Andrew K. Rindsberg
Geological Survey of Alabama
Grover Krantz is a professor of anthropology at Washington State University; his main research interest is human evolution. For more than twenty years, he has devoted about one-tenth of his time to the sasquatch or bigfoot, a huge, nocturnal, solitary, bipedal primate that is said to roam the woods of the Pacific Northwest of the United States and adjacent Canada. The stakes, for Krantz, are high: If he uncovers proof that the sasquatch exists, his position in physical anthropology is assured. For ichnologists, the main interest in his work is the fact that most of the evidence consists of footprints.
Wildlife biologists commonly rely on footprints and scat to demonstrate the presence of animals that are shy and nocturnal (Murie, 1954). Though they have not yet learned to call it ichnology, biologists are satisfied that the panther is extant in the eastern United States on the basis of a few tracks. As surprising as it may be that one of the big cats has survived without sightings for many years in such a densely populated state, no one disputes that Maryland is well within the species' natural range, and the panther's reclusive habits make it plausible that it remained unseen for so long. This is not the case for the sasquatch, no specimen of which has ever reached the hands of a scientist.
Two chapters of Big Footprints are devoted to the footprints themselves (p. 16-86), with numerous photographs of casts, and this is why I have chosen to review this book. Krantz describes many ways to distinguish real tracks from faked tracks, reserving two methods that he has revealed to no one. Indications that tracks are real include (1) small differences among tracks within a series; (2) evidence of toe movement during print formation; (3) evidence of flexibility of the foot during print formation; (4) dermal ridges. Krantz also discusses other indications. Evidence of fakery is rife and too diverse to discuss here, but one incident deserves to be quoted. It also demonstrates the engaging quality of Krantz's prose:
"[I]t must be remembered that hoaxers can be very clever. I'll never forget one case of sasquatch-like footprints in thin snow that were spaced eight feet (2.4 m) from heel to opposite heel: obviously a running pace. The track went for some distance along level ground, then they continued up a slope of maybe 20 degrees, maintaining the eight-foot steps all the way. I only saw photographs of the event and didn't like the footprint shape, but I had to admit that no person could have run up that slope with eight-foot steps, fake feet or not. It was later found out that a high school athlete had made the tracks; he wore fake feet that were put on backwards, and he ran down the slope. Whenever a new account is reported of incredible feats of footwork, I try to remember this case and wonder how the new one might have been faked" (p. 41-42).
Despite the title, this book is not a "scientific inquiry." It is a popular account of what may in fact be a scientific inquiry, but Krantz fails to document the evidence properly. He refuses to reveal two of his methods of distinguishing real sasquatch tracks from faked ones. His intent is to prevent unscrupulous people from faking tracks indetectably, but this should not be mistaken for science. The only distribution map of evidence is global. There are only two pages of references, most of which seem to be cited because they favor the existence of sasquatch. Critics are given short shrift and most are not cited even by name, let alone with complete references. Krantz's arguments are often ad hominem or obtuse. When he earnestly analyzes the possible motives of those who fake footprints, not once does he consider their sense of humor. Thus, for instance, he states that the sasquatch walks through small bodies of water as if they were not there, but does not consider the humorous aspect of a series of footprints that enter a pond on one side and leave it on the other. It saddened me to think of the amount of effort that this scientist put into study of a mythical animal, to the admitted detriment of his career.
I was not convinced by this book that the sasquatch is anything but a popular myth. Krantz has performed a good service by weeding out most of the evidence as faked, including artificial footprints, artificial or fraudulent hair, and faked films. That a residue of unexplained evidence remains is not surprising under the circumstances, and now the only convincing evidence would be a body. Krantz begins with the viewpoint that the sasquatch exists and accepts this residue of evidence; I remain skeptical. But, for the purposes of this review, it does not really matter whether the sasquatch exists, because Krantz has shown us how to recognize many fake footprints. Vertebrate ichnologists, do not be complacent: Read this book.
Krantz, G. S. 1992. Big footprints: a scientific inquiry into the reality of sasquatch. Boulder, Colorado, Johnson Printing Company, 300 p.
Murie, Olaus. 1975. A field guide to animal tracks. Second edition. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, Petersen Field Guide Series, 9, xxi + 376 p.
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