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Skeptical Inquirer May/June 1999

Bigfoot's Screen Test

Recent analyses propose that the 1967 film of "Bigfoot" documents a large, feral nonhuman primate unknown to modern science. Known sources of measurement error and existing data on human locomotion suggest a more cautious conclusion.


Of the varied sources of evidence invoked to support the existence of Bigfoot, none is more widely cited than 1967 film of a large, hairy bipedal figure walking along the Bluff Creek drainage in northern California. Known as the Patterson-Gimlin film, this short motion picture (less than one minute running time) has generated considerable controversy with respect to its authenticity. The film depicts a burly figure walking deliberately away from the cameraman. The footage is often blurry due to excessive camera movement. In the most famous flame, the film subject turns its head and shoulders toward the camera to peer at its pursuer. Details of the subject's physiognomy cannot be discerned.

Recently, three independent studies have presented arguments suggesting that fabrication of the film would have been unlikely or impossible given the technology of the day. The implication therefore, is that giant, bipedal primates have inhabited wilderness areas of the Pacific Northwest in recent times, yet have remained undiscovered by wildlife biologists and unrecognized among the mainstream scientific community. In separate studies, Chris Murphy of Progressive Research(1) and Jeff Glickman of Photek and the North American Science Institute (NASl),(2) achieved a remarkable convergence of results when both investigators concluded, via different methods of estimation, that the film subject stood fully 7'3 1/2" (222 cm) tall. Glickman's study (1998) also concluded that the chest of the figure measured a hefty 83" in circumference and that the film subject weighed in at 1,957 pounds. In his book Big Footprints (1992), Grover Krantz makes two claims with respect to the film. First, Krantz argues that no human exists whose body dimensions match those of the film subject, even given the effects of a furry costume. Second, he claims that the kinematics of the film subject are decidedly nonhuman, that the gait could not be duplicated by a person wearing a costume. In essence, two claims seriously undermine the hypothesis that the Patterson-Grimlin film is a hoax: (I) that the film subject's body dimensions are outside the range of human variation, and (II) that the gait of the film subject cannot be duplicated by a person. In this report, we argue that the exact dimensions of the film subject are unknowable and that the gait of the film subject is easily reproducible by human beings of average stature. Neither of these arguments demonstrate that the subject of the film if not a Bigfoot; we simply wish to point out that recent trumpeting in cyberspace about the film's authenticity may not enjoy a solid empirical foundation."(3)

Analyzing the claims

It is alleged that the film subject left tracks on the Bluff Creek sandbar, which were cast subsequent to filming. The tracks measured 14 1/2" in length. About ten days after the film was made, Bigfoot investigator Bob Titmus reconstructed the subject's course of travel during filming and attempted to establish the position of Roger Patterson's camera during the event. These reconstructions were performed without a measuring tape or camera(4); quantitative efforts to map the positions of the cameraman and film the subject were made in subsequent years.(5) Thus, we know the general course of travel of the film subject but not its exact traverse (cf. Byrne 1975, Green 1981). Murphy assesses the subject's height by taking a known quantity -- subject heel width from footprint casts -- and using this scalar as a calibration standard to determine film subject dimensions. Given the heel calibration and a "stoop factor" correction, he arrives at the statue of 7' 3 1/2". Murphy suggests that a stick recovered from the film site years after the event is also an appropriate calibration standard became the subject ostensibly is seen stepping over this stick during the film. Using this independent criterion, he obtains the same result. In the NASI report, Glickman employs a third method that also yields the same height for the film subject. His method involves using a later photograph from the film site of an individual of known height, purportedly standing along the original path of the film subject, as a basis from which to determine the film subject's dimensions. This calibration photograph was taken by long-time Bigfoot investigator Peter Byrne five years after the film was made, and Glickman uses the alignment of dead trees that appear in the background of the film to match the photo with the relevant film frames. Murphy and Glickman recognize that for a calibration standard to be valid, the object used for calibration must be coplanar with the film subject,(6) such that the calibration object and subject are equidistant from the optical axis of the camera. It is also well-established that, in order to minimize error a calibration standard must be sufficiently large relative to the object being measured. Given the uncertainty of subject position in the film, it is not clear that objects chosen for calibration purposes lie completely within the intended reference plane. The dimension to be used in calibration and the subject of interest must be positioned equidistant to the camera lens to provide accurate measurement. Thus, a scalar dimension (a known quantity with which to scale other dimensions on an object or image) measured from a calibration standard that is not exactly coincident with a reference plane, even if that standard occupies a point in that plane, will yield uncorrectable errors if this obliquity is present (i.e., the standard is not aligned with the reference plane) but its degree is not known. For the same reason, measurement error can occur if scalar dimensions and the subject occupy a desired reference plane but when the camera's optical axis is not positioned perpendicular to that plane. This problem becomes particularly acute in the context of the Patterson-Grimlin film because camera position was not controlled relative to the subject's movements along a path defining the reference plane; thus, "coplanar" standard and subject may not be equidistant to the camera lens. Objects that are actually not coplanar may appear to be so if the camera lens is obliquely set relative to the true plane of reference.

