Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Freeman & Russian Man-Beasts

This just in from Richard Freeman at the Center for Fortean Zoology:

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 30authoritative 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.

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