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15 Hirsute Alternatives to Bigfoot

A creative imagining of an Orang Pendek, adapted from an original artwork by Tim Bertelink via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0


 
Earlier this month, the head of the University of New Mexico's Gallup campus was under fire for spending public money on a Bigfoot conference and expedition. Never mind that there are no fossils, no corpses, no DNA samples, nor any other hard evidence to suggest Bigfoot exists. Nearly 50 years after the famous Patterson–Gimlin footage was shot in northern California, people are still looking for hairy hulking apemen (fewer apewomen) hiding from us in the forests.

To the collective annoyance of skeptics, these stories aren’t likely to go away any time soon. Just take a look across the globe and back through history and you’ll find that lots of cultures have tales about shaggy, often smelly cryptids (animals of unproven existence). In their 2013 book Abominable Science, authors Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero acknowledge that Bigfoot myths might enjoy plausibility for a good evolutionary reason: There was a time when “footprints in the mud really did mean that another bipedal primate was lurking about.” Indeed, our human ancestors used to share forests with once-mysterious orangutans, gorillas, and, a very long time ago, the now-extinct primates like Gigantopithecus. Today, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, dominates the lore of North America. But here are 15 hirsute alternatives that show just how ubiquitous these mythical creatures are.

1. MOGOLLON MONSTER

The screeching, putrid-smelling, campsite-wrecking Mogollon Monster is said to stalk Arizona’s Mogollon Rim. The first record of a sighting might come from a 1903 edition of The Arizona Republican, in which a man named I.W. Stevens claimed he saw a clawed apeman that was covered in gray hair and had a matted beard that reached to his knees. This beast carried a club, drank the blood of cougars and “screamed the wildest, most unearthly screech,” according to Stevens. He himself never claimed it was a monster; instead, he speculated it was someone held hostage and then abandoned by Native Americans. Several decades later, future cryptozoologist Don Davis claimed he had his own encounter with the Mogollon Monster during a 1940s Boy Scout camping trip (he was 13 at the time), noting that the creature had deep-set expressionless eyes, a square head, and a stench so bad Davis thought he had soiled his sleeping bag in terror.

2. AM FEAR LIATH MÒR: THE GREY MAN OF SCOTLAND

Chemist J. Norman Collie believed in science. But still he was spooked by a shadowy presence while hiking alone on Scotland’s second highest peak, Ben MacDui. He told of the experience at the General Meeting of the Cairngorm Club in Aberdeen in 1925: “As I walked on and the eerie crunch, crunch, sounded behind me, I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles nearly down to Rothiemurchus Forest. Whatever you make of it, I do not know, but there is something very queer about the top of Ben MacDui and I will not go back there again by myself I know.” Collie wasn’t alone. Others have described similar run-ins with the yeti-like Grey Man, or Am Fear Liath Mòr. According to The Scotsman, these encounters seem more spiritual than physical, often accompanied by “uncontrolled terror, deep despair and huge negative energy.”

3. EBU GOGO

Apemen—and apewomen—come in all sizes. On the Indonesian island of Flores, “Ebu Gogo" means “the grandmother who eats anything.” These fabled creatures are said to be diminutive, hairy, and pot-bellied. Some believers have tried to link these cryptids to the hobbit-like human Homo floresiensis, whose bones were also found on Flores. But recent research suggests that species died out 50,000 years ago.

4. ALMAS

In Central Asia, Bigfoot takes the form of the Almas. This legendary apeman of the Altai Mountains is supposedly more humanoid in form than the North American Bigfoot, and some cryptozoologists have tried claiming that Almases might make up a holdout population of Neanderthals. Close encounters have not been limited to sightings of shadowy figures in the woods. In one troublingly racist episode from the 19th century, a woman of African descent named Zana was held captive in Russia by villagers who suspected she was an Almas. Worse, some scientists today are apparently still trying to prove she was not human.

5. YETI

Bigfoot’s best known (and perhaps most-sought) companion might be the Yeti, or "Abominable Snowman,” who roams the Himalayas. The Yeti has its origins in old Sherpa folklore, but it became the hulking shaggy apeman of pop culture after Western mountaineers started exploring Mount Everest in the 20th century and came back with sensational tales. In 1959, the American Embassy in Kathmandu released a memo notifying would-be Yeti hunters that they would have to apply for a permit with the Nepalese government and could photograph but not kill any Yeti they might find.

