Showing posts with label Scientific American. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scientific American. Show all posts

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Scientific American's Tetrapod Hosts Speculate on the Yeti

Himalayan Yeti in summer pelt, surrounded by flowering rhododendron.
Image by John Conway, from the forthcoming Cryptozoologicon.
All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals was a successful book written created by palaeozoologist Darren Naish, and palaeontological artists John
Conway and C.M. Kosemen. Mr. Naish and Mr. Conway host Scientific American's Tetrapod Zoology Podcast.

They will soon release a book in the same flavor as All Yesterdays, but with a cryptozoological theme titled Cryptozoologicon. Earlier today (08.04.2013), Scientific American's Tetrapod Zoology Blog posted presented a preview of Yeti section of Cryptozoologican.

It starts out great distinguishing that the white-furred-blue-skin yeti is more of a Hollywood conception:

The Yeti is easily one of the most famous of mystery creatures. The Yeti of the cryptozoological literature is not the shaggy-furred, white snowbeast of Hollywood movies and popular artwork. Instead, it’s a blackish, dark brown, or red-brown animal of the sub-temperate and temperate forests and mountainsides of the Himalayan Mountains and Tibetan Plateau, predominantly bipedal and 3 m or so in height (though, to be fair, white Yetis have supposedly been reported from Tibet). Eyewitness and mythological accounts believed to describe the Yeti come from such countries as Russia, China, Nepal, Tibet and India. Across this large area, a variety of different local names are believed by cryptozoologists to describe the same creature (Shackley 1983). However, there is much variation in the size, form and behaviour of the hairy ape-men described across this area by witnesses and known from lore, so one interpretation favoured by some cryptozoologists is that there are actually two kinds of yeti, or that we’re actually seeing references to a huge cast of unknown hominids that range from shaggy, orangutan-like species to surviving Dryopithecus-like species, australopithecines, Neanderthals, members of Homo erectus and others (Heuvelmans 1986, Coleman & Huyghe 1999).
Although they ultimately conclude the Yeti as, "an amalgamation of fleeting glimpses of known animals (including bears, takin and serows) with both the universal wildman archetype and with local Asian lore about humanesque, mountain-dwelling demons.." This does not stop the palaeo-power team to serious speculate on (from their perspective), "What if the Yeti were real?"

Most of the speculations we might make about the Yeti (if we assume it to be a real animal) have already been made in the extensive cryptozoological literature on it. Heuvelmans (1958) gave the Yeti the suggested scientific name Dinanthropoides nivalis and proposed that giant size evolved within a lineage of arboreal Asian apes, that the members of this lineage came down to the ground, and that specialisation for life in mountainous, snowy places encouraged them to become bipedal. He implied a close link between the Yeti and Gigantopithecus but did not think that these apes were close to orangutans. This scenario would require that Yeti bipedalism evolved independently from that seen in humans and other hominids, and it’s contradicted by evidence indicating that hominid bipedalism first evolved in an arboreal setting, later being improved by those lineages that took to increased terrestrial life (see the Orang-pendek section, pp. 13-15).

While some authors have implied or argued that the Yeti and Sasquatch are members of the human lineage, we prefer the view that these are bipedal pongines, convergently similar to hominins in some ways but different with respect to the details of anatomy, gait and behaviour. Indeed, Yeti sightings create the impression of a hominid not all that different from the paranthropines, the more robust of the extinct, African australopithecines. Dinanthropoides walks bipedally with slightly bent knees, its body leaning more forwards than is the case in our species, and its long arms reaching down to its knees. Its resting poses more recall those of orangutans and gorillas than humans, and it can even move quadrupedally when scrambling up hillside and among large rocks. Its feet are only superficially human-like, the enlarged, only semi-divergent hallux and broad heel representing strong terrestrial specialisation in a primate that started its terrestrial career with a typical hominid foot like that of orangutans.

Yetis are not reported to use tools; however, this may be due to a lack of detailed observation. We know today that orangutans, gorillas and chimps all use tools in the wild: these behaviours went unknown for decades and (in most populations) only occur rarely. A strong jaw and massive, strong teeth make Dinanthropoides an expert at breaking fruits and nuts (Tchernine 1974). As a hominid adapted for temperate, often cool, habitats, Dinanthropoides is able to deal with warm summer conditions as well as far cooler, winter ones thanks to seasonal changes in the length and thickness of its pelt, though these changes don’t happen across all Yeti populations. Our Himalayan Yetis are in their thinner, reddish summer coats (the scene depicts a time several decades in the past, when the Himalayas were more extensively covered by snow and ice than they are today).

