Sunday, December 5, 2004

Wild and Hairy Men by Dave McBean

This article is a broad discussion, which may sometimes venture in to what some may call a "fantasy universe". Many of the ideas put forward are not necessarily being advocated by the author, but are merely here for discussion purposes. The author would prefer the reader to view this discussion with a skeptical eye and check some of the details for themselves, rather than assuming it to be "gospel". The author welcomes any suggestions for improvements to the article. For a very good discussion on whether these creatures actually exist or not please read "Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality" by distinguished primatologist John Napier.
This article combines what we know of the fossil record of bipedal primates with conjecture and hypothesis, to provide possible (but not necessarily probable) explanations for the consistent reports of unknown hairy bipedal primates, all over Earth, throughout history. There is an unusually large focus on the subject of reported Australian creatures, because that subject has been relatively neglected until quite recently. If these reported creatures really exist, as many rational people believe, from where did they originate and how did they become such elusive creatures?
Prehistoric Primates
First, let us summarize the various upright bipedal apes and humans, which have existed in the past. Given that even tribes of wild Chimpanzees have simple sign language dialects, it is reasonable to assume that all those beings listed below had some form of language, even if it was far more basic in form, than our own.
Gracile Australopithecines - A term covering various types of small (less than 5 feet tall) lightly built upright bipedal primates, some of which may be either ancestors of humans or a side branch of separate apes. They lived in east and southern Africa and seem to have originated earlier than 4 million years ago, with the final types living until around 2.5 million years ago or possibly later.
Paranthropus (also known as robust Australopithecines). This covers a range of groups, which are similar to the above, but seem to be a side branch (or branches) of taller and more strongly built types, which lived between approximately 2.6 and 1 million years ago. They include some extra robust types, which have larger skull crests and massive jaws. One type - Australopithecus aethiopicus (approximately 2.5 million years old), has the largest skull crest ever found on a hominid. Another type found around 1.75 million years ago is called Zinj, Zinjanthropus boisei, Australopithecus boisei or simply Nutcracker man (due to its huge jaw). The estimates of Zinj's maximum height seem to vary between 5 feet and 6.5 feet, depending on whether you theorize that their long arms meant they were tall, or simply that they had very long arms in relation to the rest of their body. As with all remains of creatures this age or older, it is skull and jaw remains which survive more often than other body parts. They lived in east Africa and there is some evidence to suggest that they were hunted by Humans.
Gigantopithecus??? Lived between approximately 6 million years ago and 300,000 years ago in southern China, Vietnam and Northern India. Due to the absence of remains other than teeth and jaws, the matter of whether it was bipedal or quadrupedal is highly debatable. It is generally considered to be a gorilla sized quadrupedal relative of the Orangutan, but is included in this discussion because a few scientists (such as Dr Grover Krantz of the USA and a number of others in China) feel that it may have been bipedal and as such may be relevant to this discussion. Their teeth are very large and adapted for herbivory. The canines are moderately large but often show evidence of being ground down to stubs, due to their diet.
Meganthropus. Lived approximately 1 million(?) years ago in Indonesia. Like Gigantopithecus, its remains are scant. Generally considered to be a very robust form of Homo erectus, but it may still be too early to say for sure. Some scientists have suggested that Meganthropus jaw remains seem to have some similarities to those of Paranthropus and may represent an Asian branch of similar beings.
Homo rudolfensis and Homo habilis: Humans which lived from around 2.4 million years ago to about 1.6 million years ago. They were the first advanced tool users and are thought to have descended from some of the Australopithecines. Rudolfensis was more robust than habilis and was taller (up to 5 feet tall). They lived in east Africa and appear to have been the ancestors of Homo erectus and Homo ergaster.
Homo erectus and Homo ergaster- Humans which lived from about 1.8 million years ago to less than 500,000 years ago. They had a skeleton, which was close in appearance to that of modern humans, but it was more robust. The skull was more robust (than modern humans) with prominent brow ridges. It is not known how hairy they were. They were accomplished tool users and seem to be the first hominids to have ranged widely outside Africa. Homo erectus inhabited the Earth for a longer period, than any other type of human and ranged widely across Eurasia. The line between the last of the Homo erectus and early forms of Homo sapiens is very blurred (the period between 500,000 to 150,000 years ago), which seams to indicate a smooth transition between the two human groups. Some of these later remains have their own names (e.g. Heidelberg Man). There were also some very similar humans to Homo erectus (e.g. Homo ergaster), which lived at the same time and may have been the ancestors of modern Homo sapiens. This is a matter of some debate. The possibility of interbreeding between different but similar groups throughout Eurasia and Africa, may be the reason why choosing a direct ancestor for Homo sapiens, from this period, is so difficult. The human family tree may be more complicated than a direct line.
