Friday, March 15, 2013

Sasquatch Sketches and the Paranthropus Hypothesis

The Tennessee alleged Sasquatch sketch, based off of eyewitness reports
Although such illustrations are certainly subject to fallibility due to the possibility of witness memory bias and errors in accurately relaying descriptions, full body sketches accompanying sasquatch reports are generally met with intrigue. The report behind the sketch in question here involved two twelve year old hunters who allegedly observed a sasquatch while walking down a logging road in Tennessee. The animal was allegedly seven to eight feet tall with blackish brown hair (the witnesses emphasized that it was hair and not fur), huge muscles, and broad shoulders. A BFRO investigator who spoke to the witnesses said that they were mature for their age and quite intelligent. The animal's right jaw was apparently dropped, which allowed the witnesses to have a slight view of its teeth. Sybilla Irwin worked with the witnesses to produce the sketch which is reproduced above, the details of which suggest that the hunters had a expansive view of the animal. A close up of the sketched face shows a primate which has a relatively flat profile, a pronounced supraorbital ridge, a broad nose, and non-projecting canines (if the illustration is to be trusted as an accurate representation of the alleged animal's facial features). Interestingly, there is the potential of this full body sketch yielding clues as to the nature behind these animals, and the features seem to correspond with those of a robust early hominin known as Paranthropus. While this could all be purely trivial, I feel that it is worth at least touching upon some of these potential observations.
Paranthropus reconstruction and skulls. All exhibit large supraorbital ridges, prominent sagittal crests, and wide cheekbones.