6. YOWIE

If you can take the witness sketches as accurate representations, the Yowie is sort of like a hairy luchador with a cone-shaped head and the posture of a gorilla. While alleged sightings are still reported in the wilds of Australia, the Yowie has its roots in Aboriginal legends, and European colonizers sometimes referred to the creature as the “Australian ape.” In 1882, a newspaper columnist in Sydney told of a sighting near Bateman's Bay in New South Wales: “I should think that if it were standing perfectly upright it would be nearly 5ft high. It was tailless and covered with very long black hair, which was of a dirty red or snuff-colour about the throat and breast…On the whole it was a most uncouth and repulsive looking creature, evidently possessed of prodigious strength, and one which I should not care to come to close quarters.”

7. ORANG PENDEK

Malay for “short man,” the Orang Pendek supposedly lives in the jungles of the island Sumatra. This ground-dwelling, pint-sized creature is said to have long arms and broad shoulders. It apparently lacks special powers—though it might throw rocks at you if it feels threatened.

8 AGOGWE

During a lion-hunting expedition in Tanzania in the early 20th century, a man named William Hichens saw “mystery men-beasts” called Agogwe and lived to tell the tale. “They were like little men, about four feet high, walking upright, but clad in russet hair,” Hichens wrote. “The native hunter with me gaped in mingled fear and amazement. They were, he said, agogwe, the little furry men whom one does not see once in a lifetime.” The locals also said that if you put a gourd of beer and a bowl of food out in your garden, the Agogwe would take the food and do some hoeing and weeding at night in return, which was just too much for Hichens to buy. “That, I can well believe, is myth.”

9. KUSHTAKA

Alaskans have a rather demonic version of Bigfoot: kushtakas. In the language of the Tlingit indigenous tribe of the Pacific Northwest, “kushtaka” means "land otter man.” Sure, otters are cute, but kushtakas have the not-so-cute ability to shape-shift, possess people, steal souls, and cause landslides. In The Strangest Story Ever Told, miner Harry D. Colp claimed that one of his companions was beset by a swarm of these sexless, sore-covered, monkey-like creatures during a prospecting trip in southeastern Alaska’s Thomas Bay in 1900. Undaunted by such accounts, actor Charlie Sheen reportedly took a private jet to Alaska to hunt kushtakas in 2013. He did not find any of the elusive creatures.

10. DE LOYS' APE

 
In the 1920s, Swiss scientist George Alexis Montandon claimed he had evidence of a human-sized ape that lurked in Venezuela. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the so-called De Loys’ Ape was revealed to be a hoax based on a manipulated photo of a common spider monkey.

11. HIBAGON

People living around Mt. Hiba in northern Hiroshima during the 1970s claimed to see an ape-like man, shorter than the American Bigfoot and with a coat of reddish brown hair. The so-called Hibagon apparently created such a frenzy that police for a time escorted children to school. One grainy (and not very convincing) picture purports to show the Hibagon, but other than that, there’s no other evidence for this creature.

12. OHIO GRASSMAN

Besides Bigfoot, there are several other monsters said to terrorize North America. There’s Momo in Missouri, the Tuttle Bottoms Monster in Illinois, and of course the Ohio Grassman. According to one Bigfoot enthusiast website, the Grassman looks like an upright chesty gorilla who hangs out in cornfields and is known to kill dogs.

13. SKUNK APE

Roaming the wilds of the Florida Everglades is a man-beast covered in fur that is variously known as the Skunk Ape, Swamp Cabbage Man, or Stink Ape. It’s said to have the odor of rotten eggs—maybe because, as some claim, the Skunk Ape lives in muddy caves. The creature is occasionally drawn to campsites and cabins in search of food, but, according to other reports, the Skunk Ape might be a picky eater. Some say it’s been known to kill deer, tear open the carcass and only eat the liver.

14. MAPINGUARY

In the Brazilian Amazon, people claim to have had encounters with the sluggish and clawed Mapinguary, a name sometimes translated as “the roaring animal” or “the fetid beast.” The legends about this creature could possibly be based on ancient memories of the elephant-sized giant ground sloth, Megatherium. This real-life sloth went extinct in South America a few thousand years ago, but fossil evidence shows that humans once hunted them.

