Swimming Apes Drown Stories of Swimming Bigfoots

The Bigfoot Evidence blog recently posted an entry entitled “Yes, Bigfoot Can Swim: Scientists Prove That Apes Can Swim and Dive.” The entry highlights a recent Science Daily article about a chimpanzee and an orangutan with the ability to swim and dive underwater, the first such behavior described for apes. I’m amazed that this is being offered up as evidence that Bigfoot can swim. This is wrong for at least three reasons. First, there is no way to verify reports of swimming Bigfoots. Other than unreliable eyewitness accounts–often passed on in the form of hearsay by those who did not see the creature–there is no video or photographic evidence of any kind to support the stories. Some people may believe they are telling the truth, but errors, such as misidentifying a known animal (e.g. bears), cannot be ruled out (nor can hoaxing). [1] The folklorist Kathrine Briggs makes a distinction between fairy tales, which are believed to be fictional, and folk tales, which are believed to be true. [2] And since the latter contains uncorroborated elements, reports of swimming Bigfoots are no more credible than legends of giants, fairies, ghosts, and witches that were once commonly circulated–essentially making them modern folklore. They would never be accepted as evidence in a court of law, nor could they pass for scientific evidence.

Second, the swimming of the aforementioned apes is human-induced behavior. The original study, “Brief communication: Swimming and diving behavior in apes (Pan troglodytes and Pongo pygmaeus): First documented report,” mentions how the chimp Cooper and the orangutan Suryia were both raised by humans in a home and in a private zoo, respectively. Both were exposed to water from a young age: first through baths and later during supervised playtime in the shallow end of pools. Although this study invalidates the long held idea that apes can’t swim due to their dense anatomy, there is clearly an environmental factor at play that keeps these creatures from swimming in the wild (see below). Cooper and Suryia would not have developed these skills without the encouragement of their human parents/keepers. Therefore, it should be stressed that their abilities are unique among apes the world over. This means the study is nothing more than a scientific anecdote. As the primatologist William C. McGrew points out: “All that an anecdote can do is alert us to a possibility, so that we will look for it again.” [3] In addition, he warns that “citing specific events as evidence for something broader [can lead] to overgeneralization.” [4] This leads me to my last point.

A video of Suryia the Orangutan swimming.

Third and most importantly, wild and captive apes typically shun large bodies of water. The aforementioned study mentions that the scientific literature “indicate[s] that apes’ behavior towards water bodies in the wild might be adaptive—they avoid deep water bodies and are extremely cautious when entering even shallow water.” The authors suggest this hydrophobia is a survival strategy since apes probably lost the instinctual swimming ability that most terrestrial mammals have because they spend most of their lives in or near trees. This explains why apes have never been observed drowning in the wild. Captive apes, on the other hand, often drown in the moats that zoos use to keep them confined to their outdoor habitats. This is because they have more exposure to bodies of water than they do in the wild. Dr. Roger Fouts somberly describes a captive drowning in his wonderful book Next of Kin: My Conversation With Chimpanzees (1997):

One morning I couldn’t find Candy and I became worried that she had attempted to jump the moat and had drowned. My students and I waded into the water up to our chests and began dredging the muddy bottom with poles. After an hour or so, I felt her small body under my feet, and went down to retrieve it. As I emerged from the moat, cradling Candy’s lifeless body in my arms, the other chimps kept their distance…I had never seen, much less held, a dead chimpanzee before. It was heartbreaking. Chimpanzees, like human children, are so animated in every expression, so vibrant in every leap, that their spirit seems like the very essence of life itself. Drained of Candy’s spirit, the stiff body I held was just an empty vessel. [5]

So, in the end, this attempt to support modern folklore with an unrelated scientific anecdote further relegates Bigfootology to the realm of pseudoscience. Proponents of cryptozoology are often accused of not being objective enough, [6] and this serves as a prime example of this. They focus on all the evidence that they feel supports their views–even going so far as to twist data to fit like above–while ignoring all that invalidates them.

