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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Thursday, October 28, 2010




As you all know, there is a doggie-shaped hole in our lives at the moment. Corinna and I are beginning to look around in search of the canid who shall become the CFZ Dog Mk4, and several things are becoming apparent. Firstly, all the animal shelters are full of animals of the same three breeds: border collies, Jack Russells and Staffies. And secondly, there is a serious dearth of mongrels. Now I, along with Dr Dolittle, have always rather preferred mongrels, thinking that they are generally more grounded and less highly strung than thoroughbreds.

In the last thirty years (and you must remember that the last time I went actively looking for a new dog was 1985 because Tessie just arrived one day and Corinna found Biggles) things have changed. Quite rightly, owners are encouraged to neuter their animals, but this means that birth control amongst the canid community is now pretty good. The only litters born are ones that have been planned, often for financial reasons, and therefore if Dr Dolittle were to start his Home For Crossbred Dogs today, it would probably remain empty!


OK, I am not perfect; I am the first person to admit this. I am also not trained in anything to do with the publishing industry, but there is really no excuse for the defecatory spelling mistake on the spine of Darren Naish's book.

I have now fixed it and the amended spine can be seen above, but it does mean that the first 100 or so people who bought Tetrapod Zoology will have got a special limited edition collector's item.

That's the spin that I am putting on it anyway.


What is it?


The FT UnCon always promises to be a weekend of unusual events, and so it was. Over the two-day period, I finally met Rebecca Lang, amused a small child with the deft and dextrous use of a hot dog and a pigeon, fed a homeless person, drank a reasonably substantial quantity of alcohol and saw a ghost--as you do.

The various stalls and tables were of special interest, returning me to those wonderful days of childhood when I would haunt the bookshelves of W.H. Smith, which in those informative times were stacked with titles describing every sort of paranormal and Fortean phenomena, many of which found their way home with me, or at least as many as I could twist the arm of my mum and dad to buy for me.

Sadly--'tragically' is more like it--the popularisation and public accessibility to this material seems to have diminished somewhat in the latter years, whether due to lack of interest or publishers losing faith in a field that perhaps appears to be increasingly esoteric.

Now maybe I’m biased--I probably am--but the CFZ, through their independent publishing of Fortean material, is quite possibly the last outlet--or one of the very few--for this kind of literature.

There have been accusations from some quarters that the CFZ are guilty of ‘vanity publishing.’ Oh yeah--well what the hell is that? If it means the publication of a work without consultation or recourse to an established publisher, then personally, I think that’s a good thing, especially in the current climate.

I’m sure we all know the story of how Harry Potter was turned down by fifteen publishing houses before someone finally saw the light. So what chance for black dogs, albino eels, out-of-place pine-martens and Wells catfish? Not much, I would think, in a ‘reading’ environment that seems to actively promote illiteracy among the young and impressionable, through the deification of half-baked ‘celebrities’ who, seemingly unable to write for themselves, have their vacuous and tedious ‘autobiographies’ ghost-written by some anonymous scribe; and the downright obscene proliferation of drivel like OK magazine, that now occupy the very shelves where once were the Fortean books of my youth.

I’ve put up some of the titles that meant so much to me a kid, and it would be nice if the CFZ publications became just as special to some youngster today. And why not?

So well done to Jon and the CFZ team for keeping the diversity and interest of true Fortean publications alive.

OLL LEWIS: Crypto Cons - The United Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Tucked away in the corner of a gallery of the British Museum in London is perhaps the most unusual object on display in any European museum. The object is one of the most famous the museum houses; for many it is right up there with the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, Lindow Man, the Sutton Hoo horde and the Egyptian Mummies. Yet it is not proudly displayed on the floor plans like many of the other more notable exhibits. In fact, if you are not paying attention and do not know where it is you will probably miss it as you are drawn into the centre of the room by a large statue from Easter Island. I am talking of the crystal skull.

