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Media Article # 93

Tuesday, September 1, 1998

Bigfoot: Take Two - The Redwoods Film

By Jeff Meldrum & Richard Greenwell
BBC Wildlife

Misty clouds shroud the northern California coastline as twilight settles on the towering trees of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The date is 28 August, 1995. The driver of the lm-long recreational vehicle (RV) pulls onto a small side road so that his passengers -- a tv film crew from Waterland Productions -- can take a closer look at the majestic scenery. Music plays, beers froth and the ever-present video camera is running as the crewmembers relax after a long week's work.

Suddenly, the driver glimpses a shadowy movement at the periphery of the headlights. "Look! It's a f--ing bear!" he shouts to his companions. Eager to catch it on video, the cameraman zooms in on the retreating figure. Through the rain, the crew see what they take to be a massive, shaggy bear. It walks upright, arms swinging at its sides, around a slight bend in the road some 30m or so ahead. "Let's go get it!" someone shouts.The driver accelerates forward as the hirsute figure glances warily back. But instead of the protruding snout of a bear, there is a flat, human-like face.

"That's not a bear," one of them realizes. "What is that?" asks another. The driver brakes to an abrupt halt as, without warning, the apparition steps in front of the oncoming vehicle and crosses the road in the direction of the nearby Smith River. The headlights reveal a hair-covered giant, towering nearly 2.5m (8ft) tall. "Switch to full beam," someone urges. Taken aback by the bright beams, the figure raises its arms defensively, then moves with unhurried deliberate strides, pausing momentarily to glare back with a "what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here?" expression.

"Oh my God ... it's Sasquatch!" someone exclaims. The astonished crew take in the sloping brow, broad flatnose, high flaring cheekbones and broad well-muscled neck and shoulders. And then the giant vanishes behind a massive redwood tree. In all, less than 30 seconds have elapsed. Attempts to follow it are futile in the rainy darkness. The witnesses huddle in the RV to examine their video and assess their surreal experience. Driving back to Los Angeles, they wonder whether they should go public with their video and risk the reactions of a skeptical audience. When challenged by an interviewer some months later, one of the witnesses resolutely replied: "I saw what I saw. That's all I can say."

What did they see? The Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, is a supposed giant primate from western North America. Its status is highly controversial. Footprints, eyewitness reports, and a previous film shot in 1967 by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, have failed to convince a skeptical scientific community, though some scientists retain an open mind on the subject. We approached the new footage in that spirit.

The video depicts a fleeting, dimly lit image of a bulky, striding, bipedal figure initially seen at some distance (about 32 meters) in the periphery of the headlights, then at close proximity (about 4.5m). One of our first objectives was to establish some scale by which we could determine the size of the subject. Starting from the factory specifications of the RV, we were quickly able to corroborate the witnesses' impression that the subject stood nearly 2.5m tall, After a site visit -- and some careful measurement of trees visible in the video -- we arrived at a height of about 2.3m. The subject in the video clearly wasn't just an ordinary man.

The next step was to compare the new video to the Patterson-Gimlin film shot in 1967. Several similarities were apparent -- not only in facial features but also in body form and proportion. On the other hand, we were also impressed by some obvious differences. The Redwoods' video subject is apparently a male and has particularly long and shaggy hair, especially on the extremities, whereas Patterson and Gimlin filmed what appears to be a smaller female, with a sleeker coat and obvious breasts. Sex differences in hairiness are found in other primates, such as the orangutan.

After careful study of the Redwoods' video, we were able to discern numerous additional details. One series of frames, for instance, shows the action of the gluteal muscle of the buttock during walking. A shadowed furrow marks the insertion of the gluteal muscle. Above and forward of this region there is a reflective spot that could be skin with the hair rubbed off. This spot corresponds to a bony protuberance on the thighbone just below the skin surface known as the greater trochanter. This subtle detail appears in precisely the appropriate anatomical position, suggesting a worn spot acquired from sleeping side down or from rubbing a hip against a tree.

The Redwoods' film may also reveal an anatomical detail not reported previously in Sasquatch encounters -- the male genitalia. As the subject passes in front of the RV, a reflective object can be seen at the front of the body, just below waist level. The object in question has a thick hair-covered base and a reflective, tapering portion that curves upward in a sickle shape. One interpretation is that the subject is displaying an erect penis, perhaps as a form of threat -- as has been observed in some other apes.

As the subject vanishes into the darkness behind the redwood tree, we are afforded a last informative glimpse of the leg and foot. The heel is very broad, the ankle thick, and the calf lacks the characteristic taper and straight line of the human Achilles' tendon. Significantly, the heel of the visible trailing foot comes off the ground while the mid-foot appears to remain in contact with the ground until it pushes off and the entire foot swings forward. This is quite different from the action of the human foot, in which heel and mid-foot lift together, but characteristic of an ape's foot with its more flexible joints. All the signs are that the bipedal Sasquatch walks with a gait distinct from that of humans.

These are just the highlights of our analysis, which has encompassed on-site inspection, interviews with witnesses, consultation with video enhancement specialists and careful scrutiny of the subject in the film. In all this, we have detected nothing to falsify the testimony of the witnesses. In fact, we have noted numerous anatomical features on the video that are highly suggestive of and consistent with the image of a large, bipedal, non-human primate.

Nevertheless, we always keep one overriding thought in mind when evaluating cryptozoological evidence: the witnesses were there and we weren't. It is certainly possible that the witnesses in this case -- given their Hollywood connections -- could have pulled off a spectacular hoax. It is even possible that all of the thousands of Sasquatch reports, including the hundreds of cases of tracks found, have been due to hoaxing (and perhaps some misidentifications).

In our view, there are only two hypotheses about the Sasquatch, both of which seem improbable. 0ne is that the Sasquatch doesn't exist and the thousands of reports are spurious. The other is that a giant, non-human, bipedal primate inhabits the forests of the US Pacific Northwest and
western Canada and has so far eluded conventional scientific observation. One must decide for oneself which is the least improbable of the two.

Meanwhile, the search for decisive proof continues. As this goes to press, we are embarking on our second month-long Bigfoot expedition, when we will be using infra-red light, invisible to primates' eyes, combined with special night-vision cameras. Perhaps, this time, we may bring back conclusive evidence that will settle the Bigfoot debate once and for all.

-- Footnotes --

Reports of a supposed giant primate from North America first came to prominence in the late 1950s. Giant human-like footprints were found at road-construction sites as the wilderness of northern California was opened up to logging.

The reports, documented by photographs and plaster casts, resulted in the name 'Bigfoot', but the creature was also known as 'Sasquatch', an Anglicized Indian name for 'wild people', first popularized in western Canada. Eyewitnesses related startling encounters with giant upright apes, but their stories were ignored by both the authorities and the scientific community. The study of these and many subsequent track casts and the two films has revealed quite a bit about the possible anatomy of this supposed giant ape but much less about its possible behavior and ecology.

Eyewitness reports -- now numbering more than 2,000 and involving more than 3.000 witnesses -- suggest that the Sasquatch could be a largely nocturnal, solitary, shy omnivore.

The fossil record affords a tantalizing clue to the biological identity of the Sasquatch. There once existed an ape that stood 2.5 - 2.75m tall and was possibly bipedal. This giant ape, known as Gigantopithecus, lived in Indochina, where three of its enormous fossilized jawbones and more than 1,000 isolated teeth have been found. Gigantopithecus is thought to have become extinct as recently as 500,000 years ago (300,000 years ago according to some experts). Conceivably, it may have hung on until now, and today's Sasquatch could be descended from forms that crossed from Asia to North America via the Bering Land Bridge that connected the continents during the Ice Age.

Jeff Meldrum & Richard Greenwell,

Photo Captions:

A fleeting glimpse of a dimly lit figure, caught on video, but the film crew who saw it were convinced it was no ordinary man.

Bibliographical Information:

Submitted on Thursday 15, 1999: In 1995, a film crew in California claimed they had caught another Bigfoot on camera. Dr. Jeff Meldrum, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology, and Richard Greenwell of the International Society of Cryptozoology took a look at their evidence.

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