A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
A scientist examines the evidence.
David Daegling of the University of Florida at Gainesville specializes in the jaw structure of early hominids, but he also happens to be familiar with that most elusive of North American creatures--Bigfoot. The author of Bigfoot Exposed (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2004) recently spoke with ARCHAEOLOGY about the likelihood that giant primates live in the northwestern United States.
How did you become interested in Bigfoot?
I grew up in northern California, and in the late 60s, early 70s, there was a lot of Bigfoot activity going on. The famous Roger Patterson film of Bigfoot was shot in 1967 for instance. If you were a kid in northern California, it was pretty hard not to notice this, and I loved monsters anyway. So I collected a lot of Bigfoot stories.
Eventually I went off to grad school and started studying early hominids. My dissertation involved CAT scanning a lot of South African hominid material, Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus. But every now and again during a late-night poker game or while doing fieldwork, I'd trot out some old Bigfoot stories for entertainment value.
My colleagues knew that I knew these stories, so in 1992, when Grover Krantz, a physical anthropologist, published a book arguing that Bigfoot was a real animal, I was asked to review it. That started the ball rolling and got me back involved with Bigfoot.
What kind of evidence did you look at?
Bigfoot advocates were still complaining that scientists weren't looking at the Patterson film, with the exception of Krantz. So I looked at it to see if what people said about that film was true.
As a paleoanthropologist, how do you approach analyzing a film of Bigfoot?
You've probably seen the Patterson film. It's not a great piece of nature photography. But you can take the data at face value and see if you can rule out a person in a costume.
Bigfoot advocates said that the thing on the film was too large to be a human: "If the thing is eight feet tall, and it's walking around effortlessly, it can't be a person." And the other thing people said was, "It walks funny. It's impossible for people to walk like that." These are extraordinary claims. Because if these are both true, then that film is quite a spectacular piece of evidence.
First of all, I consulted what's called an anthropometric source book, which contains a ridiculous number of measurements on populations of human beings. Even if this thing on the film was as large as Krantz and others were claiming, it was not outside the range of human variation. But as it turns out, you can't measure reliably off of that film--there are too many unknown variables.
Then I worked with a colleague who studies the evolution of bipedalism. Some fossils seem to indicate that early hominids were using this thing called a compliant gait--they walked with this bent-knee, bent-hip gait. In the Patterson film, Bigfoot uses a compliant gait. But people can do it. Do you ever watch Marx Brothers movies?
I've seen Duck Soup.
Okay. Groucho uses this compliant gait. And it turns out that when people adopt a compliant gait, some strange things happen--which are actually in evidence in the film. A compliant gait tends to increase your stride length. At the film site people were saying, "Well, the footprints left by this thing here are so far apart, this couldn't be a human." Two of us and a couple of volunteers using the compliant gait basically matched Bigfoot's stride. It's very easy to learn how to walk like this.
Bigfoot advocates like to point out that giant primates do exist in the paleontological record.
Grover Krantz went so far as to give Bigfoot the scientific name of Gigantopithecus. And there were giant apes like Gigantopithecus running around. We know we have had giant primates, because we have a fossil record. But the thing that's really damning about Bigfoot is the fossil record is in China. We've got thousands of Gigantopithecus teeth in Asia. We don't have one fossil of Gigantopithecus in North America.
Do you think the Bigfoot question will ever be resolved to everyone's satisfaction?
This mystery has a very, very simple solution. Someone in a truck is driving along late at night through the Cascade Mountains, and this figure walks in front of the truck, and bam! You've got a dead Bigfoot. If that happens once, the mystery is over.
There's a ton of evidence for Bigfoot--a mountain of evidence. The problem is that none of that evidence is any good. And after all these years, you'd think one of these guys would have walked out of the woods by now, or a hunter would have shot one. Just one.