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Media Article # 708

Monday, April 6, 2015

Russian apewoman could have been a yeti

By Oliver Moody
The Times

A stooped silhouette on a mountaintop; a howl in the undergrowth; a sudden shower of stones hurled from the shadows of the wilderness.

From the Himalayan yeti to the bigfoot of northwest America, thousands are convinced that they have glimpsed something not altogether human.

Now an academic geneticist claims to have found the most promising evidence yet that Homo sapiens may not be entirely alone in its genus.

Bryan Sykes, emeritus ­professor of human genetics at the University of Oxford, has identified a strain of west African DNA on the Georgian-Russian border that he believes could ­belong to a sub-species of modern humans.

In the mid-19th century, an Abkhazian landowner acquired a slave called Zana, a 2m-tall dark-skinned woman covered in thick auburn hair who had been trapped in the Caucasus mountains and appeared to be half-human, half-ape.

Zana had at least four children by local men, and some of her descendants still live in the region. According to Professor Sykes’s analysis of their DNA, she was “100 per cent African”, but bore little physical or genetic resemblance to any modern African group.

Witnesses described her as having “all the characteristics of a wild animal”. “The most frightening feature was her expression, which was pure animal, not human,” one Russian zoologist who collated various accounts of Zana wrote in 1996. “Her athletic power was enormous. She would outrun a horse and swim across the Moskva river even when it rose in violent high tide.”

While the most obvious explanation is that she was a runaway Ottoman slave, Professor Sykes believes her unparalleled DNA militates against this theory. In his new book The Nature of the Beast, he floats the hypothesis that Zana’s ancestors may have come out of Africa more than 100,000 years ago and lived in the remote wilds of the Caucasus for many generations.

Professor Sykes said he had made further discoveries about Zana since he wrote the book. “They will be published in the regular scientific press so I can’t be more specific,” he said.

Some colleagues have cast doubt on his findings, including a claim that he discovered genetic evidence of an unknown species of bear that might account for yeti sightings in Bhutan.

The geneticist, who last year wrote the first paper on the DNA of “anomalous primates” to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, wrote that in spite of the lack of proof positive from his analysis of the purported yeti hairs, he had developed a strong sense from speaking to dozens of witnesses that there was “something out there”.

Whether the best candidate for a surviving race of apemen is the yeti, the bigfoot or the Russian almasty, Professor Sykes could not say. “Bigfoot has many more people trying to find it,” he said. “But I suppose either the yeti or the alma/almasty, which live in inaccessible and very thinly populated regions, is the most likely.”


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