In spite of its semi-hidden position, behind you and to the left, past the stairwell and large display case as you enter the Wellcome Trust gallery, the skull's display case is well lit and sports a surprisingly large information panel compared to most of the museums exhibits. The skull itself glistens and sparkles in the light, giving off an almost magical feel, and it is easy to see why so many people have attributed other-worldly properties to it. The skull was not made by the Aztecs, as was thought for many years, or by higher-dimensional beings as in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal skull (NOT aliens as people who didn't actually pay attention to the film say) but rather by a European jeweller in the 19th century.

There are several other crystal skulls dotted around the various museums of the world and belonging to private owners; the British Museum and the Mitchell-Hedges skull are the most ornately carved and spectacular examples, and all of them have been carved using modern techniques or using crystals that Aztec artisans would not have had access to and the item's discovery is typically unrecorded in any archaeological digs. The skull that would become known as the British Museum's crystal skull first appeared in 1881 in the Mexican antiquities shop of Eugène Boban (aka Boban-Duvergé) a Frenchman who was the official court archaeologist in Mexico during the short reign of Emperor Maximilian I. Boban sold two crystal skulls, for which he provided no information on how they had come into his posession. One skull was to eventually end up in the Quai Branly Museum in Paris and the other in British Museum. Boban attempted to sell the British Museum skull to several Mexican museums, claiming Aztec provenance for the object, but these attempts failed and it was eventually sold to American entrepreneur George H. Sisson in 1887. After being placed on public exhibition the skull was bought by Tiffany's of New York who sold it to a very eager British Museum. At the time it seemed like a good purchase as it was the most ornately carved and detailed example of what was thought to be a very rare Aztec artefact, and it took pride of place in the museum's Central and South American galleries.

However, by the 1960s and 70s the twin pressures of doubt in the archaeological world over the authenticity of crystal skulls, due in part to no finds ever having been properly documented and the vastly different artistic styles of the skulls, and the rise of proponents of New Age belief systems ascribing paranormal properties to the skulls, essentially forced the museum to hide the skull from public display for a while, only trotting it out for the occasional appearance on TV shows like Arthur C. Clark's Mysterious World. It was fast becoming evident to the museum that they had been fooled into buying a lemon and the final confirmation of this came when scientists from Cardiff University concluded that a wheeled cutting tool had been used in the skull's manufacture, which, because the Aztecs didn't even have wheels, meant it was certainly not Aztec in origin. The nature of the microscopic groves caused by the cutting implement was reminiscent of manufacturing processes used by mid-19th century German jewellers, and geologists also concluded it was doubtful that Mexicans would have had access to a large enough chunk of quartz to carve the skull before the arrival of Europeans.

Thankfully, though, despite lurking out of the way, the skull is on display in the museum along with a large display telling people of the hoax and how it was discovered. Not a lot of museums would come clean so readily to being duped and even display the object in such a beautiful manner so the British museum are to be commended for this. The crystal skull may have only limited historical value but its beauty and the part it has played in the history of hoaxes mean that this 19th century piece of art has certainly earned its place among the treasures housed in the world's greatest and most impressive historical museum.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


On this day in 1618 Sir Walter Raleigh was executed. Raleigh was best known as being an explorer in the Americas, and for introducing the potato and tobacco to Britain (even though he didn't, in actual fact). He attempted to find the lost colony of Roanoki Island with his cousin Richard Grenville and led a few expeditions to find El Dorado.
And now, the news:

Tracking Golden Eagles by Satellite; Impact of Lar...
Mink release in Donegal threatens birds
Psychic octopus death conspiracy claim
True believer records sightings
Four-Legged Chick

Usually at this point I post a little video or something linked in some way to a story in the news. Not today; today I'm going to post something unrelated to cryptozoological news; something that is claimed to be evidence of time travel. According to the video it was filmed in 1928 at the premier of Charlie Chaplin’s film The Circus in New York and shows a butch lady or man in drag talking on a mobile phone.

Seems like humbug to me but this could be the start of a new Fortean flavoured urban legend so I do recommend strongly that you take a look.