Enough with the speculation! That seems to be the attitude of scientists at Oxford University and Switzerland's Lausanne Museum of Zoology, who plan to use DNA evidence to determine, once and for all, if the mythical Bigfoot is real.
The British edition of Wired.co.uk reports that the Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project will collect a reasonable database of samples (anyone can submit a sample of "organic remains" with details of where and when it was collected) and the results of their analysis will be published in peer-reviewed journals.
The Associated Pressreports that these European researchers are appealing to museums, scientists and "Yeti aficionados" to share samples (hair is at the top of the list) that are thought to come from the legendary creature.
As we reported last year, before Bigfoot became a part of popular American folklore his (or her?) presence had been accepted by North American tribes. As Michelle Tirado wrote for us, "the Lakota called him 'Chiye-tanka,' the Chippewa, 'Djeneta' and the Seminole, 'Ssti capcaki.' Then, of course, there is 'Sasquatch,' derived from the Salish in the Pacific Northwest. Depending on the tribe, he was regarded as a physical being, as real as any human, or a spirit that often manifested on Earth as a friend, never a foe, to mankind."
Tirado reported for us that Bigfoot sightings on the Hoopa Valley Indian Tribe's reservation in Northern California brought David Paulides, the executive director of North America Bigfoot Search. The Hoopa Project, the book he wrote after his time at the reservation, includes hundreds of witnesses from three different tribes in the region who recounted their experiences.
With just a few strands of hair, the AP reports that these new genetic tests could be completed in mere weeks, putting an end to thousands of years of speculation. "Even if the sample is judged to come from an unknown species," Maria Cheng of the AP writes, "scientists should be able to tell how closely it is related to other species, including apes or humans."
Sample offers are already flooding into the Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project. Bryan Sykes of Oxford University told the AP that those offers included hair samples, blood samples, and various items said to have been chewed on by Bigfoot.
Sykes told Wired.co.uk that many theories exist as to what, exactly, Bigfoot could be. "Theories as to their species identification vary from surviving collateral hominid species, such asHomo neanderthalensis or Homo floresiensis, to large primates like Gigantopithecus widely thought to be extinct, to as yet unstudied primate species or local subspecies of black and brown bears."
For the first time in history, scientists are armed with the technology to prove, once and for all, where these Bigfoot samples come from. Sykes told Wired.co.uk that their Bigfoot project could also yield important data not just directly related to Bigfoot. "Recent advances in the techniques of genetic analysis of organic remains provide a mechanism for genus and species identification that is unbiased, unambiguous and impervious to falsification. It is possible that a scientific examination of these neglected specimens could tell us more about how Neanderthals and other early hominids interacted and spread around the world."
The wild thing is this—should Bigfoot turn out to be real, he would not be the first mythical creature to have been proven to exist by scientists.
Slate.com has a very good piece on the field of cryptozoology, founded in 1982, which documents and evaluates evidence of unverified animals. One such mythical creature that turned out to be real was the Tanzanian kipunji.
Slate explains that for years, hunters in Tanzania had spoken about a monkey they called kipnuji, but biologists were skeptical due to the tales of this creature being a part of the Wanyakyusa people's legends. The Wanyakyusa populate the mountainous region of the country, and their stories involved both real and mythical creatures—the never-before-seen kipnuji seemed to be a part of the latter. That was until 2003, when biologists found the 3-foot-tall arboreal primate with a low-pitched "honk bark" that distinguished it as a species. The brown body hair and black face was in keeping with the tales of the kipnuji.
Slate offers other stories of cryptids (defined as an animal whose existence is unverified disputed) who turned out to be real. The "African unicorn" of the 19th century, for example, was an oft-sighted (but unconfirmed) zebra-like creature in the Ituri Forest of the Congo. Eventually, the famous Henry Morton Stanley confirmed that the Wambutti pygmies who lived in the region spoke of a sacred, striped animal. Ten years later, explorers obtained the bone and hide of the very animal they had been referring to, now called the okapi.
At one point, again in the 19th century, the most feared lizard alive was a cryptid, a terrifying legend told by men sent to the penal colony of a island called Komodo. That's right—these prisoners talked about a man-eating "land crocodile," yet it wasn't until 1912 that the first scientific reports of the Komodo dragon surfaced.
As for Bigfoot, there is a surfeit of theories on what he, or she, might be. These theories, stories and legends have been with us for thousands of years—imagine, within the next twelve months, we could actually find out the truth about Bigfoot.
Do you have any Bigfoot evidence? If so, you can visit the Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project's website here to find out more about the project, and how you might submit your samples.