Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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In between each episode of OTT, we now present OTTXtra. Here are the last three episodes:


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Sunday, September 12, 2010

CARL PORTMAN: Check mate?

Hello Jon,

Here’s one for the blog...

As a serious chess player since I was a kid I am never surprised at the machinations at FIDE. To you and me that’s the Fédération Internationale des Échecs the governing body of the game. There’s currently a huge battle for supremacy and the FIDE Precidency. The current and possibly outgoing incumbent is a man called Kirsan Ilyumzhinov from a faraway place called Kalmyk in the USSR. A strange man indeed, and a multi-millionaire to boot. No one really knows how he got his money or even much about the man himself. Trust me, this is a major political position in the chess world – THE position in fact.

So why are you interested? Well, he has gone on record as saying that he takes his advice from meetings with yellow-suited aliens who predict future developments for him on planet earth. You knew that chess was weird, didn’t you?

Mr Ilyumzhinov, 48, the head of the south-western Russian region of Kalmykia, appeared on a Russian talk show on April 26, and went over his evening with aliens.

He said he saw a "semi-transparent half tube" spaceship on his balcony. He then entered it and met "human-like creatures in yellow spacesuits", The Moscow Times reported.

"I am often asked which language I used to talk to them. Perhaps it was on a level of the exchange of the ideas," he told the television programme host.

He had told The Guardian the aliens took him to "some kind of star".

"They put a spacesuit on me, told me many things and showed me around. They wanted to demonstrate that UFOs do exist."

His autobiography including chapter titles such as ‘without me the people are incomplete’ and ‘It only takes two weeks to have a man killed’.

Chess is the oldest war game but nasty things happen away from the board too. Watch this space....

NEIL ARNOLD: The Horror Of Haldon Hill

EDITOR'S NOTE: Guess where most of my best forgotten 1999/2000 Owlman movie was filmed, including all the nudie bum bum bits and the pointlessly violent bits.
Yup. You've guessed it. Haldon Hill

During early September I appeared on Coast To Coast AM with George Noory for the second time. Coast To Coast AM is one of the United States biggest radio broadcasts,
and in the past monster hunters such as Jon Downes and Nick Redfern have been invited on. The great thing with the show is that millions of listeners tune in and the show can be heard in any of the states. The biggest buzz of doing the show is the feedback during and after the show. I received calls from as far as Canada and China. However, despite the reports of Bigfoot, serpents and even a troll (!), the most unusual call I had concerned a chap from merry ol’ England. This is his story:

‘OK, before I report this I want you to no I’m in no way over the top, crazy, or mad…but one night while driving home from Exeter to Torquay on the A38 a couple of years ago I saw a large winged creature. I had just got to the top of Haldon Hill and as I came to the top of the hill something swooped down and flew up and over my car so close to my windscreen you could have fit a Rizla paper between it! The only way I can explain how these wings looked was the same as how bats wings are but much bigger! The wingspan was wider than my Honda Civic 1.5, I’d say each wing was about 2 .5 metres across.

'I’m seriously not the sort of person to come forward about this type of stuff, I kind of dismissed it until I heard you on Coast To Coast saying that many people had seen things like this. I hadn’t heard of anyone else who had reported this until now so felt I should share with you what I saw. The area I saw this has a lot of thick dense woods….and I mean miles of woods.’

I was immediately intrigued by this report. Was Owlman doing the rounds ? Had Mothman taken a trip to UK shores ? Or had a Batman entered the fray ?

I briefly interviewed the witness, who did not want to be named, and he stated categorically this was no bird or bat. According to him the encounter had taken place two Novembers ago. The witness commented, ‘On that drive I was stressing out about how I was going to raise money for presents. When I saw it I reacted with fear and put my foot down and got to the nearest town, which is Newton Abbot. I was the only car on the A38.’
I asked him for a better description of the creature to which he replied, ‘I know this sounds dumb but the only way I can describe what I saw is like the monster from the movie Jeepers Creatures (in the film a humanoid creature with a huge set of leather wings picks off motorists).’

I mentioned to the witness the reports of Owlman but he stated, ‘The wings were more like a bat, too wide for an owl. I didn’t see the head as it was too fast but the wings reminded me of a pterodactyl. It literally swooped over my car and the car shook, similar to when a lorry goes by on the motorway. I was doing about 65 mph and I wish I’d stopped but at the time my heart was pumping. This thing was more reptile-like in its skin texture and the colour was a beige-brown.’

Although the witness continues to use that stretch of road he has had no further encounters.

So, is the dreaded Owlman around, or some sinister relative from the ethereal?


DALE DRINNON: Blog on Arimaspai and Almases [part 1 and 2]


Ancient legends once walked among early humans?

