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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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Monday, April 11, 2011

RICHARD FREEMAN: RETURN OF THE SNOWMAN COMMISSION?

Russia, or the one-time Soviet Union, always seemed to be a step ahead of the west scientifically. They did, after all, get the first satellite into orbit, and the first man in space. They seemed to be forward-thinkers and less hidebound and arrogant. In the 1950s, when the interest in the Himalayan yeti was at its peak, most (though certainly not all) had more or less written off the creature. Not so the Soviets. Russian polymath Dr Boris Porshnev seriously considered the existence of such a creature. Unlike most western scientists, he thought the creature might be a relic hominid - a relative of the ancestors of man - rather than a great ape. Here I must personally disagree with him on the nature of the yeti, but that is beside the point. He was a scientist with an active interest in the subject.

Porshnev also found out that there were sightings of superficially similar creatures in the Soviet Union. In the Caucasus, the Pamirs, the Tien Chen and other areas were reports of hairy man-like creatures variously known as almasty, almas, dev, gul and many other names. There were records of encounters with such creatures. These seem smaller and more man-like than the classic ‘giant yeti’ of Tibet and the Himalayas. These could, indeed, be relic hominids.

In 1958 the USSR Academy of Sciences, on Porshnev's initiative, set up a special commission on the "snowman" question and launched an expedition to the Pamirs. Although it did not find a yeti or almasty, the Snowman Commission was in existence for three years. It is hard to imagine any other government being so forward-looking as to back a cryptozoological organisation. During its three years, the Commission amassed a huge amount of information on sightings, both modern and historical. As far back as the time of Carl Linnaeus the creature had been given the scientific name Homo troglodytes.

During the three years, Porshnev compiled and published yearbooks of information on the ‘snowman.’ After the commission was abolished he continued to compile information. Sadly, none of his books have been translated into English and even in Russia his books are rare, one having a print run of only 180. I have tried to get an inter-library loan of this book from Moscow Library with a view to photocopying it for translation, but I never did receive an answer.

In 1960 Pyotr Smolin began a seminar on the subject at the Darwin Museum in Moscow. This encouraged a second generation of researchers including Dmitri Bayanov, Igor Bourtsev, Alexandra Bourtseva, V. Pushkarev, Maya Bykova, V. Makarov, M. Trachtengerts and Gregory Panchenko.

Now 51 years after the Snowman Commission was disbanded, the Siberian government are to set up a research institute based at Kemerovo University dedicated to the study of relic hominids.

Officials of the Kemerovo administration in western Siberia have said that organising an institute or a scientific centre would be a logical continuation of research into the yeti.

Dr Igor Burtsev, director of The International Center of Hominology, will join the brand new research unit if the plans go ahead. He said: "In Russia there are about 30 authoritative scientists who are engaged in studying the phenomenon of the abominable snowman."

"All of them will be integrated into this institute. The primary goal is to establish contact with one of the creatures." Recently 15 local people in the Kemerovo region have reported encounters with a 7-foot, man-like beast with black or reddish hair. Most reports come from the Mount Shoria wilderness.

Let’s hope that this time they have more luck and are given more time to find their quarry.

1 comment:

Dale Drinnon said...

You need to make a clarification in your statement "I must personally disagree with him on the nature of the Yeti"

There is not only ONE thing being called a Yeti and more recently I have even wondered if it is such a good idea to continue to use the term at all: the word is commonly used to mean not only hairy Wildmen otherwise identical to the Almas (and so indicated by both Porshnev and Heuvelmans in their book together, as well as on Heuvelmans' checklist)but the much larger kind that seems to be the same as the Sasquatch, and then again what Sanderson called the "Real Yeti", a sort of an Ape that ordinarily resides in the jungles to the South and rarely straying into the mountains; the name is also applied with casual regularity to both bears and macaque monkeys. Nor is the common Tibetan term "Bearman" any better as a replacement since it is also used in exactly the same ambiguous way. One translator made a distinction in the definition of "Apes" in the area saying "There is one like a chimpanzee and another one like a gorilla"-the larger one presumably being the Sasquatch type. I presume that would be the one you were calling a Yeti personally.

There is a problem rampant throughout Cryptozoology in assuming that the names given to Cryptid categories are somehow meaningful and descriptive. They are neither. Nearly all Cryptid names are used by persons with only a vague idea what the creature they are looking at is supposed to be and the names are both ambiguous and often applied mistakenly. A Cryptid name is nothing so definite as a Linnean binomial. The common-usage term "Bigfoot" is at least as bad as the term "Yeti" in this sense and it also applies with equal force to Almas-type hominids as well as Apes or sometimes even apparently macaque monkeys running loose. And I am still having a heated ongoing dialogue with supporters of David Oren's version of the Mapinguari over the use of the term "Mapinguari", where the same ambiguity also exists. Once again, the problem is that the name is actually arbitrary and applies to more than one thing.

As to the Linnean binomials Homo troglodytes and Homo nocturnus, they have indeed been around since the beginning. Which is actually a quandry in that such creatures are not actually unknown animals at all, they were recognised and named by Linnaeus> They are instead DISPUTED Linneaen binomials, which puts them into an entirely different category: "Disputed" is not the same as "Unknown".

Best Wishes, Dale D.