Bigfoot Encounters

The late Dr. Carleton S. Coon

Some people believe in the Sasquatch. Others don't. Among those that say they don't are people who have done the most research on them and produced the best evidence. Possibly these researchers associate the work "believe" with theology.

There is nothing theological about a Sasquatch. He is not a god, nor a man. He is an animal.

The word "to believe" comes from the old Teutonic root LUB, from which we also derive LOVE. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first meaning of believe as: "To hold dear, to have confidence in, or to like." These words have nothing to do with credibility.

To my mind, a reasonable person who has studied the evidence carefully, like John Green, Rene Dahinden, and Grover Krantz, may be expected to have confidence that the animal exists, but they may not hold him dear or like him very much, because his existence surprises or frightens them.

Even before I read John Green's book, "Sasquatch. the Apes Among Us," I accepted the Sasquatch's existence. A year ago, as representative of the Peabody Museum of Harvard, I was sent to a town in New Hampshire just over the Massachusetts border to investigate a sighting.

A man who lived just below the border in Massachusetts had driven his pickup truck, which he had converted into a camper, to a wooded glade along a highway. He stopped there and went to sleep at the wheel, his two young sons likewise snoozing on bunks by a window.

At 11:00 p.m. the man awoke. Something was rocking his vehicle from side to side. An earthquake? He stepped out and was immediately grasped on the left shoulder by a seven foot tall creature covered with light brown or yellowish hair. Its right hand pushed the camper off his running board into the ground. It looked down on him, and stuck out its tongue. The man jumped free, the creature stepped back. The man drove as fast as he could up the highway, the creature following him.

"Step on it dad!" the boys cried, "He's gaining on us!"

The creature apparently turned off the highway to the right, and then took another right into a so-called Lovers' Lane, where we later found physical evidence of perhaps what the lane had been named for.

I went there twice. The terrain was a deep mat of fallen white pine needles. Several weeks after the encounter, the prints of what had been going on were still depressed an inch and a half to two inches below the surface of the needles. Fully clothed, I weigh about 168 to 170 pounds, and wear a size 12 shoes. My steppings and crawlings left no marks at all.

The forester of the local police department pointed out what might be called a fanny-print along the tracks at the edge of the lane, as wide as a very fat man's but as sharp-edged as that of a man both lean and muscular. There were large footprints and small footprints, some pressed over the other, hand prints on edge, as by a karate blow, and what could have been elbow prints and knee prints. A professional photographer took pictures of these prints just after the "sighting," on my first visit. Plaster casts taken on my third show the outlines, but little more.

Later on, one of the sighter's sons saw the creature's face peering into his bedroom below.

Two women also saw this blond Sasquatch, one when he crouched in front of a stone wall, another when he was walking across the highway. Both women refused to be interviewed, and let it be known that they had gone away.

The principal actor and both his sons passed polygraph tests to verify their consistent accounts. The father had never heard of the Sasquatch before, but one of his sons had seen something about it on television. Several elements in this narrative had been recorded elsewhere, in other encounters, by persons who never heard of our New Hampshire actors and vice versa. Both these encounters took place at night. The animals rocked the vehicle. It touched its human occupant. Its touch was not aggressive, but apparently a clumsy attempt at interaction, what might have been called a pat of affection, or a way of saying: "I'm hungry!" or "I need a drink of water."After he had recovered from the first shock of his encounter, the principal actor was in a state of shock, perhaps resembling hypnosis. I know what this means. I was once almost equally pixilated by the unblinking gaze of a lion, although no human being has ever hypnotized me. The fact in the window syndrome is also on record elsewhere. So is the statement that the animal stank nauseously. "He smelled like rotten fish." That theme-smell is found in many verifiable records of encounters, but not in all of them. After all, some people's sense of smell is keener than others' is.

The first report of Sasquatch tracks came from Jasper, Alberta dated 1811, the first recorded sighting was in Maryland in 1838, and in 1851 many persons saw a hairy giant attacking cattle in Arkansas. They could not all have been pixilated, or were they too afraid of ridicule to admit what they had seen, as many viewers are today.

Unfaked footprints are reported every year. (One can usually tell the difference because a man's weight is not enough to press the phony template down enough, among other things). Sightings verified by investigators are also in the hundreds, and come from almost every state and province of the United States and Canada. At least an equal number are hushed up.