Testing Measurement Error

To illustrate the problems posed by these sources of error we estimated a human subject's stature from videotape recordings using calibration objects of known dimension as scalars under ideal laboratory conditions. One of us (Daegling) was filmed at a distance of 490 cm from the camera (Figure 1). Three sources of calibration were used: a two-meter standard, Daegling's foot length, and his heel width. These standards were digitized on the image(7) and used to estimate Daegling's true height (194.5 cm). As expected, the two-meter standard yielded a very good estimate of stature (193.6 cm). Repeated measures within observers indicated that digitizing error was negligible, and the between-observer standard deviation was a respectable 0.44 cm. Using Daegling's foot length as a standard, the error increases markedly (204.3 cm or 3 percent above the true value). Using a heel-width calibration standard the error balloons to 28 percent (249.4 cm, with pronounced inter- observer error [sd=6.51]). These figures make no allowance for camera obliquity or objects off the intended reference plane. If either of these factors are introduced, errors will increase. For example, when foot length is offset from the reference plane by 10 degrees but the length of the foot is considered to be the same as before, stature estimates are off by about 10 percent (214.9 cm). At a 2O-degree offset, the overestimate is about 17 percent (227.7 cm). The degree to which the foot is out of plane cannot be reliably assessed from an image unless an independent scalar exists in the plane of reference. Ostensibly Murphy has another scalar in the stick over which the film subject steps early in the film. Not only is this calibration object relatively small, but there is also no way to verify that the long axis of the stick (the intended scalar dimension) is perpendicular to the camera lens. These observations suggest that the magnitude of error introduced in Murphy's method is unknown, is probably unacceptably large, and cannot be corrected given the known parameters of the film. Glickmam's method is far superior since the calibration standard is relatively large.(8) It is asserted that the film subject's course of travel in Figure 6 of the NASI report and the standard included in the figure (an individual at the film site) occupy the intended reference plane. The report does not specify how the coincidence of film subject and standard in this plane is verified. The calibration standard was scaled by superimposing dead trees from the background of the 1972 photograph onto the 1967 film. There may be errors associated with this superimposition, bur, their magnitude is not known. In any case, this alignment, however precise, does not establish that the standard and the film subject are coplanar. The likelihood exists that there are out-of- plane errors in Glickman's calculations. Again under ideal laboratory conditions, a subject (179 cm tall) and a calibration standard (Daegling's standing height) were filmed with the lens perpendicular to the reference plane 80 feet (2,438 cm) away (Figure 2), a distance comparable to estimates of the distance of the film subject from the camera at the onset of what is regarded as the best sequence of footage.

Table 1. Striding and Compliant gaits

Subject                         Gait type             speed (m/sec)                 stride length (cm)
Daegling                         striding                  2.1 (0.18)                           216 (7.6)
                                    compliant                3.1 (0.15)                           293 (10.7)
Schmitt                          striding                   2.2 (0.34)                          208 (15.9)
                                    compliant                3.0 (0.08)                           288 (6.5)
Subject #3                      striding                  2.5(0.59)                            224(53.2)
                                    compliant                3.8 (0.31)                           338 (22.8)
Subject #4                      striding                  2.2 (0.14)                           201 (13.1)
                                    compliant                2.9 (0.10)                           269 (9.7)
Film subject                  compliant                16 fps 1.9                           237—310
                                                                  18fps 2.1
                                                                  24fps 2.8

Means and standard deviations are given for N=4 (Daegling & Schmitt), N=6 (subject #3) and N=10 (subject #4). Statures are 194.5 cm (Daegling), 188 cm (Schmitt), 176 cm (subject #3, an adult male), 183 cm (subject #4, another adult male), and 222 cm (film subject, Glickman's estimate). Speeds and stride are calculated from forced, high-speed walks in human subjects. Stride from the film subject is given as a range of estimatas (Perez 1992; Glickman 1998). Film speed is not known, so three estimates for subject velocity are given for different film speeds (D.W. Grieve, reprinted in Byrne 1975). Claims that the film subject walks too for for a human are countered by the observation that compliant gaits can increase walking speed to match or exceed that of the film subject. -------------------------------------------------------------