Archaic and "Pre-modern" Homo sapiens: Terms describing a diverse range of Humans which lived from before 150,000 years ago to possibly less than 10,000 years ago. They had a slightly more robust skull structure and would have been indistinguishable in appearance from modern humans if dressed and groomed as such. It is not known how hairy they were. They seem to have ranged quite widely. Some believe that the youngest remains of such individuals were found in Kow Swamp in Victoria, Australia and they were probably the first group of humans to inhabit the continent, before being assimilated by later influxes of tribes from the north
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis: Commonly know as Neanderthals or Neandertals. They were a "race" of humans, which lived from before 150,000 years ago to less than 35,000 years ago. They had a skeleton and skull structure, which was more robust on average than that of modern Europeans. They seem to have lived only in Europe, the Middle East and central Asia. They exhibit characteristics, which seem to indicate that they were specially adapted to the environment of glaciated Europe, much like modern Inuit are adapted for life in the Arctic. It is not known how hairy they were. If Neanderthals were not very hairy, then they would probably not look any different than a strongly built person who lives today. They were accomplished tool users and buried their dead. They were either driven to extinction by other Homo sapiens or gradually interbred with them (or a combination of both).
Comments about various remains:
The relationship between various remains is constantly being revised and debated as new evidence is found. It appears that sometime before 2.6 million years ago, a group of robust bipedal primates (Zinjanthropus, etc) branched off from the main part of the tree of bipedal primates (the part which gave rise to humans). It is conceivable that remains like those of Meganthropus may represent groups of unknown extra robust upright bipedal primates, which settled in Asia earlier than 1 million years ago. They may be related to the robust Paranthropus group. Alternatively, they could be the result of a different branch with strong similarities to the Paranthropus group (a phenomenon known as evolutionary convergence). Zinj and Australopithecus aethiopicus set a precedent which demonstrates that it is possible for apes to develop with large skull crests, powerful jaws, a bipedal skeleton and a height comparable to modern humans (i.e. over 5 feet tall).
Various Reported "Hairy Man" Creatures
"Hairy Men" have been reported on every continent (except Antarctica - if you consider it to be a continent) and throughout history. From the Ogres and Loups-garoux of European folklore to the Sasquatch of modern North America.
Eurasia- this land mass has a long and rich oral history of various "wild men". In all parts of the former Soviet Union, there have been consistent reports of creatures known as Almas. The Alma is reported to be human in appearance except for it being very hairy, strongly built and capable of only a grunt-like language. If this is the case it seems that it is very similar to how Homo erectus or Neanderthal would appear to be if they had been very hairy. Homo erectus would seem like a more likely candidate because of it being more likely to not have advanced spoken language, however Neanderthals would probably be better adapted to the cold of Russia. In southern China, there have been many reports over thousands of years of a creature called the Yeren ("wild man" in Chinese). Unlike the Alma, the Yeren is said to be less human in appearance and much taller and more heavily built with a pointed head (skull crest) and no neck. In the three borders area of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos there is a strong oral history of a creature called the Nguoi Rung ("wild man" in Vietnamese). It seems to be similar to the Yeren, but is often reported as being more human in size.In Malaysia there is an oral history of a creature called the Orang Mawa or Orang Delem, which is also supposed to be similar to the Yeren.
In Malaysia and Indonesia there is also an oral history of a creature called the Orang Pendek, which is supposedly less than five feet tall, bipedal and hairy. If so, it would appear similar in appearance to artist's impressions of the Gracile Australopithecines. This raises the question of whether there is a genetic connection between the Orang Pendek and one of the small Australopithecines, which once existed. The similarity to Gracile Australopithecines could simply be an example of evolutionary convergence, and the Orang Pendek could be the descendents of a separate branch of the family tree. In the Himalayas there is the famous legend of the Yeti. Yeti is a name, which is said to apply to a group of separate creature types of different heights and characters. This may have something to do with the fact that the Himalayas border areas where the Yeren is reported, the Alma is reported, the Languor monkey is reported and red and black bears are reported. Contrary to popular belief, there is very little evidence of any kind to support the existence of the Yeti in the Himalayas, when compared with similar creatures in North America.
The predominance of the reports of Yeren type creatures in south east Asia and the existence of incomplete remains of prehistoric robust apes in that region, seems to raise the possibility of something akin to a large Paranthropus having once lived in Asia and then giving rise to either the legends of, or the creatures which are reported. The biggest problem facing researchers in Asia is the strong intertwining of real life, myth and religion, which sometimes leads to eyewitness reports which seem very easy to ignore as fantasy. Work presently being conducted by scientists in Vietnam and China will hopefully rectify this situation.