If only more people were prepared to accept the reality of the Yeti, Sasquatch and Orang-pendek, they would realise that the supposed differences between humans and other great apes merely reflect the fact that the ‘intermediate’ taxa are extinct or scientifically unrecognised. Yet again blinkered, hidebound establishment Ivory Tower scientists, more interested in sitting behind their computers than searching the world for real animals, are holding back scientific progress!!!!!!! THEY WILL BE SHOWN WRONG IN THE END!!!

The Cryptozoologicon – by John Conway, C. M. Kosemen and Darren Naish – is due out later in 2013 and will be published by Irregular Books. Follow @IrregularBooks on twitter.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Linquists Battle Over Bigfoot Language

Does Bigfoot have defined phonemes? Phonemes are distinct units of sound, like vowel sounds. 

"The vocalizations are an amateur impression of how a proto-language might sound if it evolved from non-human primates" -- Karen Stollznow of Scientific American on the Morehead/Berry tapes.

We are NOT big fans of lazy skeptics. Good skeptics on the other hand are healthy for our research. Ones that have held our feet to the fire are Sharon Hill of Doubtful News and a Huffington Post contributor and Brian Dunning of Skeptoid. Skeptics, in my opinion, are just like witches in OZ, there are good ones and bad ones.

We are not quite sure what category Scientific America's Karen Stollznow. Ms. Stollznow has  Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of New England and seems to be critical of Scott Nelson's credentials. To catch you up, Scott Nelson retired from the Navy after a 17-year career as a crypto-linguist, intercepting Russian communications and decoding them. While his son was listening to the Morehead and Berry Bigfoot audio recordings (a/k/a Sierra Sounds) he detected patterns and perhaps even language.

After Karen introduces the general public on types of Sasquatch evidence she dives right into the possibility of Bigfoot language and the Morehead/Berry Tapes:
A fascinating category of evidence involves claims of a Bigfoot language. Eyewitnesses report hearing howls, whoops, growls, screams, mumbles, whistles and other strange vocalizations in the wild, and attribute these to Bigfoot. Variant forms of Bigfoot are found across cultures, and the Sasquatch, Himalayan Yeti, Australian Yowie and other alleged creatures are similarly believed to produce vocalizations. Other Bigfoot communication includes the mimicry of wildlife and forest sounds, wood-knocking, rock-knocking and rock-throwing. Bigfoot is also thought to form patterns with sticks and rocks as a kind of writing system. In wilder claims about wild men, Bigfoot are believed to have the ability to communicate telepathically, and use their large feet to send infra-sound communication over long distances. Bigfoot are also claimed to speak and understand human languages, and to have their own Bigfoot language.

There is little evidence to support these claims, other than the anecdotal kind. The Sierra Sound recordings, also known as the Berry/Morehead tapes, are touted as the gold-standard of evidence for a Bigfoot language. During a number of expeditions to the Sierra Nevada Mountains between the years 1972-1975, Alan Berry, Ronald Morehead and their crew captured audio recordings of alleged Bigfoot encounters. They recorded a total of 90 minutes of Bigfoot language and vocalizations using a microphone dangled from a tree branch attached to a reel-to-reel recorder. Over the years they also found 18-inch footprints of Bigfoot, and experienced many sightings…just not during the recordings!

Morehead and Berry (until his death in 2012) staunchly deny that the recordings are a prank. However, for a number of reasons, it is highly probable that the recordings are a hoax, or that the crew were hoaxed. The expeditions were undertaken specifically to hunt for Bigfoot. “Bigfoot” was heard but never seen when the recordings were made. It is obvious that other animals made some of the sounds, such as bears. The wood knocks are easy to re-create, while the “language” itself is unconvincing. The vocalizations are an amateur impression of how a proto-language might sound if it evolved from non-human primates. This “Bigfoot” is likely human, and the Sierra Sounds a combination of hoax and misidentification, like all of the other evidence for Bigfoot.
Sounds like she has already reached a conclusion. What is unfortunate is we were hoping her critique would come more from a linguist perspective, but her conclusion, as you will read below,  is that looking into Bigfoot language is putting the cart before the horse. She thinks we should be looking for a body first. Not only is this a disappointment, because it would have been great to get another linguist's perspective, but it  also a flawed argument. If this was the prevailing logic we would have never tried to decipher the cuneiform text left on clay tablets by the Sumerians.