When positioned in the reference plane with the subject, the standard (Daegling) provides an excellent estimate of subject height (178.4 cm, an error below 1 percent). When the standard is out of plane by only 1 m (closer to lens) the subject's apparent height is 172.3 cm, nearly 4 percent less than the true stature. As the standard moves even closer to the camera and increasingly out of plane, the error is exacerbated; true stature is underestimated by nearly 15 percent (152.4 cm) at a position 4 m out of plane.(9) These errors assume that the lens is positioned perpendicular to the reference plane, to satisfy the need for calibration object and subject to be positioned equidistant from the optical axis of the camera lens. The various sketches reconstructing camera and subject position in the Patterson-Grimlin film, however, suggest that the camera was only intermittently, if ever, fully perpendicular to the reference plane.(10) This would result in dissimilar distances of calibration object and film subject from the camera lens, with attendant errors in stature estimation. How serious is this problem? When we rotated the camera 5 degrees off an intended reference plane (Figure 3), a calibration standard of 176 cm failed to predict Schmitt's stature of 188 cm with acceptable accuracy, even though scalar and subject were "coplanar." The apparent stature was 172 cm, fully 8 percent smaller than true stature.(11) Glickman suggests that the error of his estimate of the film subject may be on the order of one inch (< 3 cm) although no error analysis is provided to verify this. If this error magnitude is to be accepted, the following conditions must have been met: (a) the lens was positioned perpendicular to the reference plane in which measurements were made, (b) the subject and calibration object were both positioned in the plate of reference such that they were equidistant from the optical axis of the lens, and (c) the scalar dimension measured on the calibration object was precisely in fine with the reference plane (i.e., not off- angle relative the camera lens). Published material to date does not demonstrate that these conditions apply. Glickman's estimates of other subject parameters derived from linear measurements (specifically, chest circumference and body weight) will have errors compounded in the process of calculation. He bases his estimate of chest circumference on a formula for an ellipse that uses linear estimates of chest depth and width as minor and major axes. To reconstruct these axes, Glickman attempts to correct for out-of-plane rotation of the subject's chest. Given the uncertainty of subject position, camera position, and the lack of an accurate independent scalar in the film, it is virtually inconceivable that a mathematical correction would yield a true estimate (see Miller and Petak 1973; Noss 1967; Schmitt 1994; Chan 1997). Glickman uses an algometric equation based on living primates to calculate a body mass for the film subject of 1,957 lbs -- absurdly large unless one wishes to posit that Bigfoot is constructed of nonstandard biological tissues.(12) Krantz's estimate of the film subject's stature is 6'6" (198 cm), well within human limits, but he argues that the chest width of the subject is incompatible with the human form: "I can confidently state that no man of that stature is built that broadly"(13). Assuming that these parameters are measured without error, this assertion may be refuted by a quick consultation of the 'Anthropometric Souce Book' (1978). Chest width is measured by Krant in the same fashion as a distance known as "interscye" in the anthropometric literature. In a sample of 1,004 men of the German Air Force, interscye of the ninety- fifth percentile is 49.6 cm, a good 3 cm larger than Bigfoot's impossibly wide thorax. The ninety-fifth percentile stature is 187.1 cm in this group, less than 4 inches shorter than the film subject. Unless Krantz would argue that taller Air Force personnel necessarily have narrower chests, his confident statement is admirable for its faith but not its veracity.

Nonhuman Locomotion?