Africa- There are many African legends of hairy man like creatures in Africa. Many of these are attributed to the Chimpanzee and the Gorilla. The Agogues in East Africa, however, are reported to be much more like Australopithecines or the Orang-Pendek than the Gorilla or Chimpanzee. The Elgayo and Nandi tribes of Kenya tell of a large, hairy bipedal creature called the Chemosit.
South America- In the Colombian Andes there are stories of a creatures similar to the Orang Pendek, called the Duendi. In the Amazon jungle there are reports of a larger ape-like creature called the Mapinguary. Sometimes, however, the Mapinguary is reported to be more like a giant ground sloth.
North America- The Sasquatches of North America are probably the most famous of the "wild man" creatures although they are probably better known under the silly sounding name of "Bigfoots" or "Bigfeet". The term "Bigfoot" was first coined in northern California in the early to mid 1900's after the many large footprints found in the area, however the term Sasquatch has a longer history and is derived from a Native American word from British Columbia. There are a large number of reports of these creatures in both Native American folklore and European American history, and the creatures have gone by many other names including Yahoos, Skookums, Loups-garoux (French for "Werewolf"), Skunk Apes, Wood Devils, Wookies, and numerous other Native American names. Reports seem to suggest that they closely resemble the Yeren of China, with a pointed head, no neck and a huge body.

Australia- Finally, we come to what would seem the most unlikely continent on Earth, to which a large non-human primate could migrate. Australia has never been joined to Asia by any known land bridge. How could such a creature arrive there? This is a question that is yet to be answered. Despite this, Australia has a rich oral history in both Aboriginal and European settler cultures of a race of "Hairy Men" existing in the rugged forest covered mountains and canyons of the coastal areas of the continent. These Hairy Men are reported, in many ways, to resemble the Yeren and the Sasquatch, with a pointed head, no neck and a big strong body. They are known by many names such as the Hairy Men, the Yaroma, the Doolagarl, the Jingera, the Quinkin, the Yourie, the Yowrie, the Yahoo, the Australian Gorilla and many more, including the name that has become very popular - the Yowie. Unfortunately in the English language words with an "ee" sounding suffix, generally have connotations of silliness. In addition to this Cadbury's Chocolate company chose the name "Yowie" for a range of funny creature shaped chocolates. As a result the term "Yowie" tends to conjure up images of a silly story and thus its use is not very conducive to a serious discussion of the possibilities of such creatures. Interestingly, small solitary creatures (often referred to as "Brown Jacks"), which fit the description of the Orang Pendek, have also been reported on rare occasion in Australia. They may simply be juvenile examples of the larger creatures, but many people are convinced that they are a separate species. If they are a separate species similar to the Orang Pendek, then the lack of sightings would seem to indicate that these creatures are extremely rare and may be nearing extinction. If this is the case, then it is unlikely that any evidence of their existence will ever be found. In addition to sightings of these small solitary creatures, there have been reports of juveniles of the larger creatures being seen with their parents (just as there has been similar reports of families of apes in North America and Asia).
Comments about inconsistencies in the reported appearance of hairy bipedal primates
It is interesting to note one particular feature of Sasquatch and "Yowie" reports. They are sometimes reported to have large noses (one witness commented that it was similar to the way Michael Jackson's nose used to be in the late 1970s). Some times the noses are reported to be more like a Gorilla nose. The size of noses is determined by the cartilage which supports them and the bone to which the cartilage is attached. Noses can vary in size and shape quite markedly on human faces. On Chimpanzees and Gorillas, the noses vary less. We do not know what shape or variation of the noses occurred naturally on early upright bipedal primates. It is possible that the reason why some witnesses report the faces of "Hairy Man" creatures to be human like, while others report them to be gorilla like, could be attributed to a large natural variation in nose types (as occurs in humans). A large "Santa Claus" style nose would seem to make such a creature look more like a human, since few other animals have such a nose. A similar creature with a small flat nose, would probably appear more gorilla-like.The Australian "Hairy Man" and some of the "Sasquatches" of North America are reported to have large canine teeth. Tree bites found in the Bloodwood trees of Australia seem to confirm this. These tree bites show evidence of sizeable upper and lower canines. None of the known bipedal primate fossils exhibit prominent canine teeth, while many of the non-bipedal primates do. This could indicate that these hairy men branched off from the primate family tree at an earlier point than the known bipedal primates (and thus their bipedal stance would be an example of convergence). Alternatively they could be descendants of one of the known bipedal primates and the prominent canines would then be the example of evolutionary convergence (similar convergence seems to have occurred to some extent between gorillas and robust australopithecines with their skull crests). Many "Sasquatches" and other "Hairy Men" are not reported to have large canines. This could simply be because the teeth were not observed, by the witness. Another reason could be because there is a large difference in canine size between males and females of the species. Still another reason for variation could be that more vegetarian feeding habits in some areas cause the canines to become worn down over time. Alternatively the large canines could be a regional variation in these creatures (although it seems hard to imagine this variation developing quick enough). It does seem hard to imagine that the known bipedal primates could have given rise to creatures with such markedly larger canine teeth (but it isn't impossible). Contrary to common belief the footprints, which are not obvious fakes, are not the same as "scaled up" human footprints. There are many subtle differences. Footprints reported in North America and China seem to show no evidence of an opposable large toe, while some footprints found in Australia do show such evidence. This would seem to indicate that the North American and Chinese creatures are not closely related to the Australian creatures. Sometimes these footprints are reported to show less than five toes. This could be the result of inbreeding or it could be the result of some of the toes not pressing hard enough against the soil to leave a noticeable impression. Seeing as none of these reported creatures has ever been rigorously examined, nothing conclusive can be drawn from the previous comments, however they are points of interest.
