Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Still Not Yeti

Abominable Snowman? Nope. Study ties DNA samples from purported Yetis to Asian bears

Just like their religious myths, the myth of the Yeti is a central part of the folklore of Tibet and Nepal. In that respect if differs not at all from other mythologies, religious or otherwise from other parts of the world. Lots of anecdotes and stories of people who knew of someone who's acquaintance once met someone who saw a Yeti or accounts of people seeing a shadow in a blizzard.

In the case of the Yeti, however, there was maybe something a bit more substantial - a tuft of hair, some faeces, skin, teeth, even a bone or two.

The problem is, the people who purportedly found these bits of evidence and sold them to collectors and Yeti hunters never counted on modern forensics and especially nor on modern DNA recovery and analysis.

As the report on an examination of eight of these specimens says:

The research, which will be published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, analyzed nine "Yeti" specimens, including bone, tooth, skin, hair and fecal samples collected in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau. Of those, one turned out to be from a dog. The other eight were from Asian black bears, Himalayan brown bears or Tibetan brown bears. "Our findings strongly suggest that the biological underpinnings of the Yeti legend can be found in local bears, and our study demonstrates that genetics should be able to unravel other, similar mysteries," says lead scientist Charlotte Lindqvist, PhD, an associate professor of biological sciences in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, and a visiting associate professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore).

Of course, to be fair, a bear might possibly look a little like a big hairy humanoid when seen in the distance by moonlight or in a blizzard, but these samples are either examples of these mistake retrospectively fitted into the Yeti myth, or they are examples of fraud. What they are not is evidence that there is some basis in reality for the myth. They are not evidence of real Yetis.

So, why should other religious myths and beliefs based on even less substantive evidence and not even eye-witness accounts of something that could have been mistaken, be treated as any more reliable than these specimens? The churches and cathedrals of Europe are stuffed with highly dubious 'relics' of saints and even of the multi-femured Virgin Mary, the multi-headed John the Baptist and yards of Jesus's foreskin, all worshipped by the faithful as proof of the existence of these legendary figures. And of course none of them ever subjected to scientific analysis.

Here's a little list of some of these 'relics' I happened across recently:

In the twelfth century the canons of Coutances were surprised at the discovery of a lock of the Virgin's hair because, as they noted, no relic of the Virgin was known to exist on Earth. Within the next few hundred years pious Christians discovered that she had left a vast quantity of hair. Her other relics included not just one but a number of wedding rings, fine medieval dresses, footwear and purses. Vast quantities of her nail parings had been miraculously preserved along with copious amounts of her breast milk. In Germany, the Virgin's milk was known as liebfraumilch, and the quantity of it that Mary produced can scarcely have been less than the quantity of modern white wine that commemorates it. (Calvin observed that had Mary been a cow or a wet nurse she would have been hard put to produce such a great quantity of milk.

Sometimes a hint of suspicion is invited by contradictory claims. Some of Mary's hair was blonde, some gold, some red, some brown, and some black. Perhaps she dyed it, for little of it is grey. Again, the one true cross was evidently rather a complex structure. Splinters from it are composed of many different types of wood. Furthermore, Jesus must have been comprehensively pinned to this cross, since there are dozens of nails from the crucifixion still surviving. Although the Bible does not mention it, John the Baptist apparently had more than one head. Several of them are preserved in European churches. There are dozens more in eastern churches, and another one in the Umayyid Mosque in Damascus. Jesus' foreskin must have required regular pruning, for there are at least sixteen separate snippings miraculously preserved in European churches. Agatha, the saint whose veil could stop flows of lava, had numerous breasts cut off, for at least six of them have been preserved into modern times.

In the church of Santa Maria d'Aracoeli in Rome may be found the Santo Bambino (Holy Child). It was once claimed to be the miraculously preserved body of the infant Jesus. Sceptics spotted that, since Jesus did not die as an infant, it is unlikely to be a genuine body. The story had to be amended. The current version is that the bambino was carved from olive wood by angels. Some shrines boasted Jesus' navel, though it is not clear why he needed more than one, or indeed why he needed one at all — traditional teaching is that Mary produced no afterbirth (i.e. no placenta), so there would be nowhere for a conventional umbilical cord to plug into.

Many shrines boasted bones from the body of the Virgin Mary, who seems to have suffered other anatomical peculiarities. Spanish churches had at least seven of her thigh bones. Elsewhere churches had kept complete skeletons. This all became something of an embarrassment to the Roman Church when Pope Pius XII declared in 1950 that Mary had ascended bodily into Heaven, presumably without leaving so much as a single thigh bone here on Earth.

The church learned it's lesson well when it agreed to allow scientific examination of the Shroud of Turin which turned out to be made of linen grown in Medieval France and woven using weaving techniques and on looms not in use in first century Palestine, so they are unlikely to repeat that mistake in a hurry.

If it were possible to be less than nothing, there is even less reason now to believe these Middle Eastern myths than there is to believe in the Yeti. What this examination of Yeti 'relics' shows is that either by error or design, specimens such as these can easily be fitted into myths and used to fill gaps and confirm bias. Not one single sample turned out to be even remotely that of an unknown species let alone that of an extremely shy, mountain hominin or even a relative.

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1 comment :

  1. Then the Yeti would be a bear-dog. Now, such a creature would be very interesting.


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