Bigfoot proponents have suggested that the high-velocity flexed-hip, flared-knee gait of the subject, which also walks with its trunk pitched slightly forward, is absolutely non-typical of human locomotion. Krantz again opines, "Judging from the way it walks, there is no possibility that the film subject can be a man in a fur suit."(14) Repeated viewings of the film suggest that, indeed, the subject does not exhibit the normal striding gait of human bipedalism. But humans are capable of locomotion that involves deeper flexion of the knees and hips similar to that seen in the film subject, and this type of locomotion (a "compliant gait," Alexander 1992) has been studied under controlled conditions (Yaguramaki et al. 1995; Li et al. 1996; Schmitt et al. 1996; Cook et al. 1997). Two features of the subject's gait that Ktantz asserts are atypical of humans are in fact observable in humans who utilize a compliant gait (a) reduction of vertical oscillations of the head and trunk typical of striding bipedalism, and (b) at extended period of support (weight-bearing) phase during a locomotor cycle (McMahon et al. 1987; Alexander 1992; Schmitt et al. 1996). Bigfoot investigators have also remarked upon the apparent high speed of the film subject's gait and the length of its stride as being beyond human capability(15). When a compliant gait is employed, however, there are two measurable effects: It is possible to walk faster, and the stride length is increased (Table 1). Glickman's calculated stride length for the film subject is 237 cm. This figure is easily surpassed by the authors and two other measured subjects, all of whom are less than 200 cm tall. Reported stride lengths based on footprints at the film site range from 284 cm to 310 cm (Perez 1992). A human over 200 cm tall could be expected to match or exceed these higher figures using a compliant gait. Another peculiarity of the film subject is the forward pitch of the trunk during locomotion. This is again atypical of striding bipedalism, but when humans do adopt this strange posture, a compliant gait becomes the obligate form of bipedalism (Yaguramaki et al. 1995). Assertions that the kinematics of the film subject cannot be duplicated by human agents ate thus demonstrably false. There remains the remarkable coincidence that independent studies have yielded identical results for stature of the film subject. Does this not "validate" the results in the tradition of rigorous science? Perhaps it would if Murphy's study did not involve a fudge factor in the form of a "stoop correction" that can be arbitrarily applied to the stature estimate.(16) This observation, in addition to the enormous potential for calibration errors in Murphy's study, suggests that the convergent results are most charitably regarded as a happy coincidence.


Bigfoot proponents have long decried the undeniable fact that detailed scientific investigation of the Patterson-Gimlin film has been lacking. There are, however, intractable difficulties involved in obtaining reliable data from image analysis where conditions are far from ideal. The potential for calibration errors in analyses of the Patterson-Gimlin film has undermined attempts to attract quantitative data from it. Uncertainties in subject and camera positions doom quantitative analysis of this centerpiece of Bigfoot lore, as do the additional problems posed by poor image quality and artifacts of subject and camera movement. Just as measurement of film parameters and qualitative assessment of kinematics cannot demonstrate that the film subject is nonhuman, There are probably no means by which to demonstrate conclusively that the film subject represents a human agent either. Based on our analysis of gait and problems inherent in estimating subject dimensions, it is our opinion that it is not possible to evaluate the identity of the film subject with any confidence. Consequently, the Patterson-Gimlin film does not provide unequivocal proof of Bigfoot's existence, nor can the film be used to substantiate other putative images of Bigfoot (e.g. the Redwoods "playmate" video).


We owe a great debt to many individuals who provided invaluable information regarding the film and the circumstances surrounding it. First and foremost, René Dahinden has unfailingly given his time to provide background on the film. Michael Dennett is also thanked for his efforts in obtaining various bits of obscure but critical detail. Peter Byrne of the now-defunct Bigfoot Research Project graciously provided assistance in the early phases of this investigation. Andrew Trueblood assisted with data acquisition and analysis. Marnie Wiss provided editorial expertise and substantive criticism of earlier drafts.


