Book Review: © Edward Winn
In the Footsteps of the Russian Snowman
A Book by Dmitri Bayanov
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|This is the world's first English-language book on the searches, conducted throughout the lands of the former Soviet Union, for the elusive relict hominoids known popularly as "snowmen." Although a number of books by foreign authors have been written, at least in part, about snowmen in Russia, this is the first one written entirely by Russian researchers on the subject. The simple fact that this book could even be published in Russia speaks volumes about how freedom of expression has evolved there since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Earlier, as is well known, the Soviet state controlled all publishing and other communications and media activities, and only those elements of information and opinions and other lines of thought which met with government approval could hope to see the light of day in print.
In 1958, the Soviet Academy of Sciences became interested for a time in the subject of the Himalayan yeti, and a major expedition was undertaken into the Pamirs in an effort to establish the existence of yetis or other "snowmen" there. Unfortunately, this expedition failed to bring back any meaningful evidence. As a result, in a great scramble to protect reputations and to save face, the Soviet scientific establishment promptly declared research on "snowmen" to be a pseudo-science, to be classified along with astrology and parapsychology. This meant that any further publication on the topic was banned, a ban which lasted until the dissolution of the Soviet state.
One small and carping criticism which I might make of this book relates to its title: The use of the term "snowman" is derived from the expression "abominable snowman," which has been used to designate the yeti of the Himalayas. It is generally held, however, that the yeti is not a hominoid but, rather, is quite likely an as-yet unidentified species of ape.(1) In consequence, the yeti technically does not merit the designation of "man" or "snowman." On the other hand, the creatures described in Bayanov's book are clearly hominoids and thus deserving to be called some sort of "man." However, because of the association of the term "snowman" with the yeti, I have here used the expression "wildman" to designate the hominoids reported by Bayanov.
Properly speaking, Dmitri Bayanov is both author and editor of this work; he has assembled and edited a variety of reports by various Russian researchers, all of whom are respected scientists in their own fields, and he has also contributed a number of sections describing his own, original field research work. The contents of the book are well-organized, well edited, and provide fascinating and colorful reading both for the scientist and the interested layman. There are numerous illustrations, including photographs, drawings and sketches, and the reports are well referenced. Moreover, the quality of printing and binding of the book is surprisingly good, considering the unsettled and chaotic conditions prevailing when it was produced.
In summary, the book is a compilation of much of what is known about the hairy, bipedal, man-like creatures, known variously as "snowmen," "wildmen," "men of the forest," etc., which apparently have been encountered in various regions of Russia, Central Asia and Siberia throughout most of recorded history. The creatures have appeared regularly in art and writings, in travelers' accounts and scientific reports, for at least the past 2500 years.
There would appear to be at least two distinct family types of these hairy hominoids: One is the creature of the Caucasus, studied extensively by Dr. Marie-Jeanne Koffmann, and known by its name in the Kabardino-Balkarian language as "almasty." The other seems to be somewhat larger, and to bear more than a passing resemblance to the sasquatch of the Pacific Northwest of the North American continent. Indeed, this latter leads Bayanov to ask, with tongue in cheek, "Does Russia also have its own 'sasquatchski'?"
One cannot fail to be impressed by the abundance of indirect evidence for the existence of these creatures which this book presents: detailed eyewitness reports, plaster cards of footprints, droppings, tufts of fur and hair, observation of nests, etc., and, in one case, even the discovery of bones, not human but also not belonging to any known animal. Most telling of all are the carefully screened and selected eyewitness reports, which come across with eminent credibility: Marie-Jeanne Koffmann alone has assembled and checked out more than 500 such reports.
Overall, the eyewitness reports over the past century show a pattern of modern man extending his territory steadily outwards, and pushing his primate rivals farther back into increasingly remote and inaccessible mountain vastness. Earlier, observations of man-like creatures occurred across great expanses of remote parts of Russia, but, beginning in the early part of the 20th century, these have declined steadily in frequency, which suggests that human pressure is pushing the "wildman" population steadily back and back, toward the edge of extinction. Will this happen before we are able finally to establish firm and verifiable contact with our cousins -- to make their acquaintance, to establish links with them, and so be able to provide them with shelter and protection?
(1) Heuvelmans, B.(1995). On the Track of Unknown Animals.