Richard Greenwell's 1988
Interview with Marie-Jeanne Koffmann
Does a wildman exist in the Caucasus? A Soviet Investigator gives her views
Greenwell: What progress has been made since the death of Boris Porshnev on wildman research -- what you in the Soviet Union call hominology--particularly concerning your own investigations into the wildman of the Caucasus?
Koffmann: Nothing significant or decisive has been added to the resolution of the problem since Porshnev's death. However, the number of investigators in the field has increased, and we have obtained, for the first time, casts and photographs of footprints.
these footprints been found in areas where there is a certain degree of
Koffmann: It is absolutely excluded that these footprints could have been hoaxed. They have been found, for example, 60 kilometers from the nearest village, in winter conditions. They were in forested areas in very deep valleys, which are not frequented by humans. The tracks are anatomically very similar to human footprints, which is not surprising, considering the lineage which led to man has been bipedal for several million years. There are not 36 different ways of making bipedal primate feet. Apart from some minor details, the tracks look very much like human footprints.
It is also interesting to note that a Neanderthal skeleton found in the Crimea, about 500 kilometers from this area of the Caucasus, has an almost intact bone structure of the feet. There is only one phalanx missing. And these feet are also essentially human-looking.
Greenwell: Well, Neanderthal was, of course, a human, at least in Western anthropology. He was Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, a subspecies of Homo sapiens.
Koffmann: There are various diverse opinions on the affinities of Neanderthal Man. Not everyone agrees that Neanderthal was really a subspecies of Homo sapiens. Even in the Soviet Union not everyone agrees.
Greenwell: In 1974, Dr. Porshnev published a paper in Current Anthropology in which he named the supposed living form of Neanderthal Troglodytes recens. He did not include Neanderthal in the genus Homo at all. Furthermore, he proposed that this species has survived to the present time in the form of the Soviet wildman. Do you concur with that assessment, or was that Porshnev's opinion only?
Koffmann: Since I am a doctor of medicine and a surgeon, and not really an anthropologist, and have become an expert on this subject only though fieldwork, I cannot really express an opinion on whether Neanderthal should be included in the genus Homo or not. Many books written by reputed authorities affirm one opinion, and other experts affirm a different opinion.
Greenwell: Even so, I assume that you consider the main candidate for the wildman of the Caucasus to be Neanderthal man, regardless of what Neanderthal actually is?
Koffmann: Not necessarily. I think that one must be very careful in a field such as this. There is no material proof of this equivalence.
Greenwell: Well, let me rephrase the question. Do you use the possibility as a working hypothesis? You mentioned that Neanderthal fossil found just a few hundred miles away.
Koffmann: I don't need any such hypothesis in order to conduct my fieldwork in search of wildman evidence.
Greenwell: Then why did you mention the similarity with the fossil foot bones found a few hundred miles away?
Koffmann: Because I have seen those fossil bones, and I was merely using them as an example of similar evolution in the anatomical foot structure of primate bipeds. The fossils are in the Museum of Anthropology in Moscow. There is a striking similarity between the shape of the wildman footprints we have found and the foot structure of that fossil Neanderthal.
Greenwell: That leads me to a new question. What interest and support have you been receiving from scientific institutions in the Soviet Union, such as the universities, the Institute of Anthropology, the Academy of Sciences, and academicians in general? What has been their reaction or attitude towards the question of a possible wildman, and what do they think of your evidence?
Koffmann: First of all, the USSR is the only country which ever formed an official commission to study this problem. Unfortunately, the commission, established within the Soviet Academy of Sciences, was created too early. At the time, little was known. The absence of material proofs in the first few years led to the eventual disintegration of this body, which is now essentially defunct. It was never officially dissolved; it just ceased to function. In the last 20 years, all such research has been carried out by interested individuals without any material, moral, or financial support. I think that it takes about a generation before people accept a new idea. New ideas are not always accepted simply on the rigor of their logic. People have to become used to them
Greenwell: Do I interpret that to mean that many or most academicians in the USSR do not take this problem very seriously?
Koffmann: Yes, but I think that the situation is improving. I recently talked to a number of academicians in Moscow who used to reject these ideas offhand, but now they are more sympathetic.
Greenwell: Do they look at the evidence, though? Do they actually examine the footprint casts and give an opinion?
Koffmann: Yes, indeed, they have looked at the evidence. They have looked at the casts and photographs, and this has had a considerable influence on professional anthropologists. One example is that of Dr. Danielova, who is an internationally reputed expert on the evolution of the hand and foot. It is precisely the recently acquired footprints and photographs of footprints, which allowed me to conduct this dialogue with the scientific authorities from a position of greater strength than before.
