Enjoy the conversation below with Bryan Sykes about the search for Bigfoot and his book, Bigfoot, Yeti and the Last Neanderthal.
Why did you, a well-known scientist, embark on the project in the first place?
Basically, like a lot of people, I was curious to know the answer to the question–Do these creatures exist? And I had the DNA tools to answer it.
Why did you risk your reputation by working in such a murky field?
I agree it is an eccentric topic to pick, but I always thought it fell well within the sphere of proper scientific enquiry. I would not have embarked on this project when I was younger.
What did your colleagues think of your decision?
Some thought I was crazy, but a reassuring number of very senior colleagues, like me, it fell well within the realm of science.
Did you have other reasons other than curiosity?
Yes, I was frustrated that so many media report of samples sent to labs for DNA tests were never followed up–and the results were never published. It was all very unsatisfactory. I was also irritated by those in the Bigfoot community who declared that they had been “rejected by science.” Science doesn’t reject anything, just examines the evidence.
There have been well-publicized accounts, for example the Sasquatch Genome Project, of identification by DNA of Bigfoot as a hybrid between humans and other animals. What is your opinion?
This work was never published in a proper peer-reviewed journal. What I saw of the project I thought was very poor science. I set out to publish the results in a mainstream journal and have done just that. (Sykes BC et al., Proc. R. Soc. B 2014 281 20140843)
What did the results show you?
In general, the hairs attributed to yetis and Bigfoot etc., by collectors were from a range of common animals living in their normal range. There were bears, raccoons, wolves, deer, even a porcupine and also feral domestics like cattle and horse. The two unexpected results: The first as from a “yeti mummy” from the Himalayas which was a genetic match to a polar bear; and the second was from Zana, an “apewoman” from the Causasus mountains captured in the mid-nineteenth century whose DNA was a total surprise. I am doing further work to make sense of it.
How did the Bigfoot community react to your findings?
In different ways. No doubt some were disappointed that I had identified their precious hair as coming from a bear, etc. A few directed that disappointment at was me, which was unreasonable. All I had done was to identify what they had given me.
But most reacted by welcoming the fact that there was now a scientifically acceptable way of proving what they believed to be “out there” and returned to their researched with renewed enthusiasm and determination to find the real thing…
Will you be continuing with this research?
No, other than finishing off the Zana work. Though I had not disproved the existence of yeti and Bigfoot, and never could, I just don’t think there is enough to work on, at the moment anyway. That said, I would be very interested to analyze what I call the “Golden Hair” — a genuine yeti or Bigfoot with an unimpeachable provenance.
What is your opinion about future research?
Bigfoot researchers are very enthusiastic and dedicated but there is a third unanswered question after “Does Bigfoot exist?” and “What is it?” and that is “Who’s paying?” Properly done, genetic analysis is expensive.
Do you believe the Bigfoot exists?
I was very careful not to form an opinion while I was doing the project and, as I have said “let the DNA do the talking.” However, I was impressed with many people I met especially those who had seen something in good light, did not want publicity and had nothing to fain. So, yes, I do there there may well be “something out there.” But my opinion doesn’t count for much. I need to see the evidence.
Bryan Sykes is a Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Wolfson College. He has been involved in a number of high-profile cases dealing with ancient DNA, including those of “Otzi the Iceman,” a well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived around 3,300 BC and “Cheddar Man,” the remains of a man found in Cheddar Gorge, from approximately 7,150 BC. It is Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton. Professor Sykes in best known outside the community of geneticists for his bestselling books on the investigation of human history and pre-history through studies of mitochondrial DNA.