In spite of many eyewitness accounts, footprints, and even (controversial) footage, the mysterious creatures resembling giant shaggy humans walking on two legs remain elusive. To date, not a single fossil or body has been found -- not of the North American Sasquatch or Bigfoot, not of the Himalayan yeti, not of the Russian Almas.
What has been found and handed in as evidence is hair samples, many of which are held in museums and private collections around the globe. It is using these hair samples that researchers at the University of Oxford, led by Professor of Human Genetics Bryan Sykes, have sought to verify the existence of these scientifically unidentified primates.
The team collected a total of 57 samples from collectors and museums, and subjected them to a series of macroscopic, microscopic, and infrared fluorescence tests in order to eliminate material that was not actually hair; in one instance, the sample provided was actually plant material, and another turned out to be glass fibre. In total, only 36 samples of hair were chosen for genetic testing.
Of these 36, only 30 yielded recoverable DNA. Of these 30 samples, each and every one was a 100 percent genetic match for another known mammal species. However, what the researchers did find was that, in some cases, that the mammal's hair was found well outside of areas it is known to inhabit. Two "yeti" samples, for example, sent from India and Bhutan, actually turned out to be hair from an extinct Pleistocene polar bear, which dwelled exclusively -- as far as we know -- in the Tibetan Plateau.
This, however, does not necessarily mean that the creatures do not exist.
"Does this evidence disprove the legends of the Yeti, Migyhur, Almasty, Sasquatch/Bigfoot? It does not. Scientific Q1 hypothesis testing of this sort is not designed to, and cannot, prove hypotheses alternative to the null hypothesis," wrote Norman MacLeod of the London Natural History Museum.
"All that can be said with confidence is that the results obtained by the Sykes team for the 29 [sic] samples that yielded DNA sequences failed to reject the null hypothesis that these samples came from species already known to science."
He notes that -- like the okapi and the coelacanth -- strange discoveries may yet await the world of cryptozoology. As Sykes' team observes, the results mean that evidence may need to be sought elsewhere.
"Rather than persisting in the view that they have been 'rejected by science', advocates in the cryptozoology community have more work to do in order to produce convincing evidence for anomalous primates and now have the means to do so," the paper reads. "The techniques described here put an end to decades of ambiguity about species identification of anomalous primate samples and set a rigorous standard against which to judge any future claims."
The full paper, titled "Genetic analysis of hair samples attributed to yeti, bigfoot, and other anomalous primates", can be found online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.