15. MARICOXI

Another apeman said to be hiding out in the rainforests of Brazil is the Maricoxi. A decade before he disappeared while looking for an ancient lost city in the Amazon, explorer Percy Fawcett claimed he saw several Maricoxi in Brazil in 1914. Fawcett described them as “enormous” grunting creatures which were hairy like dogs. In one encounter, he said that he used his gun to scare off one of these bow-and-arrow–armed apemen.

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AFP, Stringer, Getty Images
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
The Most Complete Fossil of an Early Human Relative Goes on Display
AFP, Stringer, Getty Images
AFP, Stringer, Getty Images

Twenty years after it was discovered in an African cave, one of the most important fossils in the quest to demystify human evolution is finally on display. As Smithsonian reports, Little Foot, an Australopithecus specimen dating back more than 3 million years, was revealed to the public this month at the Hominin Vault at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Evolutionary Studies Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Paleontologist Ron Clarke discovered the first bone fragments from the fossil in 1994. The pieces came from the remains of a young female’s feet, hence the nickname. Clarke and his team spent years excavating Little Foot bit by bit from the Sterkfontein cave system in South Africa until the bones were fully removed in 2012. The shattered remains had been embedded in a concrete-like material called breccia, making them incredibly tricky to recover. But the sum of the parts is monumental: Little Foot is the most complete Austrolopithecus fossil known to science.

The hominid genus Austrolopithecus played an essential early role in the chain of human evolution. Lucy, another famous hominid fossil, is a member of the same genus, but while Lucy is only 40 percent complete, Little Foot retains 90 percent of her skeleton, including her head. It’s also possible that Little Foot surpasses Lucy in age. Most paleontologists agree that Lucy lived about 3.2 million years ago, while one analysis places Little Foot’s age at 3.67 million years.

Austrolopithecus is believed to have spawned Homo, the genus that would eventually contain our species. The discovery of Lucy and other fossils have led scientists to designate East Africa as the cradle of human evolution, but if Little Foot is really as old as tests suggest, then South Africa may deserve a more prominent point in the timeline.

Following Little Foot’s public debut, the team that’s been studying her plans to release a number of papers exploring the many questions her discovery raises.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Mark Golitko
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
6000-Year-Old Skull Might Belong to World's Oldest Tsunami Victim
Scientists speak to residents in Aitape.
Scientists speak to residents in Aitape.
Mark Golitko

Tsunamis and other natural disasters have taken a deadly toll on human populations for millennia, and now we may have the oldest example of that truth yet. An international team of anthropologists and environmental researchers recently analyzed a cracked skull that belonged to a person who likely died in a tsunami some 6000 years ago. They detail their find in a new study published in PLOS One.

The partial skull in question, known as the Aitape skull, was found in Papua New Guinea in 1929 during a geological survey by an Australian scientist named Paul Hossfield. It has since been dated to the mid-Holocene epoch, or around 6000 years ago.

For the current study, the scientists returned to the site of the 1929 discovery to sample and analyze the sediment there to find out more about what might have killed the person millennia ago. They had only Hossfield's basic field descriptions to go on, but University of Notre Dame anthropologist Mark Golitko, one of the study’s authors, says that based on those descriptions, they think they were able to sample within 100 yards or so of the skull's original location.

The top of a brown cracked skull against a pink background
Arthur Durband

Based on the grain size, chemical signature, and marine microalgae found within the sediment samples, they were able to determine that around the time that the skull was buried, the area was inundated with water, probably from a tsunami. At that time, the site, located near the present-day town of Aitape, would have been just along the shoreline. Aitape was also the site of a devastating tsunami in 1998, and the Holocene sediments resembled the ones associated with that disaster.

It's possible that the skull was buried before the tsunami hit, and the grave was ripped apart by the waters and the rest of the bones scattered. However, during the powerful 1998 tsunami that killed more than 2100 people in Papua New Guinea, bodies buried in modern cemeteries were not uprooted even as the sediment above them washed away, making it more likely that the ancient skull belonged to someone killed in the disaster.

The new analysis has "made us realize that human populations in this area have been affected by these massive inundations for thousands of years," study co-author James Goff of the University of New South Wales said in a press statement. "Given the evidence we have in hand, we are more convinced than before that this person was either violently killed by a tsunami, or had their grave ripped open by one."

Field Museum anthropologist John Terrell, another co-author of the study, said, "If we are right about how this person had died thousands of years ago, we have dramatic proof that living by the sea isn't always a life of beautiful golden sunsets and great surfing conditions."

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