The FBI has, finally, released the files on its Bigfoot investigation. The brief dive into the truth behind one of the most famous cryptids began with correspondence from one Peter Byrne, director of the Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition, in Oregon. And it ended... well, let's find out if the truth is still out there.
A REAL-LIFE X-FILE
Byrne first wrote to the FBI in August of 1976, writing that his institute had been working for six years to uncover the truth, whatever that may be, about Bigfoot. Byrne had recently discovered a tissue sample containing fifteen hairs and some skin which he was unsuccessful in identifying. Working under the assumption that the FBI had previously examined purported Sasquatch hairs — information reported in the 1975 publication of the Washington Environmental Atlas — Byrne requested the FBI take a look at his sample. Byrne further clarified in his letter, "Please understand that our research here is serious. That this is a serious question that needs answering."
On September 10th of the same year, Byrne received a response from Jay Cochran Jr., Assistant Director of the Scientific and Technical Services Division at the FBI. Cochran stated that the agency had received several inquiries as to the Bureau's activities in examining evidence of Bigfoot, since the publication of the Washington Environmental Atlas, "However, we have been unable to locate any references to such examinations in our files."
A memorandum included in the released documents confirms that the Atlas reported "a sample of reputed Sasquatch hair was analyzed by the FBI and found to belong to no known animal." The editor of the Atlas, Dr. Steve Rice, was contacted by the FBI in relation to his source, which Dr. Rice was unable to locate or provide.
Byrne once again contacted the FBI in November of 1976 and requested a comparative analysis of his sample. He included a clipping of a photo of Bigfoot, just to make clear his intent. Cochran responded a few weeks later stating, "The FBI Laboratory conducts examinations primarily of physical evidence for law enforcement agencies in connection with criminal investigations. Occasionally, on a case-by-case basis, in the interest of research and scientific inquiry, we make exceptions to this general policy. With this understanding, we will examine the hairs and tissue mentioned in your letter."
With Byrne's request granted, the sample was delivered to the FBI Laboratory, via mail, by Howard S. Curtis, Executive Vice President of the Academy of Applied Science in Boston, Massachusetts. Cochran made his final response, to Curtis, in February of 1977 stating, that after an examination which included "a study of morphological characteristics such as root structure, medullary structure and cuticle thickness in addition to scale casts," and comparisons to known hair samples, the FBI made a match. They were deer hairs.
Thus ended a six-month affair between the FBI and a Bigfoot researcher, and the full documents can be found in the FBI's online vault. The results were more or less as expected. Despite the conclusion being less than spectacular, there's something wonderful about this civil interaction and honest inquiry into such a fringe question.
Byrne is making an earnest attempt to learn the truth. When he was unable to confirm the origin of his discovery, he sought an outside eye to review his findings. This is the root of good science. And, while we often laugh at those who espouse an interest in the supernatural, Byrne is right that these can be topics of serious research. After all, sightings of the alleged elusive creature continue to occur. Whether as a result of a real animal or some other explanation, it is a question that science alone can answer.
THE EVIDENCE FOR BIGFOOT
The primary evidence of the existence of Bigfoot comes in the form of individual sightings. Not only do modern people, all over the world, claim to have seen large, non-human hominids, but there is historical precedence for the claim.
Folklore from indigenous peoples told of wild men, large hairy hominids which roamed the landscape. These legends permeate across cultural lines and over continents.
While Bigfoot is primarily a North American legend, similar tales exist just about everywhere people live. Just about every culture has their own version; the Yeti in the Himalayas, the Yowie in Australia, the Mapinguari in South America, the Mande Barung in India, the Yeren in China, the list goes on.
The universality of the wild man narrative across human cultures is, to some, compelling evidence for the existence of these creatures. It's difficult to imagine how disparate legends would emerge independent of one another without there being some truth to it. That said, the scientific community, at large, disagrees.
Aside from oral accounts and individual sightings, the main evidence for the existence of a Bigfoot-like creature is footprints and hair samples. This is a pretty good spot to start looking. If such a creature did exist, we would expect that it would leave some trace behind. Tracks, tissue samples, and scat are commonly used when tracking identified animals, so why not use similar tactics in this case.
While none of this is conclusive evidence, it is enough for almost 30 percent of the United States population to conclude that Bigfoot is either definitely or probably real, according to one poll.
SO, LIKE, IS BIGFOOT REAL OR NOT?
In short, we don't really know. The jury is still out on the existence of Bigfoot. Science, by design, cannot prove a negative. All it can do is review the available evidence and determine if it supports a hypothesis or not. So far, it doesn't look good. While an absence of evidence is not equal to evidence of absence, we've got good reason to be skeptical.
Certainly, we do discover new species all the time. Over 270 new species were discovered last year, alone, ranging from plants to reptiles and mammals. Though most of them were invertebrates and some were extinct. It's uncommon to discover a new living, large mammal, though not unheard of. The vast majority of newly discovered species are very small and living in hard-to-reach places. It seems unlikely that there would be various populations of large primates living among us without some concrete proof.
It bears reminding, we're not talking about a single animal. Bigfoot, if it exists, must necessarily be one among a larger population. There is a minimum number of individuals required in order to maintain a species and allow for the requisite genetic diversity for its continued survival. In order to accept the existence of even one Bigfoot, you have to accept the existence of a great many. All of whom are the world hide-and-seek champions, capable of not only keeping to the shadows but doing away with any evidence they were ever there.
Despite the sightings, the casts of tracks, and the collected hair samples, we've not found a single piece of conclusive evidence these animals exist. Where are the bodies? Where are the artifacts?
It's far more likely that Bigfoot and its many variants the world over are themselves an artifact, not of some real creature, but of our collective yearning for a time long gone. Our desire for a world with magic in it, a world in which we're not alone.
It might be time for us to accept that Bigfoot exists only in our hearts, a manifestation of our hunger for mystery and discovery, to see what's beyond that ridge or behind that tree. That's a good thing, a spark we should nurture, because it leads to truth. And, as Byrne suggested in those 40-year-old letters, isn't that the point?