The following review appeared in Boise Journal for April/May 2007, and is one of several I wrote about my state’s anomalies and mysteries for Idaho Media Corporation. By an odd coincidence, I had scheduled this post weeks before learning that author Jeff Meldrum will be speaking about the Patterson-Gimlin film at this year’s Pocatello Bigfoot Conference in Pocatello, Idaho. The conference runs September 20-21, and, as there is limited seating, tickets are required. See http://sasquatchprints.com/ for details.
Jeff Meldrum, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. Forge / Tom Doherty, 2006.
Are we alone? Or to put the question another way, Do we, Homo sapiens, share the North American landscape with a close relative? A big, hairy one? Idaho State University Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology Jeff Meldrum thinks that we may, and here presents his evidence.
That evidence is of several types, some no more than suggestive, some a little more persuasive. At the suggestive end of the spectrum come art and folklore. As Meldrum makes clear, the concept of a large but elusive upright creature is common to a wide range of Native American peoples. He recounts stories and explores beliefs, but to my mind his most striking piece of evidence in this category is a ceremonial Tsimshian mask. Collected in remote northern British Columbia in the early years of the last century, the mask shows the unmistakable profile—beetling brow, flat nose and receding chin—of an ape.
Well and good, you say, but what about the physical evidence? Here Meldrum moves to the scientific end of the scale: films and photographs, recordings of vocalizations, statistical analyses, tufts of hair, and footprints, lots of footprints. Meldrum’s specialties are vertebrate locomotion and the evolution of human bipedalism. In studying casts of suspected sasquatch footprints, he finds evidence of bending and flexing—just what you would expect of real feet. Yet the casts are not of human feet, as their shape and great size and length of stride indicate.
Meldrum devotes two detailed chapters to what has been called the “gold standard” for sasquatch footage, the famous Patterson-Gimlin film of 1967. Shot by rodeo rider Roger Patterson in the Blue Creek Mountain region of northern California, the short piece of film shows a large, hairy, upright animal striding along the bank of a creek. The creature glances back over its shoulder several times at Patterson and his friend Bob Gimlin before disappearing up a draw. Meldrum visited the site shortly after reports of the incident were broadcast and was able to take casts of the creature’s footprints.
But just what could the sasquatch be? Meldrum devotes a fascinating chapter to the possibility that it’s a descendant of Gigantophithecus, an Asian ape that, true to its name, may have stood 10 feet tall. The land bridge that has existed from time to time between Siberia and Alaska would have allowed a small population of the apes to migrate to North America easily.
Meldrum goes on to discuss the seemingly “vexing” absence of a fossil record for such a creature, explaining the many factors militating against the creation of fossils or the preservation of bodily remains in a forest setting. Putting the problem in perspective, he points out that, until recently, virtually no fossils of chimpanzees or gorillas had been identified in their African homeland.
Sasquatch is one of the best works on its subject to date—thorough, even-handed, and scientifically grounded. Meldrum’s discussion of such arcane subjects as “skin ridge detail,” “hominoid crests,” and “gait parameters” may put off nonspecialists, but he has a light touch and illustrates his exposition with photos and clear diagrams.
Meldrum’s book appeared at a crucial time in the development of cryptozoology, the study of “hidden” or unknown animals. It’s dedicated to the memory of Washington State University professor Grover Krantz, whose death in 2002 robbed the cryptozoological world of one of its most important figures. There had been several other deaths in the field during the same period, and the once-active International Society of Cryptozoology had closed up shop several years before.
As Meldrum himself admits, he finds himself caught between two camps: the credulous, media-fed “cult of the mysterious” and the closed, jealous world of “institutional skepticism.” Yet he makes clear that he doesn’t “believe” in sasquatch. He states instead that a “respectable” body of evidence suggests its existence. He welcomes genuine skepticism, but points out that few so-called skeptics have been willing to give the evidence more than cursory examination. Here’s hoping they read his book.
You probably can’t make out the blurb printed at the bottom of the book’s cover, so here’s the complete statement it’s taken from: “Jeff Meldrum’s book Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science brings a much needed level of scientific analysis to the Sasquatch—or Bigfoot—debate. Does Sasquatch exist? There are countless people—especially indigenous people—in different parts of America who claim to have seen such a creature. And in many parts of the world I meet those who, in a matter-of-fact way, tell me of their encounters with large, bipedal, tail-less hominids. I think I have read every article and every book about these creatures, and while most scientists are not satisfied with existing evidence, I have an open mind.”—Dr. Jane Goodall
At the time I wrote this review, I understood that Meldrum had been denied a full professorship at Idaho State University due to his interest in sasquatch. I’m glad to report that, since then, his professional situation has changed for the better and that he is now Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology at ISU as well as an Adjunct Professor of Occupational and Physical Therapy. He’s gone on to publish a pair of pamphlets—the Sasquatch Field Guide and Sasquatch, Yeti and Other Wildmen of the World)—and currently edits a scholarly refereed journal called The Relict Hominoid Inquiry, which you can follow on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheRelictHominoidInquiry/.