1. Progressive Research is a British Columbia-based organization investigating Bigfoot evidence and marketing Bigfoot merchandise. Murphy's research results are posted on the Internet Virtual Bigfoot Conference (IVBC) established by Henry Franzoni. Readers may access the conference at These results are also summarized in NASI News(Vol. 1). 2. Glickman is a certified forensic examiner who specializes in image enhancement and reconstruction. He has served as the executive director of the North American Science Institute (NASI), an organization dedicated to getting to the bottom of the Bigfoot phenomenon. His research results appear in 'Toward a Resolution of the Bigfoot Phenonenom,' a 1998 publication of the institute. 3. Chris Murphy's IVBC posting of June 9, 1997, staes, "With the current findings there is little room for doubt on the reality of the creature in the Patterson-Grimlin film. In other words, it was NOT a hoax." Similarly incautious conclusions can be found peppered throughout the various Web sites dealing with Bigfoot. 4. Rene Dahinden, personal communication, July 15, 1998. Dahinden has been involved in Bigfoot research for over forty years, and has been investigating the circumstances of the Patterson film since it was made in 1967. 5. John Green mapped the site in June 1968, Rene Dahinden did so in 1971, and Peter Byrne undertook the task in 1972. Grover Krantz used Titmus's schematic and his own analysis of the film to produce a revised diagram. The various schematics are in general agreement but differ in details of the exact path of the film subject and its relation to the camera. 6. Of course, subject and object may always be said to be coplanar except that registration of two points does not define a unique plane. To establish that objects are coplanar requires registration of at least three points, or a line and a point. In the case of the Patterson film, the desired reference plane corresponds to the vertical extension of the "line" of travel of the film subject. 7. Images were digitized using Peak Performance software, Motus 4.0. Englwwood, Colrado. To eliminate any of our own bias in assessing calibration errors, we used a "blind" measurement protocol. Five individuals, who were not informed of study objectives were asked to measure calibration standards. Each individual was then asked to measure subject stature based for each test in a randomized design (e.g. individual 1 would measure stature based on individual 3's calibration, and no individual had knowledge of true values of calibration standards or subject.) Value reported in the text represent the mean value over five observations. 8. While the calibration object is of preferred size, the fact that both subject and this object are small relative to the viewing volume is less than ideal for quantitative analysis. 9. Subject height will be similarly overestimated if the standard is positioned behind the subject. Ironically, as the distance of subject and standard from the lens increases, the errors will be smaller for a given distance that they are off-plane, but they will still exist. At ever-increasing distances, however, image quality may deteriorate. This may be especially true in case where objects are small within a film frame, as occurs throughout the Patterson-Grimlin film. 10. Schematic drawings by Krantz, Titmus, Dahinden, and Green are reproduced in 'Bigfoot at Bluff Creek' by Danny Perez, 1992. Center for Bigfoot Studies, Norwalk, California. 11. With respect to conditions of the Patterson-Gimlin film, the magnitude of this source of error depends on the interactive effects of (1) the degree of obliquity of the lens' optical axis relative to the intended reference plane, (2) the distance of subject and standard from each other, and (3) the distance of each from the camera lens. 12. Assuming the film subject has a density similar to water (reasonable for most animals), one can model the subject as a water- filled cylinder and mathematically "weigh" it, with no allowance for tapering of the head or lower limbs. This procedure produces a very rough high-end estimate of mass. Assuming Glickman's estimates are accurate, this cylinder weighs 1,625 lbs., well below the 1,957 lb. figure given in the NASI report. The nearly one-ton Bigfoot weighs nearly five times more than a large male gorilla and outweighs the heaviest polar bear by over 200 kg (McDonald 1984). 13. Page 118, 'Big Footprints'. It is unclear whether "that stature" to which Krantz refers is his own or the film subject's. For the subsequent argument, it scarcely matters. 14. Page 115, 'Big Footprints' 15. Rene Dahinden (personal communication and Perez 1992) reports that, on one of his numerous visits to the film site, he and others present were incapable of walking the distance traveled by the film subject in the time that it did so (assuming a film speed of 24 fps). 16. Calculation of a "stoop correction" is unnecessary in any case; one can measure body segments regardless of their orientation to one another and sum these to arrive at stature.


Alexander, R.M. 1992. A model of bipedal locomotion on compliant legs. 'Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society', London, B338: 189- 198.

'Anthropometric Source Book'. 1978.NASA Reference Publication 1024. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Technical Information Service.

Byrne, P. 1975. 'The Search for Bigfoot: Monster, Myth, or Man.' Washington D.C.: Acroplois Books.

Chan, L.K. 1997. Thoracic shape and shoulder biomechanics in primates. Ph.D. dissertation,Duke University.

Cook, T.M., K.P. Farell, I.A. Carey, J.M. Gibbs, and G.E. Wiger. 1997. Effects of restricted knee flexion and walking speed on the vertical ground reaction force. 'Journal of Orthopedia and Sports Physical Therapy' 25:236-244.

Glickman, J. 1998. 'Toward a Resolution of the Bigfoot Phenomenom.' Photek Research Report. Hood River: North American Science Institute.

Green, J. 1981. 'Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us'. Seattle: Hancock House.

Krantz, G. 1992. 'Big Footprints'. Boulder, Colorado: Johnson Books.

Li, Y., R.H. Cromptom, R.M. Alexander, M.M. Gunther, and W.J. Wang, 1996. Characteristics of ground reaction forces in normal and chimpanzee-like bipedal walking by humans. 'Folia Primatologica' 66: 137-159

McDonald, D. 1984. 'The Encyclopedia of Mammals'. New York: Faces on File.

McMahon, T.A., G.Valiant,and E.C. Frederick. 1987. Grouch running. 'Journal of Applied Physiology' 62: 2326-2337.

Miller, D., and K. Petak. 1973. Three dimensional cinematography. 'Kinesiology' 14-17.

Noss, J. 1967. Control of photographic perspective in motion analysis. 'Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreation' 38: 81-84.

Perez, D. 1992. 'Bigfoot at Bluff Creek'. Norwalk: Center for Bigfoot Studies.

