Exploring Cryptozoology in Upper School
Cryptids — animals which may or may not exist — are (or perhaps are not) all around us. You'll find one in every culture — Nessie (aka the Loch Ness Monster) in Scotland, the Jersey Devil in (obviously) New Jersey, the Chupacabra in Latin America. In most parts of the North American continent, the one you'll hear about most often is Bigfoot (or Sasquatch, or simply, as a species, sasquatch), a mysterious shadow who many believe to be an ape-like creature carefully cavorting around forests and leaving little evidence besides a lasting impression in the minds of those who are fortunate enough to report a close encounter.
As part of her elective "A Folkloric and Historical Investigation of Cryptozoology," Dr. Andrea Peoples-Marwah invited renowned anthropologist and Sasquatch researcher Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum to share some of his knowledge and first-hand experience of the creature. Dr. Jeff Meldrum is a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University whose research centers on the evolution of hominin bipedalism, our adaptations for walking on two feet. Like many, his first exposure to Bigfoot was through the controversial Patterson-Gimlin film cataloging a sasquatch named "Patty," which he saw in theaters with his father and brother in 1967. Beginning with discussing the iconic frame from the film and moving into other intricacies of the hunt for decisive evidence concerning Bigfoot, Dr. Meldrum had much to offer Upper Schoolers when it came to food for thought.
Dr. Meldrum has been looking for Bigfoot and his kin since 1996, when he personally personally examined a line of 15-inch tracks in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington. More than 24 years later, his lab holds more than 300 such footprint casts from around the world. This gives him ample knowledge to answer student questions, not just about his own experience with the creature, but with histories and sightings from different places, cultures, and times.
His interest doesn't simply stem from tracks and other physical evidence left behind. When asked by Jack F. (US2) if he had ever personally had an experience with such a creature, his answer was compelling.
"Oh yes, I believe I have," he said. "I've found footprints on half a dozen occasions, and I've heard vocalizations a couple times."
Dr. Meldrum then revisited one encounter in particular on an expedition in Northern California, just over the mountain ridge from where the Patterson-Gimlin film was shot. "Something came into our camp. We heard vocalizations around 2 a.m., and 20 minutes later I was awoken by the sound of something walking, or more accurately feeling the heavy impact of something with very padded feet walking. Then it proceeded to open backpacks and start to rifle through the contents. The area was completely fogged in. When we got out of our tents, I think there were two of them, they made a sound like clacking their teeth or knocking two rocks together. They walked past the tent, brushing against the rainfly. We heard them run away from us, and all they had left behind was footprints."
"Are these creatures aggressive?" Dr. Peoples-Marwah asked to follow up.
"Any time you’re in the woods, whether it’s a bear or a Bigfoot, when there’s an animal like that…you need to show the proper deference and caution. I don’t think we should be afraid," he said.
The discussion then moved towards speculation about how a Bigfoot or similar creature might be discovered. Dr. Meldrum posited two outcomes: an accidental shooting by a hunter or unfortunate roadside collision, or DNA evidence. In fact, he said, scientific procedures around DNA collection are getting more sophisticated all the time — there have recently been cases of "environmental DNA" extracted from places like Loch Ness. Either way, the message was clear: the truth is out there, and Dr. Meldrum is going to keep looking, hopefully joined by some newly curious citizen scientists from Mirman School.