Bigfoot Encounters

A student of Sasquatch, Professor Grover Krantz, dies

Monday, February 14, 2002

By Tom Paulson, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter


Bigfoot has lost its most credible and powerful advocate.

Grover Krantz, a professor of anthropology at Washington State University and a widely recognized expert on human evolution, died four days ago of pancreatic cancer at his home in Sequim. He was 70.

While few outside the field of anthropology may know of his significant scientific accomplishments in evolutionary theory, many know of his work on Bigfoot or Sasquatch -- the hairy, humanoid, extra-large ape-like creature that some contend exists in the shadowy forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Within the established academic community, Grover was the first one to stick his neck out."

Because of Krantz' credentials and accomplishments as an anthropologist, his contention that there was sufficient evidence to suggest Bigfoot might exist could not be so easily dismissed.

"He's a world authority on human evolution," said Donald Tyler, chairman of anthropology at the University of Idaho in Moscow and a former student of Krantz. "I don't think Bigfoot exists. But Grover didn't deserve the kind of treatment he got for pursuing this question. ... He was severely criticized for it."

Krantz did believe Bigfoot -- or Sasquatch, as the Salish Indians called this woodland "wild man" -- probably exists. When he first arrived to teach anthropology at WSU in 1968, he was asked to look at some extremely large footprints found up near Colville. Krantz made casts and studied them, expecting them to be a hoax.

But, as an expert on the bone structure of primates, he found telltale evidence in the footprint of compensation for broken bones. Krantz didn't think anyone attempting a hoax could have constructed such an elaborate detail. Later, looking at similar prints in the Blue Mountains near Walla Walla, he found "dermal ridges" -- the lines in the skin that also create fingerprints -- on footprint casts.

"He thought the evidence couldn't have been faked," Tyler said. "I sometimes think he was too smart for his own good."

Krantz liked to challenge the status quo, his former student said, and refused to become a member of any particular school of thought in anthropology -- an unusual and risky approach in this frequently cantankerous field. Doing so, Tyler said, allowed him the freedom he desired for poking and prodding at sacred cows.

For example, many in the scientific community used to believe a fossil primate from about 14 million years ago known as Ramapithicus was the first branch of the ape family to diverge and eventually evolve into humans. Krantz helped prove this false.

"He challenged a lot of theories in anthropology that turned out to not be so solid," Tyler said.

But Krantz' challenge on Bigfoot provoked more than scientific debate. It created unwelcome controversy and allegations of "fringe science" that Tyler said cost him some promotions and almost prevented him from getting a tenured post at WSU.

"Most of us didn't agree with him that his evidence was very good," said Bill Lipe, professor emeritus of anthropology at WSU. But it wasn't the public controversy over Bigfoot that hurt Krantz professionally, Lipe said.

"He couldn't publish his articles on Bigfoot in peer-reviewed journals, and he didn't seek the research grants," Lipe said. Because of all the time he devoted to Bigfoot, he said, Krantz wasn't as able to do what he needed to secure promotions and tenure.

"The evidence never got any better," Lipe said. "Grover, to his credit, always approached this as a scientist. He wanted to make sure this theory, however unpopular, got a hearing. In taking on this role, I think he lost his skepticism."

Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anthropology and primate anatomy expert at Idaho State University in Pocatello, thinks it's the scientific community that has lost something in its rejection of Krantz' work on Bigfoot -- objectivity and an open mind.

"Were it not for Grover, all this would have simply been dismissed," said Meldrum.

Though it certainly remains unproven that a creature like Bigfoot does exist, Meldrum said it is the obligation of scientists to consider all the evidence.

It's worth noting that 19 new species of primates have been discovered in South America since 1980, he said, and that there are huge swaths of land in the Northwest where people seldom go.

Added Coleman: "Grover used to try to help people understand this by reminding them of all the bears, mountain lions and other animals we know are in the woods but never see. How many people have run across a dead bear in the forest even though we know there are many thousands of bear?"

Krantz is survived by his wife, Diane Horton, and a stepson, Dural Horton. The semi-retired professor published 10 books and more than 60 scientific articles. Krantz donated his body to the Smithsonian Institution for research purposes and asked that no memorial service be held. Donations can be made to Hospice of Clallam County in Port Angeles.

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