Schmitt,D. 1994. Forelimb mechanics as a function of substrate type during quadrupedalism in two anthropoid primates. 'Journal of Human Evolution' 26: 441-457.

Schmitt, D.O., J.T. Stern Jr., and S.G. Larson. 1996. Compiant gait in humans: Implications for substrate reaction forces during australopithecine bipedalism. 'American Journal of Physical Anthropology'. Suppl. 22: 209.

Yaguramaki, N., S. Nishizawa, K. Adachi,and B. Endo. 1995. The relationship between posture and external force in walking. 'Anthopological Sciences' 103: 117-140.

- - - - David Daegling is associate professor of anthropology at Yale University. Daniel Schmitt is assistant professor in the Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy and heads the Vertebrate Movement Laborotory at Duke University Medical Center. Correspondence to; David Daegling, Department of Anthropology, Yale University, P.O. Box 208277, New Haven.

Excerpt from Archaeology Magazine July/August 1999



The immediate postwar period was an important one for the field of paleoanthropology, less for discoveries of new fossils than because this was the time when the discipline absorbed the theoretical underpinnings that continue to influence it to the present day. The years leading up to World War II had seen the emergence of the evolutionary synthesis, a body of theory that swept away a host of conflicting notions about the nature of the evolutionary process, replacing them with the elegantly simple concept that all evolutionary phenomena could be ascribed to a single mechanism: the gradual change of genes and gene frequencies within lineages of organisms under the guiding hand of natural selection. The principal architects of the synthesis, notably the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky and the ornithologist Ernst Mayr, were happy to share their insight with their paleoanthropological colleagues, and in the years around 1950 they played a powerful role in reshaping the field of human evolution.

Fifty years ago the human fossil record was fairly sparse, and the dating of known specimens was limited to "older than/younger than" statements with a strong dose of uncertainty. The hominid status of the australopithecines (small-brained early bipeds) was already largely established, and it was known that Homo erectus, in the guise of Java Man and Peking Man, lay somehow intermediate between these early forms and the later Neandertals, a group already abundantly known from late Ice Age sites in Europe and western Asia. But the picture was still complicated by the specter of the Piltdown "fossil," an allegedly ancient, large-brained hominid whose fraudulence was proved only in 1953. There was also a plethora of species and genus names, applied liberally and capriciously to hominid fossils from around the Old World, that hampered attempts to make sense of the known record.

Little wonder that in this confusion paleoanthropologists welcomed Dobzhansky and Mayr's simplifying messages. Dobzhansky announced his view that only one kind of hominid could have existed at any time and that virtually all developments in human evolution since Java Man had taken place within the single, albeit variable, species Homo sapiens. Mayr touted the notion that at most three successive species could be discerned within the genus Homo: H. transvaalensis (the australopithecines), H. erectus, and H. sapiens (including the Neandertals). While few paleoanthropologists followed these pronouncements in all their details, schemas of hominid evolution routinely came to incorporate the synthesis' basic assumptions, whereby evolutionary change consisted simply of the gradual modification of lineages, usually no more than one, over long spans of time. Human evolution thus became the story of a long, single-minded struggle from primitiveness to perfection.

Fifty years later, our perspective on human evolution has changed beyond recognition. For one thing, we have made remarkable progress in our understanding of the evolutionary process, and in ways of analyzing the fossil record. And for another, the hominid fossil record itself has expanded wonderfully, as has the archaeological record that accompanies it. What all of these discoveries have made clear is that, far from having been a single-minded linear struggle, a matter of constantly perfecting adaptation, the history of the hominid family has been one of repeated evolutionary trial and error: of new hominid species spawned, competing, and becoming extinct. We take it for granted that Homo sapiens is the lone hominid on Earth, but this is probably unusual. In the past, coexistence and competition among hominid species have quite likely been much more typical. This realization is salutary, for whereas our egotistical species likes to think of itself as the pinnacle of evolution, any accurate view of ourselves requires recognizing Homo sapiens as merely one more twig on a great branching bush of evolutionary experimentation.

IAN TATTERSALL, the author of numerous books including the recently released Becoming Human, is a curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History.

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Excerpt from Archaeology Magazine July/August 1999



From the earliest-known human ancestors to the manner in which our forbears spread our across the globe, our understanding of human evolution has changed dramatically in the past half-century. Among the most notable advances was simply convincing the public, and even some scientists, that humans were part of the animal world. The clearest expression of the resistance to this notion is that chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans are still assigned to a separate family, Pongidae, while humans and their ancestors have been placed in their own family, the Hominidae.