How could such creatures survive so long and remain so hidden, while being so wide spread?
It is interesting to note that creatures such as Paranthropus lived at the same time and in the same area as more human-like creatures. What occurred when the two types of bipeds' paths crossed? There is evidence to suggest that the more human-like creatures sometimes hunted the less human-like ones. If extremely robust hominids did survive much longer than previously thought, they may have had to develop certain traits to make them less vulnerable to humans. Traits that would be advantageous would be:
*Being active while the humans are asleep (i.e. nocturnal).
*Being vary careful about leaving tracks, which could be followed by humans.
*Being generally vary careful to remain hidden when humans are near.
*Avoiding conflict with humans where possible.
*Trying to drive humans away, when they may be getting close to an area inhabited by vulnerable family members, like juveniles (e.g. throwing rocks or sticks, growling, bluff charging, etc)
Interestingly, all these characteristics have been attributed to the "hairy men" reported around the globe.

Some relevant comments about ape behavior and group structure
Gorillas and Chimpanzees share some behavioral and group structure traits:
*Live in groups of between 2 to about 20 individuals, led by a dominant male who guards his group and their territory.
*Make beds of grass and sticks, which they use only once, before moving to a different spot, the following day.
*Have a range of calls, grunts, barks, hoots and sign language to communicate with each other and to drive off animals which threaten the group.
*On reaching adulthood, some males leave their group and become solitary, until they manage to attract mature females from other groups, to form their own group.
*Are typically very gentle creatures but males and nursing mothers have been known to kill men with ease if they feel threatened.
Eyewitness reports of bipedal apes and "Hairy Men", throughout the world, seem to show behavior, which is consistent with the above traits.
How on Earth could they reach Australia, of all places?
This is a hard question to answer convincingly. The following scenario is pretty sketchy and is sure to have plenty of holes in it, not the least of which is the presence of the Wallace Trench (named after distinguished naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace) and other sea trenches which make Australia and New Guinea inaccessible to large Asian terrestrial fauna. As human population in an area increased beyond the capacity of the land to sustain so many hunter/gatherers it was common for members of the group to go out into new areas, sometimes displacing other human tribes. This occurred a number of times in the area of Indonesia, during the glacial periods, which existed over the past 100,000 years. It was during these periods, when the gap between Australia and nearby islands was at its smallest, that a number of different groups of humans migrated to Australia. The descendants of a mixture of these groups are called the Australian Aboriginals. There may have been a period when a reasonably large population, of large robust primates, were forced towards the extremities of places like Java, by large numbers of human tribes migrating towards them. In such circumstances, young males leaving their family group to start their own groups, may have had no other choice but to swim out to nearby islands to find new territory. Their nighttime calls may have been enough to encourage young females to cross as well. Over a period of 20 years or so, enough animals might make the swim to form a sustainable breeding population. This theory is pretty flimsy, to say the least. The gaps which separated the Australian and New Guinean land mass from other islands were so wide that swimming across would have been very unlikely and no known animal can give a call which would carry across such a distance. There is no precedent for such a swim amongst any known large terrestrial mammal (apart from possibly elephants), though Bob Titmus, the famous Californian Sasquatch researcher (who moved to Canada in the early 1960s), did claim to find some encouraging signs. On small islands off the coast of British Columbia, Bob Titmus claimed to have found footprints, which fit the description of Sasquatch tracks. These islands were too small to support a breeding population of such creatures and they were separated by large expanses of choppy water, from the mainland.
