Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bigfoot: The Definitive Guide

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/2/11 (?)

This show claims that its team of "top scientists" will search the globe for bigfoot, doubt its existence, discover shocking new evidence, and wonder if we've been searching for the wrong creature all along.  In 2009, North Americans reported 250 bigfoot sightings.  The show plots 10,000 sightings on a world map to determine patterns.  More than 95% of all reported sightings are in Asia or North America; nearly 70% of these are at high altitude with dense tree cover.  Hotspots include the Himalayas (Yeti), Indonesia (Orang Pendek), Central Asia (neanderthals), and North America (Sasquatch).  The wilds of British Columbia have one of the highest concentrations of sightings in the world.  The show then does numerous recreations of sightings (with quite good special effects).  Team members include Jeff Meldrum (from the stone-throwing MonsterQuest incident), Ian Redmond (bigfoot hunter), Anna Nekaris, Bill Sellers, and Jack Rink.

They look at video footage, trying to sort out the hoaxes -- like the one from Bamf (sp?) Canada (a local promotion) -- and images too blurry to be any good.  Once they've eliminated these, there's not much left.  The team isn't surprised, as animals can be hard to photograph -- and cite the recent discovery of the bili ape.  (I however, would point out the pictures of this ape are much, much better than any bigfoot evidence, despite all the bigfoot searching.)  They look at a "tree structure" in the woods (which looks like a tree fall to me) and speculate it may be territory marking by bigfoot.  They do some moonlight hunting and engage in tree knocking and "call blasting" and even use tracking dogs.  Of course, they find nothing.

Then they look at the Patterson film.  Redmond and Nikaris point out the "natural gait" of the creature (they clearly haven't seen the clips of Bob Heoronimous walking with his natural gait); Sellers and Rink are skeptical, pointing out that Patterson was a scoundrel.  Journalist Mike McCleod relays that Patterson never held a steady job, claimed to be an "inventor," and published a book on Bigfoot (Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist?) a year before featuring a sketch similar to what he later claimed to photograph.  Patterson also borrowed money to direct a film about bigfoot and was down on his luck.  The whole thing seems to good to be true.  The team remains split on the authenticity, and I'm still disappointed these "experts" apparently haven't seen the National Geographic Is It Real special I referenced above, which convinced me the Patterson film is a fake.  The team does dismiss the "skunk ape" Florida sightings as most likely "pet" chimps (or other apes) released by their owners.

Then Meldrum looks at the famous Shipton Yeti prints, which he's convinced are real -- if perhaps pathological because of the twin big toes on one foot.  (He ignores the idea that the print is something else distorted by snow melt.  None of the rest of the photos look like the "footprint" cast to me.)  The show points out that only one species of primate is known to live in cold weather, and speculates that Yeti might have adapted, too.  Redmond, at least believes that Yeti don't live in the snow, but merely pass through.  He also believes in a lowland yeti called "mandi baru" (sp).  They mention the yarin as well, and quickly turn to gigantopithecus as a possible explanation.  Could Bigfoot be this human offshoot/ancestor?  There are sightings of such creatures worldwide, especially in Russia, where they are called almas.  They recount a Red Army encounter with such a creature and then talk about the "hobbit" found in SE Asia and orang pendek.  Then they turn to homo heidelbergensis, a large-framed human offshot, as a likely suspect.  We then get stories or bigfoots/wildmen chasing and kidnapping women.

Jack Rink then suggests that bigfoot isn't a throwback, but rather modern humans who have deliberately adapted to the wild -- possibly as part of a shamanistic ritual.  In British Columbia, one First Nations archeologist believes that Squamish nation initiates spent years training in the woods, covering themselves in moss to keep warm.  When these "wild people" were seen by members of other societies, they led to the legends.  The show then suggests that these shamanic traditions may continue even today, all over the world.  But is this enough to explain all the sightings worldwide?  The team weighs all the evidence and -- not surprisingly -- the skeptics remain skeptical and the believers remain believers.  What seems clear is that the Patterson film escalated sightings, but not all sightings are hoaxes or easily explained.  Bill Sellers points out that if these creatures were real, there should be more solid physical evidence.

With a title like Bigfoot: The Definitive Guide, one would hope for a show full of sightings and good science.  While we do get plenty of stories and sightings, a pretty good overview of the phenomenon, and a veritable catalog of bigfoots, bigfoot-like creatures, and suspects for what bigfoot could really be, the science beyond that cataloging is very much of the "I want to believe" variety rather than actual "how can we form a hypothesis and test it" science.  What we mostly get, rather than "good" science is speculation, lots and lots of speculation.

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