As late as the 1970s, the two families were considered to have evolved separately for a very long time, perhaps 20 to 28 million years. In 1966, however, Vince Sarich and Allan Wilson of the University of California, Berkeley, analyzed the molecular evidence for the relationships among the apes and concluded that the divergence between chimpanzees and humans could not have happened much before 5 million years ago. Their results have been confirmed by subsequent molecular studies, especially of DNA. These show that chimpanzees and gorillas are much more closely related to humans than they are to orangutans. Chimpanzees share more than 99 percent of their genetic material with humans, even though it is packaged in their chromosomes in a different way. In 1992, Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, and his collaborators discovered Ardipithecus ramidus in Ethiopia. This species, which seems to be very close to the point of divergence between chimpanzees and human ancestors, dates to 4.4 million years ago, perhaps confirming the genetic evidence.

With information provided by the many fossil species that have come to light in recent years paleoanthropological research has shifted from Europe and Asia to Africa. This continent appears more and more as the demographic and evolutionary core of human development. We were originally tropical primates who adapted to a dry and open environment. From this vast continent several waves of colonists spread into Eurasia and eventually to Australia and the Americas. More and more, these movements are being related to environmental changes.

Fossil hominids are increasingly considered in a biological perspective, as members of extinct populations. Paleoanthropologists are paying more attention to their individual variation, biological adaptation, pathology, and physiology. Nowadays the understanding of their evolution takes into consideration the ecological changes as well as the interaction between cultural and biological factors.

The relations between some branches of our family tree are still debated, but today we have a much sharper--albeit much more complex--image of hominid evolution than the naive picture of the late 1940s. Our family tree is no longer a linear series of species but a dense bush with many dead branches. The quest for the famous "missing link" has become vain simply because we no longer deal with a simple chain.

JEAN-JACQUES HUBLIN, a director of research in France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, is head of the Dynamics of Human Evolution Laboratory.

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OutdoorLife: June/July 2001, page 14

The Abbagoochie Gotcha!

West Virginia’s true believers feared a mysterious beast

A panic gripped Webster County, West Virginia, late last winter. A pack of vicious, mysterious, carnivorous beasts was reportedly running loose across the countryside. People slept in stables to protect their horses. Parents didn't let their kids walk to school for fear of attack by…the dreaded abbagoochie. Yes, the abbagoochie--a chimp size Tasmanian-Devil-type creature found in Costa Rica that could kill an eat anything. Or so wrote Webster Echo newspaper columnist Jim Wilson back in early March in a story meant to be a hoax. "I didn't think my little spoof would have the impact that did," he says. A sketchy photo and the newspaper showed the ferocious beast. Wilson reported that the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources had imported 13 abbagoochies to eat animals that, according to popular myth, the agency had previously introduced secretly, such as coyotes, rattlesnakes and cougars. Reports of the abbagoochie sightings reached the paper from all across Webster County. "People said they heard the abbagoochie screaming all night," Wilson says. By mid-March the paper had received so many calls that the publisher revealed the hoax. There are now rumors that the DNR is introducing wolf-like beasts from Mongolia called "lupiwollers" to try to eliminate the abbagoochie. – Scott Bowen

Attached was a photo as imagined by a taxidermist, with coyote snout, owl eyes, mounted in a deer rump.

Charleston Daily Mail: March 02 2001

Photos/Graphics: · Abbagoochie

Bogus critter spreads fear in Webster County

John McCoy <>
Daily Mail Outdoors editor

For decades, West Virginians have struggled to prove that they aren't gullible rubes.

Most have them have made remarkable progress, but I'm afraid some Webster County residents have lost the battle. Earlier this month, a mini-panic swept through the county. A few folks reportedly armed themselves and kept overnight vigils to protect livestock.

Why the hysteria? Because people believe that state wildlife officials routinely import nuisance animals, that's why.

For years, rumormongers have accused Division of Natural Resources administrators of importing rattlesnakes, coyotes, gypsy moths and other undesirable critters into the Mountain State. None of the rumors have been true. The only species imported since 1970 have been wild boars, Canada geese and river otters.

Some Webster County residents apparently believe otherwise. That's why they fell prey to a clever hoax, perpetrated by Webster Echo columnist Jim Wilson.

Wilson wrote that the DNR had recently introduced a new species -- a predator agency officials hoped would devour coyotes, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, ladybugs and other undesirables.

In a cockamamie, yet convincing, tale, Wilson said DNR officials had obtained 13 sub-adult creatures known as abbagoochies (abba-GOO-cheez) from Costa Rica.