By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
Wild, hairy, folks who fought griffons and nomads — have paleontologists unearthed mythic figures of folklore?
Siberia's Denisova cave held the pinky bone of an unknown early human species, a genetics team reported in March. The Naturejournal study, led by Johannes Krause of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, offered no answer for what happened to this "archaic" human species, more than one million years old and living near their human and Neanderthal cousins as recently as 30,000 years ago.

But at least one scholar has an intriguing answer: "The discovery of material evidence of a distinct hominin (human) lineage in Central Asia as recently as 30,000 years ago does not come as a surprise to those who have looked at the historical and anecdotal evidence of 'wild people' inhabiting the region," wrote folklorist Michael Heaney of the United Kingdom's Bodleian Library Oxford, in a letter to The Times of London.

Wild people?

Herodotus, the father of historians, wrote about these human cousins, the "Arimaspians," around 450 B.C. They were "strong warriors, good horsemen rich in flocks of cattle and sheep and goats; they are one-eyed, 'shaggy with hairs, the toughest of men'," according to John of Tzetses, a writer of the Byzantine era. They also fought griffons, mythical winged lions with eagle's faces, for gold, according to Herodotus and his contemporary Aristeas, who clearly knew their stuff when it came to spicing up historical writing.

Heaney notes that legends of hairy wild people, or almases, have been standard fare in the Russian steppes for centuries. "The reports of wild men, although having typical mythic overtones, do often reflect what we know of primitive hominins," Heaney says, by e-mail. "The presumed Almases of Central Asia could be any one of a number of pre-(homo) sapien ancestors."

What about their gold-mine-guarding griffon foes? In a 1993 companion piece to a look at the Arismaspians by Heaney, Stanford historianAdrienne Mayor, author of The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, suggested their legend sprang from dinosaur bones unearthed by nomads in their travels across the steppes of Western Mongolia.

"That region could well be Bayan-Ulgii aimag (province) in western Mongolia and environs, where I have wandered many long days and have seen ancient and contemporary small gold mines," says archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball of the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads, who calls a dinosaur-bone origin for griffon stories reasonable. But as for Arimaspians being the same as the newly-discovered archaic humans, Davis-Kimball has pretty strong doubts.

"We have excavated Bronze Age hunters and gatherers and small villagers along the Eurasian rivers — these were the people that precede the nomads by a 1,000 or maybe even many more years. I've seen lots of skeletons from many locales in my travels from Hungary to Mongolia, but none that correlates with this new hominid line or with the one-eyed Arimaspians," Davis-Kimball says, by e-mail. "It's too difficult for me to believe that hominids living 1,000,000 years ago could be perpetuated in a myth to the time of Herodotus or about 450 BC."

Another explanation came in a 2008 Archaeology Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia journal study by Dima Cheremisin of the Russian Academy of Sciences who looked at the ancient Pazyryk tribe of Siberia, an Iron Age tribe whose burial mounds dot the Altai Mountains. "The mythical griffon is the most popular figure in Pazyryk art, suggesting that the Pazyryk people maybe identified with the 'griffons guarding gold,' mentioned by Aristeas and Herodotus," Cheremisin noted.

And cryptozoologists, who make a study of legendary creatures, have offered similar archaic human explanations in the past for sightings of the Yeti or Bigfoot. Bernard Heuvelmans, the father of modern cryptozoology, theorized in the 1980's that such sightings of the wild people could be based on ancestral memories of Neanderthals.

Of course, it does turn out that people seem to have interbred with Neanderthals, according to a May Science magazine report led by Svante Pääbo, a long-time ancient genome researcher who also was a co-author on the Denisova Cave discovery report. More than 50,000 years ago, most likely in the Near East, intermingling of early modern humans and Neanderthals led to modern-day Europeans and Asians typically having a genome that is 1- 4% Neanderthal, according to the study.

Such interbreeding is another staple of old stories. Hercules, the hero of Greek myths, walked around in a lion skin with a club over his shoulders and was wondrously strong, a bit like a Neanderthal, due to half-divine parentage.

Even the Old Testament contains references to Nephilim, "giants," who married people and had children.

"These stories go back millennia, but they don't go back that far," says biblical archaeologist Robert Cargill of UCLA. "There's no way that the author of the Book of Genesis had in mind Neanderthals." Most likely, ancient people were trying to explain the origin of tall people, Cargil says, and pointing back to a time when things were so bad that even semi-divine creatures were misbehaving.

Of course, it's fun to speculate. After all, researchers in 2003 discovered another human species, Homo floresiensis, nicknamed "hobbits" for their puny stature about three feet tall, who died out perhaps 12,000 years ago in Indonesia.