Greenwell: What first got you interested or involved in this question of unknown hominoids? What motivated you, and when did it happen?
Koffmann: It was in 1957, when I first saw an article in the Soviet press entitled "What Is the Snowman?" It told about some of the first expeditions. The article consisted of comments by eight mountain climbers whom I knew, half of whom thought the whole idea was impossible. The other half thought that there might be something to the reports.
Greenwell: These were Soviet mountaineers?
Koffmann: Yes. I could not imagine what a "Snowman" could be, but I found it really fascinating. Since I frequently participated in international mountaineering expeditions, I was given a copy of the article by Pierre Borbet on the footprint he himself had found in the Himalayas.
Greenwell: Eventually, there was a realization, I suppose, that there were reports of such creatures in other parts of the world, such as China, and the United States and Canada. When did this happen, this global perception?
Koffmann: I participated in a conference in Moscow where a member of the British Mount Everest expedition came and talked. I had hoped that I would also hear about the Yeti. It was in the late 1950's. During a coffee break, I heard, quite by chance, somebody talking about it. It was Porshnev, whom I then met. I suppose our collaboration began at that stage. Also, at about that time, Bernard Heuvelmans' book On the Track of Unknown Animals became available in the Soviet Union, and in it were reports of other unknown bipeds in other parts of the world. By 1958, I was also in contact with Americans such as Tom Slick and Peter Byrne, who visited me in Moscow. Also, Ivan T. Sanderson published articles on those first Bigfoot reports by the California road construction crews. I find it interesting that Sanderson was as surprised and somewhat struck by skepticism by the appearance of Sasquatch in North America, as I was by similar appearances in the Caucasus.
Greenwell: I'm going to move to another area now. What are your thoughts on the significance--or the impact--of the discovery of a subhuman or semi-human hominid? What sort of philosophical aspects and implications are brought to bear on this question?
Koffmann: I think that the impact will be enormous. It will open new horizons to old dogmas in anthropology, medicine, psychology, sociology, and other disciplines. It will perhaps answer most of the questions that we have asked ourselves about our origins.
Greenwell: In a physical sense, or also in a moral and philosophical sense?
Koffmann: Philosophical, moral, and physical. One of the most fascinating aspects is the interpretation that Homo sapiens gives of this wild double of himself, about which he has always known, in some way.
Greenwell: Can you elaborate on that?
double, who is a kind of shadow of man. He has been watching man, always
Greenwell: And what would be the moral implications if we were to capture some of these, in terms of their "human rights'? Do you think they would receive some sort of human-type protection? Would it be a situation where they could be exhibited in a zoo, or would they be treated more like aboriginal or native peoples in need of protection as human beings?
Koffmann: Because of the close evolutionary relationship between us, they should be treated as humans. However, the concept of treatment as an equal is not necessarily a fortunate one, since we humans treat fellow humans as equals in ways, which are not always very benevolent.
Greenwell: In biomedicine, there is great difficulty in finding animals that serve as physiological models for experimentation. Animals are used in some very critical areas of biomedical research, and, sadly, we rely on many primates. This creature would presumably be so close to us that it would make an excellent human model for testing experimental drugs, for example. But that is only addressing the medical aspects, not the moral aspects.
Koffmann: We, who are doing research on these wildmen, hope from the deepest parts of our hearts that, if they are discovered, they will not be treated like chimpanzees and other laboratory animals. But knowing what kind of use people have made of other scientific discoveries, one can't guarantee that these animals will be treated any differently from chimpanzees and other species.
Greenwell: Of course, a lot will depend on the final assessment, if and when one is discovered, as to exactly where it fits evolutionarily. That is, how close to Homo sapiens it really is.
Koffmann: I think it will be unlikely that it will be seen as H. sapiens. Nevertheless I hope that, even if it is not considered H. sapiens, it will be protected in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. Protection is now extended to many species, many of which have been saved from extinction.
Greenwell: What happens now? What plans do you have for continuing your work in trying to prove that these entities exist in the Caucasus?
Koffmann: I plan to continue my work, but, frankly, without much hope of success.
Greenwell: Why without much hope of success? Is there any way that you can change the situation so the probability of success would increase?
Koffmann: Without material, technical, and financial support from the scientific community, I think that there is no way of getting much further than we already are at present. I think that the support of the scientific community, both in the Soviet Union and the United States, is absolutely essential.
The existence of our Society and the publication of the journal Cryptozoology may play an important role in this respect.
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