Notes

[1] See the section on “Misidentification Errors” in Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 56-59. A 2009 study found Bigfoot and Black Bears (Ursus americanus) (un)coincidentally share the same territory. See ibid, 57.
[2] Katharine M. Briggs,  A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language: Part B : Folk Legends : Vol. 1 (London: Routledge & Kegan, 1971), vii-viii.
[3] William Clement McGrew, The Cultured Chimpanzee: Reflections on Cultural Primatology (Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 79.
[4] Ibid, 175-176.
[5] Roger Fouts, Next of Kin: My Conversations With Chimpanzees (New York: Bard Books Inc, 1997), 179.
[6] See for example Loxton and Prothero, 65-66.

Bibliography

Briggs, Katharine M. A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language: Part B : Folk Legends : Vol. 1. London: Routledge & Kegan, 1971.

Fouts, Roger. Next of Kin: My Conversations With Chimpanzees. New York: Bard Books Inc, 1997.

Loxton, Daniel, and Donald R. Prothero. Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

McGrew, William Clement. The Cultured Chimpanzee: Reflections on Cultural Primatology. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press, 2004.


The Legless Snake: A Tale of Creationist Cherry-Picking

The Oxford Dictionary defines pseudoscience as “a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method.” I would add that pseudoscience can also be the purposeful misrepresentation of science to support an unscientific concept. A good example of this comes from a brief entry (and radio sound bite) on the website Creation Moments entitled “Legs Knocked Out from Under Snake Evolution”:

It’s rather interesting that evolutionists believe that snakes once had legs and lost them. This sounds very much like the Genesis account of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Obviously, evolutionists don’t accept the story of the first temptation. As far as they are concerned, the snake evolved from some reptile which originally had legs. But evolutionists have always tried to find some evolutionary advantage to losing legs and, thus, justify their theory. In 1973 an unpublished study suggested that garter snakes use 30 percent less energy for locomotion than they would if they had legs. That study was preliminary and never published. But that didn’t stop evolutionists from saying that they had found the reason that snakes don’t have legs.

Now, a much more exhaustive study done at the University of California at Irvine, has shown that this evolutionary explanation is false. Outfitting black racer snakes with oxygen masks and using modern precision equipment, including a snake-sized treadmill, researchers have shown that snakes use as much energy as a creature of the same weight to get around. The supposed evolutionary advantage to not having legs has disappeared under the bright light of scientific investigation.

And so yet another so-called scientific claim that the Bible has been proven wrong fails in the light of careful science.

This entry was recently brought to my attention as proof that the Bible is right and evolution is wrong. I have a policy of not trusting the claims of random websites (creationist or otherwise), especially when they don’t cite any sources. But I figured I would try to find these studies to see if they even existed, and, most importantly, whether or not the website was misrepresenting the information.

I dug around and found both the abstract of the unpublished 1973 study and the more recent paper that refuted its results. The abstract, entitled “Energetic Cost of Limbless Locomotion in Snakes,” was referenced in five papers and two books. [1] I can understand why it was cited for three reasons. First, the abstract appeared in a respected publication, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal. [2] This means it is a trusted source. Second, it was co-authored by Charles Richard Taylor (1939-1995), a noted experimental vertebrate physiologist from Harvard University. Third, the abstract provides data for the experiment.

A scan of the 1973 abstract.