So we have hobbits, giants, and possibly cyclopean wild men, running around in prehistory. It's not quite The Lord of the Rings, but we can certainly forgive Herodotus for some of his taller tales.

As a mater of fact, I have identified a replica of an Almas skull from Mongolia and it is definitively Neanderthal and of historical-period origin. The presumably "divergent line" is very likely conspecific with the Neanderthals as well, and both other legends and possible relics are of midieval date, only a few thousand years old. There can be no doubt that the Almases were Neanderthals and that they persisted up until the modern period.

(RIGHT) Representation of Mongolian Almas Skull in White Jade (LEFT) La Ferrassie Neanderthal Skull

As to the "Round Eye[socket]s" of the Arimaspians, the representational Almas skull certainly shows that: And the next photo on shows the corresponding socket on the Neanderthal skull

Other Russian experts have suggested that the name "Arimaspai" is derived from "Almas" ("Aramas"+ "Pai", also oddly similar to a Chinese name used for the Almas in the Orient, P'i pronounced "Pei" or Pay")
And "Cyclops" does not mean "One-eyed", it means literally "Round-eyed" and it could be a specific reference to the circular eye-sockets of the Neanderthals in this case. If so, that would be a definite reference to a specific identifying characteristic of the type. [I use the Standard Oxford Greek-English Lexicon, by Liddel and Scott. But that is the standard meaning for "Cyclops" given in most of the dictionaries. The Arimaspai are not the standard Cyclopses of Mythology and there seem to be more than one type. But in this case, that interpretation makes perfect sense.]

Checking Wikipedia and other sources, it seems there is a good deal of confusion about these Arimaspai or Arimaspians, and they were ordinarily depicted in Classical times as ordinary Scythians (Iranians). The name does have a plausible Iranian etymology, BUT there are also vehement denials that these wildmen can be considered as the usual Iranians or ancestors of known tribes. I did find a photo of a Greek vase that illustrated a Gryphon fighting with one of the Arimaspai, but it showed him as an ordinary Greek Satyr.

Geographically, the stories are muddled because several sources specify that they live in the far East (Mongolia and North China most likely) but other sources put them closer to, in the Urals and Caucasus; and some conservative sources place them in Europe, in the Carpathian mountains. I think the best indications are that the stories meant Almases and situated them in Mongolia. One feature is that the Arimaspi stole gold from the Gryphons "to weave it in their hair". Scythians had a lot of gold (mostly as loot, probably) but this would be a separate tradition - they are saying that the Arimaspi were blondes and that their head-hair contrasted with their body-hair. In other words, what Mark Hall and Loren Coleman call Marked Hominids (which are not distinguished from Almases by this trait anyway).

The original reports about Gryphons and Arimaspai or Arimaspians are lost but repeated by Herodotus. The stories went that Gryphons mined gold and jewels and used them to line their nest, and then the Arimaspi stole what they wanted from their nests. Herodotus does NOT give a physical description for the Gryphons.

(RIGHT) Scythian Thunderbird (LEFT) Male Ostrich Displaying (Museum mount)

The tail is held up at the same time and the posture matches the Scythian Bird. The Persian Thunderbird was also a Ostrich, and the Asiatic Thunderbird is described as black with large white (Silvery) plumes in its wings, a valuable trade iterm. Chinese do have preserved ostrich eggs with recent characters painted on them. Griffins were known for striking with their feet (Talons) and so the attribution that griffins were based on Ceratopsian dinosaurs is likely to be erroneous. However, their location in Mongolia seems beyond dispute.

I have some pretty good reasons for thinking that the creatures called Gryphons in this particular story were Ostriches. For one thing we have representations of them in Scythia (see above) and China, as well as stories about them from Iranian sources. Ostriches may have survived in parts of India, the Near East and around Mongolia up until the 1800s: representations of them in Chinese art are labelled as "dragon birds". It is sometimes said dragon birds lay eggs that are geodes and it is also true that the geodes can contain gems. Ostriches are known to sometimes mistake round stones (such as geodes) for their own eggs and roll them into their nesting areas; ostriches have communal ground nests. If early miners found that ostrich nests might contain geodes and the geodes could contain precious gemstones, then they definitely would be regularly checking ostrich nests for the stones regularly.

However, the original attribution of the nest-raiding to Arimaspians would have been for another reason - they would be stealing the eggs. At a time when ostriches were more abundant and other game more sparse, raiding ostrich eggs could have been a major source for the Almases to get protein (and water in desert conditions).