Here is her non-linguistic based argument:

Self –proclaimed “Bigfoot language expert” R. Scott Nelson has taken the Bigfoot language claims one-step further. As though it is the Linear B of Bigfoot language to be deciphered, Nelson has created a transcription of the Sierra Sound Recordings. He is a retired U.S. Navy Cryptologic Technician Interpreter who speaks Russian, Spanish and Persian. He also believes he can speak “Bigfoot”.

Nelson claims he has identified not only vocalizations such as whistles, grunts, and snarls, but also individual phonemes, i.e., the sounds that combine to create words. Nelson has created a pronunciation key for these phonemes, and he uses the Latin alphabet, diacritics and various other symbols to represent these sounds. He calls this the Sasquatch Phonetic Alphabet (SPA), or the Unclassified Hominid Phonetic Alphabet (UHPA). It is unclear why he doesn’t use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the standardized representation of the sounds of spoken language.

Bilingualism (speaking two or more languages) and working as a translator doesn’t qualify someone to identify or describe undocumented languages. This is an area of anthropological linguistics, although it appears as if many cryptozoological fans confuse “crypto-linguistics” as a field that researches the language of cryptids. The Sierra Sounds are used not only to support the claim of a Bigfoot language, but also to legitimize claims of Bigfoot’s existence. As Nelson argues, “The existence of the Sasquatch Being is hereby assumed, since any creature must exist before his language.” However, there are still prior questions. Does Bigfoot exist, and if so, could Bigfoot speak?

For arguments sake, if Bigfoot did exist, the species would likely have developed its own system of communication, like chimpanzees and Vervet monkeys. Similar to the claims of the (so far mythical) Orang-Pendek, Bigfoot would probably communicate using vocalizations. However, non-human primates don’t have the physiology to produce a wide variety of speech sounds, so it is unlikely that Bigfoot would have developed language, or would be able to speak existing human languages. At any rate, this is all starting off on the wrong (Big)foot. There is no solid physical evidence to support the existence of Bigfoot. Before we establish the existence of Bigfoot language, we would need to establish the existence of Bigfoot.
You can read her full article at the Scientific American Blog

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Color is Bigfoot's World?

In a recent article, Scientific American reveals how primates are uniquely evolved to see in three colors, known as trichromacy.  Unique not only among mammals, but unique among the entire animal kingdom. To find out why read the excerpt below.  It seems, genetically, it is not such a feat to see in blues and greens (Dichromatic view), but seeing the additional red hues (Trichromatic view) requires a mutation of a gene nowhere near the other two genes. You can read the full Scientific American article here

To our eyes, the world is arrayed in a seemingly infinite splendor of hues, from the sunny orange of a marigold flower to the gunmetal gray of an automobile chassis, from the buoyant blue of a midwinter sky to the sparkling green of an emerald. It is remarkable, then, that for most human beings any color can be reproduced by mixing together just three fixed wavelengths of light at certain intensities. This property of human vision, called trichromacy, arises because the retina the layer of nerve cells in the eye that captures light and transmits visual information to the brain uses only three types of light-absorbing pigments for color vision. One consequence of trichromacy is that computer and television displays can mix red, green and blue pixels to generate what we perceive as a full spectrum of color.

Although trichromacy is common among primates, it is not universal in the animal kingdom. Almost all nonprimate mammals are dichromats, with color vision based on just two kinds of visual pigments. A few nocturnal mammals have only one pigment. Some birds, fish and reptiles have four visual pigments and can detect ultraviolet light invisible to humans. It seems, then, that primate trichromacy is unusual. How did it evolve? Building on decades of study, recent investigations into the genetics, molecular biology and neurophysiology of primate color vision have yielded some unexpected answers as well as surprising findings about the flexibility of the primate brain.
Almost all nonprimate mammals are dichromats, with color vision based on just two kinds of visual pigments. A few nocturnal mammals have only one pigment. It seems, then, that primate trichromacy is unusual. The short-wavelength (S) pigment absorbs light maximally at wavelengths of about 430 nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter), the medium-wavelength (M) pigment maximally absorbs light at approximately 530 nanometers, and the long-wavelength (L) pigment absorbs light maximally at 560 nanometers. Although the absorption spectra of the cone pigments have long been known, it was not until the 1980s that one of us (Nathans) identified the genes for the human pigments and, from the DNA sequences of those genes, determined the sequence of amino acids that constitutes each pigment protein. The gene sequences revealed that the M and L pigments are almost identical. The S-pigment gene, in contrast, is located on chromosome 7, and its sequence shows that the encoded S pigment is related only distantly to the M and L pigments.

