Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sasquatch FAQ: What is Bigfoot?

What is bigfoot? It is one of the most frequently asked question out there when it comes to topic of the sasquatch. The debate on just exactly what this creature might be is currently raging with white-hot intensity within the small niche of society interested in such things. Is it an ape? Might it be some sort of primitive human? A spiritual being of some sort? Nothing more than a myth? What is it?

Most people who believe the species actually exists fall into one of two camps. They either think the sasquatch is an ape of some sort or a primitive human. For now, let’s forget about from what, or whom, if you prefer, this creature descended. Gigantopithicus blackii? Homo erectus? Homo heidelbergensis? Neanderthals? All questions for another day. For now, let’s simply concentrate on the much broader issue of whether the sasquatch is some sort of ape or primitive human. Before we get too deep we will have to answer what seems like a simple question. What exactly is it that makes us human?

The answer to this question is not nearly as simple as you might initially believe. Live Science recently published a brief list entitled The Top 10 Things That Make Humans Special that might help us with this question. The list includes the use of speech, nakedness, extraordinary brains, use of clothing, and the mastery of fire as being defining characteristics of humans. Let’s start with these points and take them one at a time.

The ability of humans to speak and use language is due in part to physiology. The larynx sits lower in the throat of humans than it does in the great apes. Humans also possess a descended hyoid bone, a horseshoe-shaped bone, below the tongue, which is not attached to any other bones. This allows humans to articulate a wide variety of sounds, which, in turn, allows us to form words. The ability to articulate many words led to the development of language. To say there is no evidence at all that the sasquatch might have some sort of rudimentary building blocks of language might not be completely accurate. The TBRC captured some very intriguing audio last summer during Operation Endurance. While the audio is quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard it does not suggest true language to me. I’ve never heard any credible, and that is the key term here, accounts of sasquatches “speaking.” Communicating? Yes. Speaking? No. The ability to communicate via a true language is something that, so far as we know, only humans do.

Nakedness refers to the seeming absence of hair, at least compared to our great ape cousins, on humans. Our “nakedness” makes us truly unique in the animal kingdom. We don’t have a thick coat of hair or fur and also lack feathers and/or scales. We are quite different in appearance from everything else out there. The truth is that, on average, a square inch of human skin contains just as many hair-producing follicles as other primates – sometimes more. The difference is that our hair is pretty puny. It is significantly thinner, shorter, and lighter than the hairs found on our great ape cousins whose coats are made up of much sturdier stuff. This “nakedness” is an undeniably unique characteristic of humans.

Another characteristic that separates humans from all other species is their truly extraordinary brain. This characteristic, more than any other, puts up a clear barrier between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. Our brain only weighs in at about 3 lbs. when fully mature. On average that is only about 2-3% of an adult human’s body weight. Yet this incredible organ provides us with the ability to reason, compose music, think in the abstract, understand and use mathematics, comprehend cause and effect, anticipate outcomes, and literally thousands upon thousands of other things. There are numerous other species out there that are incredibly intelligent. Dolphins, pigs, the great apes, and others fit this bill but humans are the undisputed intelligence champions of the planet. Our brain clearly makes us different than any other species.

Humans make and wear clothing. Animals do not. Period. This is one point that really is just that simple. The nakedness of humans has already been addressed. The lack of a warm coat of hair or fur made the development of clothing and absolute necessity if the species were to spread and survive in many regions of the planet. It is true that some tribes living in equatorial regions wear little to no clothing. The need for it just isn’t there. However, I would point out that these tribes do “accessorize,” if you will. They adorn themselves with necklaces, bracelets, anklets, ear and nose rings. I would argue these decorative adornments fall under the same general umbrella as clothing. Animals do not adorn themselves in these ways. No animal, even in temperate regions where humans have to clothe themselves in order to survive, fashions and wears clothing or other adornments. It simply does not happen. Only humans wear clothes and/or adornments.

Among all the species on this earth, only humans have the ability to use and control fire. The mastery of fire, in my opinion, helped our unique and powerful brains develop. Once humans controlled fire, predators could be kept at bay and the night was no longer a time to cower in fear simply waiting for the sun to rise. This meant something new occurred: leisure time. Without the fear of being attacked in the night, humans had the opportunity to sit and ponder the many mysteries of this world, star gaze, and dream up new and increasingly fantastic inventions. Fire also kept humans warm and allowed them to populate colder climates. In addition, fire gave humans the ability to cook food. Many scientists feel that this ability to cook food directly influenced human evolution and appearance. Since cooked food is easier to eat and process, over time, tooth and gut sizes in humans were reduced. Truly, the mastery of fire is one of the most significant differences between humans and any other animal.

As you can see, the characteristics noted above seem to clearly separate the human from the sasquatch. To be fair, the Live Science list does include some characteristics that the sasquatch is reported to share with people. Upright posture/ bipedalism, and hands with an opposable thumb, for example. These two shared characteristics might give one pause when considering whether the sasquatch is an ape or a human; however, one of these two “shared” traits really isn’t shared too closely at all. You might be surprised to learn that humans are not the only animals to possess opposable thumbs. Most of the primates do, as a matter of fact. The important difference is that humans have the ability to bring their thumbs all the way across the hand to the ring and little fingers. Humans can also flex the ring and little fingers toward the base of the thumb. This ability is unique to humans and gives us a powerful grip and an exceptional amount of dexterity with which we can hold and manipulate tools and other objects. Of everything on this particular list, only the upright posture and bipedal method of locomotion is shared between humans and the sasquatch.

TBRC members have long discussed this issue and touched upon many of these same points. My good friend, Daryl Colyer, recently added his thoughts to the Live Science list. They are as follows:

We also possess a curious ability to record abstract thoughts using a complex series of written, carved, or pressed symbols. Using this form of permanently recorded communication, a human being who lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago can pass along his or her thoughts to those of us who now live in the twenty-first century.

I would also add our predilection for surrounding ourselves, adorning ourselves, and our abodes, with tactile objects, or “stuff.” Whether it’s necklaces, spears, photos, or computers, we’ve always had our stuff. In the most ancient of burials, it is not uncommon to find objects with the deceased that he or she valued while still alive

I can honestly say that, while I’ve seen, heard, and smelled some very strange things during my time searching for evidence that would prove the sasquatch exists, I’ve never, ever come across anything that would lead me to the conclusion that they are some sort of primitive human. Not once. Neither have I experienced anything, or had a witness report to me, any observed behavior or characteristic of a more esoteric nature. While no one can say with any degree of certainty as to what these creatures are, and be very wary of anyone who claims they can, I feel strongly that they are animals and not some kind of forest person. The one characteristic they seem to fully share with us, upright posture/bipedal locomotion, is not enough to convince me they are anything other than animals.

I will conclude with another thought from Daryl Colyer who sums this whole thing up succinctly:

Ponder on these things should any of you have an inclination to consider the sasquatch as some form of forest-dwelling hermetic human that has become detached from greater human civilization. As a species, the sasquatch has a very long way to go before it reaches the level of behavior, cognizance, and intelligence that is even near that of humanity.”

I think that is dead on.