The sources that place the legend in the Carpathians identify the Gryphons of the legend to a local mythical "Hen" that gathers gold ore and stones into its nest, which is possibly a local variant of the same legend but then the "Hen" would not have been a native animal either. That would indicate the story had been imported from the East as well.
The Herodotus map (left) shows the Arimaspians (Almas) situated in the area where modern maps show Mongolia, in which case his Hyperboreans were more likely arctic peoples like the Asiatic Inua (Eskimos, and the Siberian naives that are most like them).

The Mirror of Medicine illustrations are from Heuvelmans's book Le Homme Neanderthal Est Toujours Vivant. These illustrations are reprinted in various sources and the captions do not always agree in detail. Sanderson also has them as plates in Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life, where he identifies them as illustrating the Sasquatch type. Myra Shackley's book Still Living identifies them as (left) the 18th century edition printed in Pekin and then another edition printed a century later in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, of a book most commonly known as Mirror of Medicine. The two pictures mean to show a Mongolian Almas, and included in the book for the reason that certain body parts were believed to have medicinal value. The different editions label the illustration in Tibetan, Chinese and Mongolian; the older uses the names Samdja, Bitchun, and Kumchin Gorgosu (respectively) and the later edition uses the names Osodrashin, Peeyi (Pe'i) and Zerleg Khoon (respectively)--all names meaning "Wildman"

The name "Bi-Tchun" of the first edition might be related to the Pe'i (Peeyi) of the second and it is the term used as the Chinese equivalent. The name Almas is not used but that is undoubtedly the creature that is being described. And the older version of the illustration is cruder but many authors thought it was more likely to be more authentic. The later version of the illustration impressed Myra Shackley as having Neanderthal-like features.

British Livebearer Association Convention

British Livebearer Association Convention
Convention, Auction and International Guppy Show
15-17th October 2010
Nottingham Gateway Hotel.
Nuthall Road,
NG8 6AZ.

The convention will soon be upon us. The weekend of October 15th & 16th. However the work begins long before that date. It is a great weekend and a great team effort. The work starts at the venue at 9.00am on the Thursday before the weekend when we set up the display and receive the show fish. Friday is a ‘rest’ day for most - the judging of the Guppies takes place. Saturday will have the full day filled with a series of Lectures and Talks that includes one by Clause Osche that promises to be a highlight of the weekend. The show fish will be open to the public for viewing. Saturday will conclude with a Gala Meal that everyone attends. This year as well as the prize giving, there will be an after dinner speech by Peter Burgess. Sunday will host the auction of Wild Livebearers and also the auction of the show guppies (which will be split into several sessions during the main auction). The show guppies will remain on display until about 12 noon when we shall start to prepare the fishes for collection and dismantle the displays. The event should end at about 5.30pm.



These next few days are going to be confusing ones at the CFZ. My lovely step-daughter Shosh gets married on Friday, so I will be away from the office as I prepare for another one of those rights of passage; becoming a father-in-law for the first time. As those who regularly follow the ins and outs of the CFZ will know, Graham is currently on the Isle of Man helping his mother prepare to move house.

Therefore, although I promise that the bloggo will continue because like the Pony Express we always get our man (or was that the Mounties? I can’t remember; my arteries must be hardening at a faster rate than I had imagined), it will be done from a number of computers in a number of different places. Hopefully, Graham will still be able to do whatever arcane stuff he does from his mother’s laptop on the Isle of Man, whilst Lizzy, who has very little internet access at home, will be taking her laptop down t’pub in Rochdale like something out of a 1970s Hovis Wheatgerm advert. I will be going online on an as-and-when basis, but certainly on the night before the nuptials as (being a mere man) I have been banished to the Travelodge up the road as all three aspects of the goddess as personified in my womenfolk (wife, mother-in-law, and both step-daughters) will be carrying out the ancient rituals and blood sacrifices that womenfolk have always done since before homo became sapiens (what no woman can tell and no man shall ever know).

Everything will return to normal sometime over the next weekend, so keep your fingers crossed and watch this space.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


On this day in 1848 American railway engineer Phineas Gage had an accident that saw a massive metal pole driven through his skull, destroying most of his brain's left frontal lobe. Remarkably, especially so given the severity of the accident and the fact that medical science wasn't nearly as advanced then as now, Gage survived with very few ill-effects. The accident does seem to have had a marked effect on his personality, according to a report by Dr John Harlow:

“The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was "no longer Gage."”

Gage also appeared, for a short while before undertaking a national tour, at Barnum's American Museum in New York.
And now, the news:

Lord Sainsbury donates £25m to British Museum (via...
The search for England's Loch Ness Monster
Monster Lobster Caught Off Miami Beach
Lizard Moving From Eggs to Live Birth
Mysterious Livestock Attacks in Mexico Blamed on Chupacabra

Awesome song by the Super Furry Animals: