Anthropology/ancient hominids


QUESTION: hi, please don't think I'm crazy by asking this... I think this is a real scientific question that science is choosing to ignore, but in relation to bigfoot and that they could be some ancient hominid, and why scientist's are not jumping for joy to find this ancient human... it amazes me that people would spend all their life's digging for bones (not that it isn't important because we do need to know our history) but you could find a real one in the woods... it would be the scientific discovery of our whole generation.. and yes I know there is no bones but if they bury their dead...  then that answers that, but to simply imply these people that have sightings in almost every state are crazy is simply foolish and not real science at all.. people didn't think panda's were real either... this isn't directed at you personally but if you maybe can explain it from science point of view...and yes I'm one of those people that have seen one and I'm far from crazy... thanks

ANSWER: Hi Jennifer
There are some people who believe Bigfoot and similar creatures do not exist.  Most scientists, however, view the issue as "not proven".  There is a big difference, much like the one the law makes between being innocent and being not guilty.
For me, the difficulty of accepting claims about Bigfoot's existence is that there is no improvement over time in the quality of that evidence.  If you read about evidence from Bigfoot sightings back in the 1950s or 1960s, they are basically the same as today.  They are unclear photos, unreliable eyewitness testimony, and obviously fake footprints/photos.  Fast forward to today when nearly everything humans do is filmed and posted to Facebook or Youtube, when DNA tests can be done on hair or feces easily, when nearly every large mammal in North America regularly gets either shot by hunters or clipped by automobiles, then the lack of convincing physical evidence for Bigfoot starts to look suspicious.
I have a colleage, Todd Disotell, from New York University who is taking part in some television reality series in which there is a big cash prize for producing convincing evidence of Bigfoot. The program aired while I was in the field in Ethiopia, and since returning I have not seen a find of Bigfoot evidence as headline news in either Science or Nature, which it would be.  I am assuming no convincing evidence was found.  I gather there is some other television program in which actors stumble around looking for Bigfoot evidence as well, also without success.
Personally, I think the non-hoax Bigfoot sightings are mainly sightings of bears standing upright by people who are unaccustomed to seeing bears.  The distribution of Bigfoot sightings in N. America is pretty well correlated with the distribution of bears.
Don't let anyone tell you you are crazy for thinking about this.  Issues like Bigfoot, UFOs and allied phenomena are a great opportunity to clarify the differences between science and non-science.  If this subject interests you further, navigate your web browser over the the Skeptical Society.  They offer many publications on such topics.
There is an anthropologist, Jeff Meldrum, at Idaho State, on the other hand, who argues that there is evidence for Bigfoot.  If you want, look up some of his publications, as well as those in Skeptical Inquirer and decide for yourself.
John Shea

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QUESTION: thank you for answering but unfortunately I expected that kind of response... I do know those people that you mentioned and applaud their work, I will not argue with you on lack of evidence but that may be because of lack of funding and people are afraid to say or show anything because on the news networks they will call you crazy. I assure you what me and my friend saw that day (daytime good visual) was by no means a bear, it was running on two legs and I can remember clearly seeing the muscles moving in the thigh and buttocks area also very long arms and huge hands. so I don't know what to tell you but this was not a bear I promise you! oh and before it ran it was peeking from behind a tree... my faith in academic science is declining (not because of you just in general) I just don't get it why people think it's bears... when you see it with your own eyes then you will know,, I just ask that you look into some of meldrums work... I do understand it's hard to wrap your head around, but science is about exploring and learning and this should be explored more... people are not seeing bears... and not everyone lies... they are real... thanks for your time!

Hi Jennifer
I will not challenge you on what you and your friend think you saw.
As I am sure you are aware, there have been documented cases where people dress up in "bigfoot" costumes to create such sightings. That a large animal turned and looked back at you from behind a tree is a very human thing to do.  When I have flushed big ground-dwelling animals from cover, either here in America or over in East Africa (where I do my fieldwork), they do not do this. They either break and run until they are well out of your visual range, or they turn and do a threat display.  What you describe sounds to me like someone who checking to see if they have been observed rather than an animal trying to put some terrain between them and a potential threat (you).  I used to say, "Mark my words, someone is going to get killed doing this", and then a few years back a guy in N. Dakota, I think, got hit by a car while running in and out of traffic wearing a Bigfoot costume.

Eyewitness testimony is a tricky kind of evidence, because it is subject to all kinds of potential errors.  One very common one is that the mind "fills in the blanks" after the fact to make sense out of partial information.  (You can see this at work when a child does one of those "connect-the-dots" puzzles.  At some point, well before finishing, they can usually make a good guess about what the figure depicts.)
A second issue is that observer self-confidence is negatively correlated with accuracy.  (Police, for example, who self-express very high confidence in experiments testing visual identification actually score relatively low.)  This is why eyewitness testimony in court is rarely sufficient grounds for a guilty finding, or if found sufficient, frequently challenged on appeal.  Look up any of the popular works on this subject by Elizabeth Loftus.
For Bigfoot, all ll we need is some physical evidence, hair with follicles from which we can run DNA tests, feces (same), bones, a fossil, roadkill, etc.  There are plenty of people looking for this sort of thing. If something is out there, clear and convincing evidence will turn up.

John Shea


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John Shea


Questions about Old World prehistoric archaeology (especially Stone Age) of Europe, Africa, and Western Asia, prehistoric human and hominid behavior, primitive technology, origin of modern humans, extinction of the Neandertals. IMPORTANT: Between February 14 and September 01, 2014, I will be on sabbatical leave. During this time I will have limited access to email. This means that there may be very long periods (i.e., weeks) between your posting a question and my having time to answer it.


>20 years as a professional anthropologist based at a research university.

Journal of Field Archaeology, Journal of Archaeological Science, Lithic Technology, Evolutionary Anthropology, Current Anthropology, Mitekufat HaEven (Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society), Paléorient, Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, American Anthropologist, Geoarchaeology.

Ph.D (Anthropology) Harvard University, 1991.
BA (Archaeology) Boston University, 1982.

Awards and Honors
Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer 2012-2014

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