Almost all vertebrates have genes with sequences that are very similar to that of the human S pigment, implying that some version of a shorter-wavelength pigment is an ancient element of color vision. Most nonprimate mammals have only one longer-wavelength pigment, which is similar to the longer-wavelength primate pigments. The gene for the longer-wavelength mammalian pigment is also located on the X chromosome. Those features raised the possibility, then, that the two longer-wavelength primate pigment genes first arose in the early primate lineage in this way: a longer-wavelength mammalian pigment gene was duplicated on a single X chromosome, after which mutations in either or both copies of the X-linked ancestral gene produced two quite similar pigments with different ranges of spectral sensitivity the M and L pigments.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Is global warming forcing Bigfoot to move north?

On Scientific American's Website in a segment called "60-Second Science, got a minute?" Ivan Oransky writes about a science called phylogeography: The biogeographic shifts, speciation, extinction and determinants of community assembly. Its a wonderful article with great Bigfoot links...
If you were a nine-foot tall animal covered in dense fur – say, Bigfoot – you would probably seek cooler climes if temps began inching up. That’s the hypothesis one Queens College biologist posed to me last night – without, I should note, acknowledging that such an animal exists at all.

First, a bit of background on why I would have found myself in a bar in Manhattan’s Alphabet City talking about Sasquatch. The biologist in question – Mike Hickerson, who studies “biogeographic shifts, speciation, extinction and determinants of community assembly,” a.k.a. phylogeography – and I had just been to Bigfoot Night. Bigfoot Night, if you don't know, was the latest installment of Kevin Maher’s Sci Fi Screening Room. (In the interests of full disclosure, Bigfoot Night’s co-host was M. Sweeney Lawless, a friend.)

Bigfoot Night was not quite a scientific conference, but it was entertaining nonetheless. We were treated to a number of videos: A 1984 CNN segment on a town in Washington State that became alarmed after a group of Vietnam vets there decided to hunt Bigfoot in the woods. (There was potential risk to “nocturnal agricultural pursuits” and “nocturnal distillation.”) An episode of TV's The Six Million Dollar Man in which bionic hero Steve Austin fought Bigfoot. (Spoiler alert: Austin ripped Sasquatch’s arm off.) An episode of Bigfoot and Wildboy. (Watch the intro here.)

Performers also read dozens of Bigfoot "eyewitness" accounts, many of which ended with some version of “This was not a bear.” And we were treated to a truly awful movie called Skunk Ape?! featuring a punk band whose leader was hell-bent on killing a Florida swamp creature in Chicago using a harpoon. (No Bigfoot porn, much to the chagrin of some audience members.)

But I digress. The night’s science quotient went up later, when several of us from the audience went out for drinks. There, Hickerson told me about his research into what’s called environmental niche modeling. The basic idea is that you correlate sightings of any organism, or evidence of that organism, with geographical and climate data, to try to figure out where you might find other such organisms.

That’s the idea behind this study of species shifting across Yosemite, led by Hickerson’s postdoctoral advisor, Craig Moritz. You can see how such work would be useful not only in trying to forecast where animals and plants might move, but also in predicting places we might find endangered species where we previously have not. Combine that with new tools like Google Earth, and it’s understandable why the field has taken off.

Hickerson told me that evolutionary meetings now feature hundreds of papers on the subject, compared to practically none just two or three years ago. He uses it to study a number of plants and animals, in particular those such as seaweed and barnacles that live in rocky intertidal regions.

But such modeling could also be used to study Bigfoot. So as a joke, Hickerson, who spent about eight years in Washington State working in forests (where, he says, he heard “some weird stuff” at night), and his colleagues are taking all of the Bigfoot footprint and sighting data to try to figure out where the creatures might be found. That is, if they exist, which Hickerson says is an incredibly big if. (Note to believers: He’s a open-minded skeptic, not one of you.)

Tongue planted firmly in cheek, he then told me that they still need more data, particularly from Canada, but his preliminary read is that there have been more sightings in northern parts of Sasquatch habitat lately.

“Maybe Sasquatch is moving up north,” Hickerson suggested sarcasticaly.

Watch out, Canada.

Photo of Dan Raspler in a Bigfoot costume – or not? -- courtesy Marian Brock
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