More plausible evidence, which some of the professional disbelievers may believe (in my sense of the word) comes from some hair and blood left behind by a Sasquatch seen bothering cattle on an Indian reservation in Washington. It had torn down fences and even built what seemed to be a sleeping nest out of branches, but had not escaped unscratched.

Professor Stephen I Rosen of the University of Maryland has identified its hair as that of a previously unknown primate--and he has hair on file for most of the living primates of the world. He has given me permission to state that its scale pattern is primate, its pigment dense and black like that of a lowland gorilla, and its internal structure "unusual." This last refers to the medulla of the hair strand, which is quite variable among the living races of man.

On this substantially impeccable evidence we may be justified to state that a primate other than man, which is either a pongid (ape), or hominid (kind of man) is alive in Washington, even if the hairs did not come off the animal identified as the creator of the local disturbance.

The blood that came with the hair has been examined by a professional in another institution. A newspaper report quotes him as saying that his sample is primate, possible human, but too degraded for further speculation.

Now that we are on relatively stable scientific ground, and while we await other statements from experts in hair and blood analysis, tooth analysis, or the dissection of a cadaver, it seems sound enough to speculate on the zoological classification of our subject.We are still speaking only of North America. We have reports of many variations in size, but few in shape. Its footprints range from about twelve to eighteen or even twenty inches (30.5, 45.7, 50.8 cm), with allowances for sex and age. For an adult male its footprints come to about 600 square centimetres, or about ninety square inches. With a weight over 500 pounds, that would put about fifty-six pounds per square inch (4kg per cm2) on each footprint, without counting the added pressure from leaping.

When we reckon stature against weight, according to the best estimates, we obtain a ponderal (height-weight) index of forty, as compared to figures of 22 to 24 from such heavy weight "Homines sapientes" as Eskimos and Finns. This makes the Sasquatch's build more like a gorilla's than like those of people not too fat to run.

While the feet could be called human, except for those with fewer than five toes, the hands are subhuman. The thumb branches off the palm lower down than in the case of man, and it is relatively short. In a 1971 paper that Grover Krantz gave me, there is a sense of a lesser manual dexterity than most human hands have, but I may be wrong.

Another item that Grover Krantz notes is that the joint on the astragalus where the tibia seems to set the weight of the body onto the arch of the foot lies farther forward than in Homo sapiens in general, and this has also been observed by David Pilbeam in actual Australopithecus foot bones. What we need most at this point is teeth, but these must probably await an autopsy. In recent microscopic studies of tooth enamel, a difference has been found between enamel patterns in apes on the one hand and both Ramapithecus and man on the other. With just one Sasquatch tooth it could be determined whether he is an ape or something closer to a man.

In either case, the fact that he stands and walks erect does not make him close kin. An octopus' eye is very much like a mammal's. Both eyes arose through the processes of mutation and selection. More than one primate can have found it advantageous to stand and walk erect. A gibbon can, but we are not descendants of gibbons. David Pilbeam has found at least six kinds of Ramapithecus in Pakistan and neighboring parts of India. In Africa the succession of the ancestors of three human races, one after another, make that continent seem peripheral rather than seminal, but who can tell?The world is wide. The outlines of the continents have changed. What once were bridges of land are now swirling straits.

How many races, species, genera, and subfamilies even may be represented not only by Sasquatches, but also by the wildmen, so called, of Europe, Asia and Africa? The lady Kapitar of Caucasus who bore children to a local man belonged to a species or race interfertile with modern Homo sapiens. Anyhow, in 1978 interfertility has ceased to be an open-or-shut criterion of species.

It is easier to say what they are not than what they are. They are not Neanderthals. Neanderthals had beaky noses and brains bigger than those of most men alive today. They had fire and flaked sophisticated tools. They were not dropped out of flying saucers. It is unlikely that they are the unaltered descendants of our ancestors.They are fellow primates. They are smarter than we are in the sense that they can live without modern inventions, in apparently every climate, even deserts, if the latter are within walking distance of mountains and water. It is less costly and easier to find out what they are than it is to dig up our fossil ancestors, and possibly theirs, in lands now torn by war and seething with newfound national pride. If we don't destroy the atmosphere, it may be they who have the better chance to survive, if it is true that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Oh, yes, how about my title? Two years ago a reporter asked me over the phone why it was "WHY THERE HAS TO BE A SASQUATCH." I really don't know. It seemed like a good eye-catcher, and I could fill in the reason later. So I told him, "With the world in the mess it's in, we need a Sasquatch to take our minds off our troubles." This was both egocentric and anthropocentric. Today we might switch it to: "WHY DOES THE SASQUATCH NEED US?" or "WHY DO THERE HAVE TO BE PEOPLE?"

