding of species isn't science fiction by any means. Caste in that light, the hybridization of species is by no means an isolated evolutionary occurrence but rather, an important cog in the great machine of the theory of evolution.

So why does this evolutionary process matter when in search of Bigfoot?

Let's consider Dr. Ketchum's study of alleged Bigfoot DNA that is currently under peer review. In her treatment, Dr. Ketchum asserts that the DNA in question is a hybrid of modern human beings and an unknown primate species from about 15,000 years ago.

If it happened with Homosapiens and Neanderthals 37,000 years ago in Pääbo's study, could it be possible that a similar situation of crossbreeding arose between mankind and a second unidentified primate species 22,000 years later?

Admittedly, Bigfoot doesn't need to be a hybrid to exist. Yet this portion of Dr. Ketchum's theory is intriguing when considering the makeup and behavior of such a creature.

Perhaps, for instance, an accompanying boost in brainpower could be the key factor to Bigfoot eluding capture all this time? Or perhaps Sasquatch is of such a high intellect it is actually taking to burying the dead, making corpses harder to find? While this is wild speculation, the idea of a cousin hominid on earth today leads to some thrilling considerations in terms of its behavior to say the least.

Beliefs and speculation aside, as we await the peer review results of Dr. Ketchum's five year study, the idea of an unidentified human/ape hybrid certainly emits a paradigm-shifting beacon of scientific intrigue that is hard to ignore.

Article Copyright© Marlon Heimerl - reproduced with permission.

  Other articles by Marlon Heimerl

The Atacama humanoid
Columnist: Marlon Heimerl | Posted on 5-9-2013 | 8 comments
Since the 6-inch tall Atacama Humanoid (nicknamed ‘Ata') first lit up major media outlets, the public eye has looked to its strange, distended face for answers....

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