The alleged body of evidence which has been collected and analyzed by proponents of the existence of sasquatch seems to point to their being nonhuman apes, in the view of this author at least. These primates generally possess projecting canines, but Paranthropus exhibited a lack of this anatomical feature. As noted above, the teeth of the alleged Tennessee sasquatch do not exhibit projection of canines which is seen in the modern nonhuman apes, but rather have a similarity to the heavy chewing teeth of Paranthropus and the large Asian primate Gigantopithecus. The diagram below illustrates the contrasting canine structure between these prehistoric primates and the extant nonhuman apes. Paranthropus and Gigantopithecus developed this characteristic as an adaptation to durophagy: a diet consisting of tough food items. Possible anecdotal and photographic data appears to be consistent in suggesting a lack of projecting canines in sasquatch, giving merit to the idea that these alleged animals may have followed a similar course of evolution, although some may view this as unfounded speculation to a degree.
A comparison between two skulls of durophagous apes (Gigantopithecus and Paranthropus) compared to the skull of a modern gorilla. Notice the projection of canines on the gorilla skull.
A close up of the sketched face from the Tennessee sasquatch sketch referenced earlier.
So what are the possibilities that the wood apes (a more formal term used to refer to the unverified animals often called sasquatch) are a form of robust australopithecine, possibly descended from Paranthropus boisei? Paranthropus bosei was discovered in 1959 by Mary Leakey, at the Olduvai Gorge of Tanzania. These five foot tall early hominins had well-developed chewing muscles, large jaws, quarter-sized back teeth, and distinguished sagittal crests (formed by the skull's parietal bone). The hypothesis that wood apes are a modern form of Paranthropus was first put forth by Gordon Strasenburgh in 1971. Gordon based this inference primarily off of details from the famed 1967 Patterson-Gimlin Film such as the light foot pad color, pendulous breasts, and a flat face (regarded as typical hominin features). Also, unlike modern female apes, the Patterson-Gimlin Film subject possessed an apparent sagittal crest which was also present in Paranthropus individuals of both genders. Analysis of the footage shows that the subject appears to have a cranial structure similar to that of apes which have adapted for chewing tough foods. The widened cheek bones, sagittal crest, heavy jaw, and lessened facial prognathism all point to a bipedal primate which has adapted to durophagy. When compared, the head of the female wood ape in the Patterson Film matches the skull anatomy of a Paranthropus with a compelling degree of parallelism. It is extremely unlikely that Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin would have been able to accurately incorporate these features into a modified gorilla suit when they were unique to a hominin which wasn't discovered until years after the film was taken.
A comparison between a Paranthropus boisei skull and the face of the Patterson Film wood ape
Bill Munns, a well known and respected costume expert and designer, has done extensive work on the Patterson Film and feels that the details in the footage point to the subject being an authentic nonhuman primate rather than a man in a suit. Loren Coleman has pointed out that Bill Munns stated “if we were to apply Occam's Razor to the question of Patty’s fossil heritage, the solution with the least complicated conditions would actually be Zinj [Zinjanthropus, also known as Paranthropus boisei].” Munns has studied the anatomy of Paranthropus boisei to produce models for museums, and has pointed out that this robust australopithecine would have simply needed to evolve slightly larger brow ridges and a taller height (as these hominins only grew up to five feet tall) to match sasquatch reports and the Patterson-Gimlin Film "hominid".
This overlay by Bill Munns shows that a Paranthropus boisei skull is similar to the cranial proportions of the Patterson -Gimlin Film subject. Also notice that the subject's face is flat and that it possesses a sloping cranium with proportions drastically different than those of a human.
Paranthropus had a slightly larger brain to body ratio than chimpanzees, so it likely would match the intelligence reported in wood apes (although other nonhuman apes are certainly intelligent). Also, the known tool use for Paranthropus are simple digging sticks, which means that it likely employed very little tool use. One issue for the Paranthropus hypothesis is that hand skeletons which have been attributed to these robust hominins indicate greater thumb mobility than what is shown in alleged wood ape hand and knuckle prints. However, remains of Homo have also been found at this fossil site and the hand skeletons, along with the evidence of fire use and stone tools which have been found there, likely belong to them rather than to Paranthropus.
Wood ape hand and kuckle prints show a thumb which is less mobile than a human's and much more similar to a nonhuman ape's thumb. Could Paranthropus boisei have also had this thumb anatomy?
Another significant issue with the P. boisei hypothesis is that the known Paranthropus range is restricted to Africa. However, the presence of Homo floresiensis on the Indonesian island of Flores has raised the possibility of an earlier and wider dispersal of hominins than was suggested by previous paleoanthropological research. As pointed out by Loren Coleman, a few anthropologists once hypothesized that the Southeast Asian mandibular remains which have been dubbed Meganthropus are of an Asian australopithecine. John Robinson and Grover Krantz both independently proposed that the Sangiran 6 mandibular fragments suggest a form of robust australopithecine, and Von Koenigswald stated that the lower jaw of Meganthropus combines characteristics of Australopithecus africanus and A. robustus in some respects. Past size estimates for Meganthropus have put this hominin at around eight feet tall, although modern studies suggest that the animal is merely a form of Homo erectus and that it is not substantially larger than known specimens of this species. Even if Meganthropus was not a form of giant australopithecine, Paranthropus which were travelling into Asia could have evolved to a taller height, as was a common adaptation for mammals at that time.
A map diagram depicting the possibile dispersal of Paranthropus into North America. Please click to enlarge.
Based upon the previously stated points, some researchers consider Paranthropus to be a plausible candidate for the fossil heritage of wood apes. This early hominin likely had many features which were similar to those reported in the wood apes as it possessed a bipedal stance/gait, midtarsal flexibility in its foot, feet which were superficially shaped like those of a human, a degree of tool use similar to that of modern nonhuman apes, an intelligence which was slightly greater than modern nonhuman apes, and very similar cranial features to those reported in wood apes. However, considering the trend of fossil hominids adapted to durophagous niches which is being revealed by current paleoanthropological research, such identity hypotheses cannot be regarded with confidence unless further data arises.

 References:

28 comments:

  1. Good God Jay... It's not possible that you're a teenager. Prodigy maybe, but it's good to see a teen spending time learning vs. out partying and causing trouble.

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  2. Another great article Jay! You are the future young man.

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  3. Once again, an excellent article. Thanks. Tim, U.K.

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  4. Great blog Jay, it's actually thought provoking.

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  5. Another good article Jay. I am glad you are following this path as it is one I can not sort out but am intrigued by non the less and the possibilities. My main interest is in the culture of the modern day Bigfoot and I hope when I retire in about 10 years to buy some property on the edge of a National forest and start a habituation project to study them. I am not so sure my wife will buy into this, but she probably will. Keep on digging, keep and open mind and realize as time goes on the path may possibly lead in a different direction or it could keep on confirming what you hypothesis now. Good luck to you my friend.

    Chuck

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  6. I just have to say... that you are so gonna kick ass at college because you already understanding citing and references. Trust me this will come in very handy!

    Great article!

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    1. Ahaha thanks, and I hope it does come in handy.