References Cited

Green, John 1978. Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us. Saanichton: Cheam Publishing and Hancock House Publishers.

Krantz, Grover 1971. Sasquatch Handprints. Northwest Anthropological Research Notes 5 (2): 145-151.

Carleton Coon was a major contributor to the study of human evolution from the late 1930s until his death in 1981. He was also among the first of the 'established' scientists to openly discuss the possibility of living hominids other than our own species. Coon was never very much afraid of controversy; neither did he go out specifically looking for it. His anthropological works range the full gamut from 'respectable' to what some thought to be 'outrageous'. With Sasquatch he followed his normal pattern of studying what was of interest and reporting whatever conclusions he found. Coon never did extensive research into the subject of unverified hominoids, but he kept an open mind on it and was happy to learn about what others were doing. This paper is perhaps the only formal presentation of his views at any length. Here he toys with various possible views as to Sasquatch's relation to humans, and rules out only one--that they represent surviving Neanderthals. While Coon refers to Ramapithecus as a definite hominid, the present consensus of expert opinion would now class it as a pongid. This, of course, has no direct bearing on the Sasquatch problem and should not detract from his comments here. (G.S. Krantz)

Dr. Coon's books are available here:


Carleton S. Coon attended Harvard University (Ph.D., 1928) and taught there from 1934 to 1948. He then became a curator at the University of Pennsylvania University Museum. Coon was an advocate of holistic anthropology, and he carried out ethnographic, social anthropological, physical anthropological, and archeological studies. His region of specialization was North Africa and the Near East.

Coon worked in Morocco in 1925-1928, 1939, 1947, and 1962-1963. During the 1920s, he was primarily concerned with ethnographic, social anthropological, and physical anthropological studies of the Riffians, which was the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation and his early books. He also became involved in archeological studies of Stone Age cultures, especially through investigations of caves. During World War II, Coon was a member of the United States Office of Strategic Services and, in part, operated in Morocco.

In 1929-1930, Coon studied northern mountaineer Albanians to test several theses, including one that posited a Dinaric race and another that set forth a relationship between stature and calcium in agricultural lands. In 1933, Coon was in Ethiopia for research, but political complications forced him into physical anthropological studies in Yemen. From 1925 to 1939 he was engaged in fieldwork and anthropological research in Arabia, the Balkans, and N Africa, where he discovered (1939) the remains of a Neanderthal. He taught (1934-48) at Harvard and in 1948 became professor of anthropology at the Univ. of Pennsylvania and curator of ethnology at the University Museum there. In 1948-1951, Coon investigated the Iraqi and Iranian Stone Age. In 1954, he surveyed and excavated Stone Age caves in Afghanistan and, on his way home, visited Australia where he carried out work with the Tiwi. In 1955, he was in Syria and in Central Africa.

While working with the United States Air Force in 1956-1957, Coon photographed India, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Ceylon, Nepal, Sikkim, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines. His pictures provided information about areas where airmen might be forced down. In 1959, he was on a team to study Alakaluf physiology in southern Chile. In 1965, he was in Sierra Leone, carrying out archeological work in the cave of Yengema.

Coon became a controversial figure after writing The Origin of Races (1962), in which he argued that certain races had reached the Homo sapiens stage of evolution before others; he said this would explain why different races achieved different levels of civilization. Physical anthropologists now emphasize that the amount of genetic variation between races, by any objective criteria, is slight, indicating a recent origin for racial differences. His other writings include Races (1951, repr. 1981), The Seven Caves (1957), The Story of Man (2d ed. 1962), The Living Races of Man (1965), The Hunting Peoples (1971), and his autobiography, Adventures and Discoveries (1981).

Coon has produced several general and sometimes quite controversial works in anthropology. With Eliot D. Chapple, he published Principles of Anthropology in 1942. Other works include The Races of Europe (1939), The Story of Man (1954), The Origin of Races (1962), and The Living Races of Man (1965). An account of his work during World War II is the subject of A North Africa Story (1980).

Coon became a member of the National Academy of Science in 1952 and served as president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 1961- 1962. He passed away in 1981.

More on the work of Coon can be found here

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