If they really did exist, wouldn't they leave an observable impact on their environment?
This seems to be the case. Many places in Australia and North America are reported to show evidence of being sleeping areas, food consumption areas and areas where the forest has been extensively disturbed by creatures larger than humans. Broken saplings and larger trees are often reported in areas where these creatures are supposedly sighted. Stick structures, which may be territorial markers, are also reported. Some of these things can be explained by the presence of other large animals, however in some areas (like Australia), there are no known large animals, which could be responsible for this environmental impact.
Why haven't any remains been found?
How many remains of common forest mammals are ever found? The answer is a very small percentage. Other animals and insects break down remains of dead animals very quickly. Skeletal remains are rare compared with the number of mammals that exist. If natural recycling of remains did not occur, Earth would be smothered in bones by now.
Surely someone would have taken a photograph by now!Witnesses often report that the initial shock of seeing such a creature, makes them forget about the importance of taking a photograph. Admittedly this isn't the most convincing of arguments, to say the least.
If these creatures are so worthy of research, why aren't more serious scientists researching them?
Sir Peter Medawar FRS once said (in reference to another topic): "Good scientists study the most important problems they think they can solve. It is after all, their professional business to solve problems, not merely to grapple with them."

There is no shortage of possibilities to explain why these creatures could exist, and not yet be officially recognized. Despite the possibility of these explanations, they are often far from probable and we must keep this in the back of our minds when researching this topic. As John Napier once wrote (in reference to explaining these creatures through the survival of prehistoric species) "It would be a neat solution to allocate the ape-like Gigantopithecus to the Himalayas and the more human-like Paranthropus to North America, but it would be a shockingly unscientific thing to do".

Bibliography and further Reading
Australian Skeptics Website
A reasonably good fossil hominid site
Professor Russell Ciochon of the University of Iowa(A very interesting website)
An interesting discussion on Chinese primate fossils
The Great Ape Project
Dr Jeff Meldrum's footprint analysis
The Vietnamese Wildman (Nguoi Rung)
North America's Great Ape: the Sasquatch
Dr Matthew Johnson's Sasquatch Site
The GCBRO photographs of tree breaks and limb formations

More detailed references to the books listed below, will be forthcoming.
Where Worlds Collide: the Wallace Line By Penny Van OosterzeePublished by Reed Books, 1997
New Interpretations of Ape and Human Ancestors Ciochon and Corruccini
Bigfoot/Sasquatch Evidence By Grover Krantz
North America's Great Ape: the SasquatchBy John Bindernagel
Out of the ShadowsMystery Animals Of Australia By Tony Healy and Paul Cropper
Bigfoot: The Yeti and SasquatchIn Myth and Reality By John Napier
The Natural History of Primates By John Napier
The Origins of Man By John Napier
Primate Locomotion By John Napier
Monkeys without Tails By John Napier
The Roots of Mankind By John Napier
The Origin Of Humankind By Richard E. Leakey
People of the Lake: Mankind and its Beginnings By Richard E. Leakey
Making of Mankind By Richard E. Leakey
Human Origins By Richard E. Leakey
Origins: what new discoveries reveal about the emergence of our species and its possible future By Richard E. Leakey
The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior By Jane GoodallPublished by Harvard University Press
My Life with the Chimpanzees By Jane Goodall
Gorillas in the Mist By Dian Fossey
Magazines Articles:
National Geographic:
June 1973 "Skull 1470- New Clue to Earliest Man?"
December 1976 "Early Man in Ethiopia"
April 1979 "Footprints 3.6 Million Years Old"
November 1985 "The search for Early Man"
January 1996 "Neandertals"
May 1997 "The Dawn of Humans"
July 1997 "The Dawn of Humans"
September 1995 "The Dawn of Humans"
March 1996 "The Dawn of Humans"
February 1997 "The Dawn of Humans"
September 1997 "The Dawn of Humans"
August 1998 "Dawn of Humans"
May 2000 "Dawn of Humans"
July 2000 "Dawn of Humans"
March 1992 "Apes and Humans"
October 1978 "Conversations with a Gorilla"
January 1985 "Koko's Kitten"
April 1981 "Life Among Mountain Gorillas"
October 1995 "Mountain Gorillas of Africa"
February 2000 "Orphan Gorillas"
May 1979 "Gombe Chimps"
December 1995 "Jane Goodall"
October 1975 "Orangutans"
June 1980 "Living with Orangutans"