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  7. The Smeja bigfoot is what I see when I watch the freeman footage. If we had a close up of the face I think thats what it would look like

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    1. Intriguing thought. Why do you feel this way?

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  8. http://i1325.photobucket.com/albums/u635/1sasquatch1/skeleton_zpsbd62ff1e.jpg
    Nice work it reminds me of the old Jacobs creature photo and how it compared so well to an ape.

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    1. Unfortunately, it seems that the Jacobs creature was a bear afterall. http://doubtfulnews.com/2012/03/the-case-of-the-acrobatic-bear-or-juvenile-sasquatch/

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  9. Glad I found this site. You are one of the kids I talk to people about all the time as the ones who will bring this topic into the full light of science. Soldier on.

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    1. Thank you very much for your kind words!

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  10. A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. - Max Planck

    Believe that.

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  11. Jay, the encephalization quotient (EQ) for for later specimens of boisei actually overlapped those of Homo habilis. The Konso specimen of P. boisei, the geologically latest find I believe, and a female, had a brain mass of 590 g (habilis only averaged 619 g). The implication is that boisei was the most intelligent primate to have existed outside our own genus Homo.

    Collaterally I just stumbled on a paper I'd never run across before, on how rock throwing may have contributed to the evolution of the hominid brain: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0162309582900103

    Very glad to see you entertaining the notion of a robust australopithecine as the primary candidate, and making such a good case for it! Excellent article! Despite its popularity, Gigantopithecus has always been a problematic suggestion due to our complete lack of post-cranial remains; whether it was a biped, and it's true size, are only guesswork.

    Don't think I've seen this mentioned before, but it may be worth noting that boisei overlapped in both time and space the region of Africa from which H. erectus initially spread to Asia. Did Paranthropus travel with Homo? One possibility is that scavenging the camps of erectus would have lead boisei to follow their migration out of Africa. Another is that they preceded Homo, pushed out as they became marginalized by the expanding population of H. erectus.

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    1. Thank you very much Mr. Plambeck. That's a very compelling possibility which I wasn't aware of, so thank you!

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  12. Couldn't recall the name of it last time here, but it's called the Sahara Pump Theory. The Sahara grew wet and fertile several times during the Plio-Pleistocene, becoming a temporary magnet for wildlife in North Africa. These periods only lasted a few thousand years at a time, the monsoon patterns would revert to normal, the Sahara dry up again and the wildlife scatter, or rather migrate away. Those nearest the Levant were basically "pumped" out into Asia Minor, from which they could make a left into Europe or a right into Asia. For example at 2.6 MYA, following one of these dry-ups, African antelope fossils begin to appear in the foothills adjacent to the Himalayas. That's a little early for boisei to be caught up in that, but not by much. There were many of these subsequent pumped-out migrations though, and boisei's African fossil record shows the species extant for all of them. Erectus was clearly caught up in this. As part of the same fauna, there's no reason boisei should have been left out of these forced migrations, and that the Himalayas was a "landing point" for some of this prodigal African fauna might be very instructive in this case. I'd have a good look for Robustus fossils in the Siwaliks foothills of the Himalayas where those antelope turned up -- one might run across the proto-Yeti.

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    1. I've never heard of that, but it sounds like a very compelling prospect. As I said previously, thanks for bringing this to my attention.

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  13. Jay, I notice you took your illustration of a Tennessee Bigfoot from my blog, where it was comp[ared to a Neanderthal and where you had initially stated "The head is not line a Neanderthal head" while ignoring an illustration of a skull overlay on the same page which did show a very close correspondence. The skull and face of a robust Australopithecine is very much different with smaller eyes set closer together, proportionately larger jaws and massive cheekbones. I believe you are using a very poor example for your thesis here, and would do much better with a different example. BTW, the artist who made the drawing is a very good Bigfoot artist and is a Friend of mine on Facebook.

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    1. Yes, I recall that, although that is not an accurate summarization of my comment. I stated that the morphological features led me to think that the animal would have been a form of nonhuman primate rather than a member of Homo. But you may have a point, and I would like it to be known that my using the sketch as an exemplar was more to point out the non-projecting canines rather than specific facial proportions.

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  14. The idea that Australopithecines also lived in Southern Asia is best supported by the idea that "Meganthropus" was one but there are also similar fossils from China. That being said, I doubt there is actually any real connection to the modern sightings in North America at all.

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    1. Thanks for the input. I personally doubt it, as well.

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