The problem, Wilson wrote, "is that the abbagoochie is also feeding on rabbits, coons, squirrels, dogs, cats, deer and even bears. It can consume many times its weight daily. Costa Rican natives refer to the creatures as ‘dry-land piranhas' because of their insatiable appetites."

The kicker came at the bottom of the column, where the Echo's editors ran a photo purported to be a live abbagoochie. To be fair, only the most discerning reader would have been able to tell that it was a taxidermist's creation -- the fierce yellow eyes of an owl and the snarling muzzle of a fox, all mounted on the inverted rump of a white-tailed deer.

The column came with no disclaimers, although anyone with an iota of skepticism would have picked up on the clues Wilson tossed in to let people know he was pulling their legs.

For instance, Wilson said DNR officials had exchanged 372 adult opossums (!) for the abbagoochies. He wrote that, when cornered by man, abbagoochies will "consume themselves in a devilish whirlwind rather than risk capture."

Rather than ask themselves how Costa Rican wildlife officials managed to capture 13 creatures undevoured, some readers bought the tale. Until the Feb. 14 issue of the Echo revealed the hoax, chaos reigned in parts of Webster County.

The regional DNR office began getting irate phone calls from concerned citizens.

"Abbagoochie sightings were everywhere," Wilson says. "One guy reportedly ran over one with his car. According to a local conservation officer, a brawl almost broke out at a lumber company in Cowen between those who believed in the abbagoochie and those who didn't."

Beliefs die hard.

Even though it's since been unmasked as a hoax, I'll lay even money that the mythical abbagoochie will continue to haunt the hills and hollows of West Virginia for years to come.

EDITORIAL from, May 2001 editorial

I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Natives of Costa Rica call them "dry-land piranhas." The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources traded some 400 possums for 13 of the critters and then introduced them into a rural county to control coyotes and rattlesnakes and such. They have insatiable appetites and, since they can’t find enough coyotes and rattlesnakes to eat, they are devouring rabbits, and deer, and dogs—even bears. The original band of 13 has multiplied into the hundreds, and they are so fierce that when approached by humans they will eat themselves rather than be captured. They are the dreaded abbagoochie.

Good grief! Another hoax—this one perpetrated by a county newspaper columnist. According to our "big city" newspaper, the prank had some rural residents arming themselves and guarding their livestock at night. Others were reported to have run down unidentified furry things with their cars. Fist fights broke out over whether or not the evil abbagoochie even existed.

Are my fellow West Virginians really that gullible? Well, this is the state that brought you the Moth Man (see several National Enquirer stories) and the Bat Boy (see the World News and don’t miss the off-off-Broadway musical that just opened—no kidding). But we’re really no more gullible than people in other parts of the country. One only has to check out today’s Internet traffic to figure that out.

The following hoaxes and bits of misinformation have popped up in forwarded e-mail or on various listserves over the last year or so. All of them are absolutely false (I emphasize false) but have been circulating and recirculating for ages.

• Procter & Gamble and/or Liz Claiborne gives money to the Church of Satan, and the Ku Klux Klan owns either Marlboro or Snapple and gets 10 percent of KFC profits as per Colonel Sanders’ will.
• NASA spent millions to develop a pen that would work in space but the Soviets solved the problem by using pencils.
• Japan renamed a town Usa so they could stamp goods "Made in USA."
• Penguins fall on their backs watching airplanes fly over.
• Domestic turkeys are so stupid they’ll look up into rain until they drown.
• Rice thrown at weddings is dangerous to birds. (This falsehood was helped along by Ann Landers and is the subject of warnings in many churches.)
• Congress is about to impose a 5 cent surcharge on e-mail.
• A worker at an on-line software help desk told a woman she was too stupid to own a computer.
• An English shoplifter put a frozen chicken under her hat and froze her brain.
• A proofreader who died at his desk went unnoticed for five days.
• A Seeing Eye dog named Lucky caused the death of four of his owners.

Some things like this may seem plausible at first glance, others are as patently ridiculous as the abbagoochie. Nonetheless, they still circulate. That’s nothing new. Such tall tales and legends have been making the rounds for generations. The difference now is that they can do it at lightening speed over the Internet. Most are harmless, but some can cause considerable inconvenience and annoyance.

The fact that these hoaxes are now coming directly into our computers may lend them an air of credibility, but before you pass along any breathless e-mails about missing kidneys or ailing children collecting business cards you’d be advised to check it out. One good (and very funny) site is For more serious stuff such as virus alerts and hoaxes, try As many venture capitalists have found out, just because something is involved with the Internet doesn’t mean there’s any substance to it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to forward some e-mail so I can get my free Nokia phone.

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