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Definition: Sasquatch from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1929) : a hairy creature like a human being reported to exist in the northwestern U.S. and western Canada and said to be a primate between 6 and 15 feet (1.8 and 4.6 meters) tall —called also bigfoot

Summary Article: bigfoot
From Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained

A very large, bipedal man-beast, which is North America’s most famous cryptid.

Today, the bigfoot or sasquatch is the most famous North American cryptid, yet until as recently as 1967, this man-beast had attracted minimal attention outside that continent. It came to prominence through the claims of ranchers Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin. According to their reports, they were riding through Bluff Creek, California, on 20 October 1967, to look for a bigfoot that had allegedly been seen in the area, when Patterson saw a very large ape-like creature squatting by the river. He said that as he rode towards it the creature stood upright on its hind legs. He described it as covered in dark fur, with a conical head, and apparently female as it had breasts. Patterson said that the sight of the creature caused his horse to shy, and he was thrown to the ground. Nevertheless, holding the cine camera that he had brought with him, Patterson says he stumbled after the creature, filming it as it strode away on its hind legs across the clearing towards some trees. Momentarily, however, it paused and looked round at him before disappearing into the forest.

Other snippets of film and numerous still photographs purportedly depicting bigfoots have subsequently been publicized, but Patterson’s film remains the most famous – and controversial – piece of evidence. Numerous experts have analysed it, but remain divided as to whether it depicts a genuine bigfoot. Those in favour have included the late Professor grover krantz (the leading scientific believer in the reality of the bigfoot), veteran bigfoot investigator John Green and Russian anthropologist Dr Dmitri Bayanov. They consider the manner in which the filmed creature (nicknamed Patty, after Patterson) walked was fundamentally unlike the gait of a human, and that its muscle movements could not be successfully mimicked by a human. They estimated its height to have been around 2 metres (6.5 feet), and reasoned that it was far heavier than a human from the depth of the footprints it left behind. The opposing school of thought, championed by, among others, the late Mark Chorvinsky, an expert in special effects as well as a long-standing cryptozoological investigator, remains convinced that Patty was a man in a skilfully designed ape-man suit. Moreover, veteran Hollywood ‘monster-maker’ John Chambers was frequently named as a likely candidate to have produced such a suit, though he always strenuously denied this charge. Intriguingly, when John Green contacted the special effects department at Walt Disney Studios in 1969, they stated that they could not have created such an authentic-looking man-beast at that time.

Although it took the Patterson–Gimlin film to introduce the bigfoot to the world at large, reports and sightings of such creatures had long been documented within North America. The bigfoot has allegedly been seen throughout mainland Canada (where it is most commonly referred to as the sasquatch), and every mainland state of the USA, but most frequently in the continent’s Pacific North-West region. As with other commonly reported cryptids, eyewitness descriptions of the bigfoot vary greatly. However, the ‘classic’ bigfoot stands 1.8–3 metres (around 6–10 feet) tall, is almost invariably bipedal, is ape-like in overall appearance, has no tail, is covered in shaggy black or auburn-brown hair – and like certain other man-beasts on record from around the world, it is often claimed to emit a foul stench. The bigfoot’s head is said to be conical, and its face is ape-like, with a sloping brow, prominent eyebrow ridges, light-reflecting eyes, a broad flattened nose and a slit-like lipless mouth. Its neck is short and thick, its shoulders are huge, its chest is muscular and powerful, and its arms are very long, with paw-like hands that have hairless palms and thick fingers. Its legs are muscular and sturdy, and its feet are very large, leaving footprints that are 30–55 centimetres (1–1.8 feet) long and that reveal two pads beneath the first toe on each foot. Many sceptics dismiss all bigfoot tracks as fake, and there have certainly been a number of crude attempts to produce hoax tracks. However, there are also some bigfoot tracks on record which are so detailed that the presence of dermatoglyphs (fingerprints) can be discerned, which Krantz claimed would be impossible to hoax convincingly.

A particularly enigmatic piece of bigfoot evidence is the Skookum cast. In September 1999, a team of investigators from the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization travelled to Skookum Meadow in south-western Washington, where bigfoot reports had previously emerged. They set food baits of fruit in mud wallows, daubed trees with gorilla scent, and played the cry of an alleged bigfoot (which was apparently answered, but the caller was not spied). On 22 September, they discovered that some of the food had gone, but although no footprints had been left behind, they did discover that in one of the mud wallows there appeared to be a deep impression left behind by some animal having rested there. After photographing it, the team made what is now referred to as the ‘Skookum cast’ of the impression, which shows the outline of a large humanoid creature’s left arm, hip, thigh, testicles, buttocks, ankles and heels. As with the Patterson–Gimlin film, opinions as to the impression’s authenticity are deeply split, though anthropologists such as Dr Jeffrey Meldrum and Professor Krantz were particularly impressed with the details of heel, sole and dermatoglyph presence that were visible.

Other physical evidence obtained in recent years includes hair samples that, when analysed via detailed trichological and DNA studies, have proven to be of primate origin yet recognizably different from the hair of any known primate species; and recordings of alleged bigfoot cries whose acoustics, though primate-like, could not have been produced by a human larynx. Faecal droppings said to be from bigfoots have occasionally been obtained too, but none has been submitted so far for detailed DNA analysis, which might well determine the zoological nature of their originator.

Assuming that the bigfoot does exist, and is not something as mundane as a bear that has been misinterpreted by witnesses, the most popular cryptozoological identity for it is a surviving species of Gigantopithecus. This was a giant ape that was 3 metres (around 10 feet) tall and officially died out around 100,000 years ago. It is also popularly said to be the true identity of the Tibetan dzu-teh or giant yeti (see yeti), to which the bigfoot bears a strong resemblance, according to eyewitness testimonies. However, Gigantopithecus fossils are known only from Asia – none has ever been obtained anywhere in the New World. Nevertheless, while this ape was known to be still alive in Asia, a land bridge across what is now the Bering Strait connected far-eastern Asia to northern North America. Many mammalian species entered North America across this land bridge, explaining why the mammalian faunas of Eurasia and North America contain so many shared species. Consequently, it is possible that Gigantopithecus also made the journey via this land link into the New World. An alternative identity that has been proposed is Paranthropus – an early species of hominid – but as this is currently known exclusively from African fossils, its existence in modern-day North America would be even more difficult to explain.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2007

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