The follow up paper was much easier to find than the abstract. I just used the bare bones details mentioned above to find a PDF of it online. Keep in mind that the Creation Moments entry was posted on June 14, 2013. [3] The paper was actually published on…wait for it…August 3, 1990, almost exactly 23 years ago to this day. Entitled “The Energetic Cost of Limbless Locomotion” (not to be confused with the similarly named abstract), the paper measured the amount of energy exerted by Black Racer Snakes (Coluber constrictor) based on the amount of oxygen they consumed at rest and during two kinds of locomotion (side to side slithering and caterpillar-like inching) at different speeds. [4] The energetic cost of slithering was found to be the same as locomotion for birds, mammals, and arthropods (insects, arachnids, and crustaceans) with the same mass. Caterpillar-like inching, on the other hand, used seven times the energy as these creatures. [5] The authors believe the 1973 study may have run the Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis), a species smaller than the Black Racer, at speeds too high for them to comfortably maintain, which hindered their ability to breath. This would explain the lower energy cost result from the original experiment. Most importantly, the authors believe the results of their own study suggest amphibians and lizards with long, slender bodies and small arms retained their limbs because it costs less energy than caterpillar-like inching while traversing underground tunnels. [6] That’s it; The paper mentions nothing about the study invalidating evolution.

The worst part is that I don’t think the creationists even read the paper. I believe they lifted the information from a news article appearing in the Los Angeles Times the same day the original paper came out. Entitled
SCIENCE / LOCOMOTION : Legs Knocked Out From Under Theory on Why Snakes Evolved,” the piece only briefly mentions the 1973 experiment before describing the results of the 1990 study. The first half of the article does not mention the names of the respective papers or the names of the respective authors. This is why the Creation Moments entry is so vague. The piece is also where they got their title from. [7] They didn’t mention anything from the second half of the article because it shows science, even back then, had more than one explanation for snake evolution:

Although snakes apparently conserve no energy by slinking along the ground on their bellies, other reasons may have influenced the loss of their limbs during the course of evolution.

“Without legs, snakes–because of their cylindrical shape–can squeeze through very small openings. With legs that might be impossible,” Jayne said.

C. Richard Taylor, a comparative physiologist at Harvard University who conducted the earlier snake studies, said the new research indicates that “snakes don’t optimize for low energy costs, but instead for the flexibility required to move across different terrains.”

This is just one of many examples of creationists cherry-picking and distorting the bits of science that they choose to accept. In this case, they think a single study from 23 years ago–which they did not read–trumps the science of today, as well as the over 150 years of concordant research by disciplines ranging from geology to genetics. It’s important to note that this sterilized (i.e. science lite) information on snake evolution has appeared in creationist literature since 1990. [8] This shows that they want their adherents to remain ignorant of the actual research fueling evolutionary theory. This ensures their religious beliefs will remain firmly entrenched in the bronze age, while the limit of human knowledge continues to expand into the future. And the fact that the author of the original study was willing to accept the new findings shows that science is self-correcting. This is how progress is made.

While squamates (lizards and snakes) are not my area of expertise, I think it’s safe to assume that science has made advances in the study of snake evolution in the last 23 years. Several species of fossil snakes with hind limbs from the late Cretaceous period (145-66 million years ago) have been discovered since the late 1970s. [9] Their exact position on the evolutionary tree (ancestral vs. derived) is still debated. At least one researcher believes these hind-limbed species are evidence that snakes have lost and re-evolved legs multiple times. [10] Creationists have happily promoted this disagreement, even going so far as to suggest that the centralized geographic range of these “leggy snakes” recalls the supposed archeopteryx hoax (a claim long discounted by science). However, the fact remains that there are physical fossils of snakes with hind legs in existence. In addition, creationists have to contend with the 2012 study that used an extensive dataset to show most snakes are derived from Scolecophidians, an infraorder of small, blind snakes that live underground. [11] It is generally assumed that snakes lost their legs to benefit early burrowing or swimming species because dragging limbs through these environments would have increased the energetic cost of locomotion. [12] This study seems to resolve the issue of terrestrial vs. aquatic ancestry. Furthermore, creationists have to contend with the existence of lizards with reduced or no limbs–i.e. legless lizards. For example, Lerista, a diverse genus of Australian Skinks, has body forms ranging from four limbs to none. Interestingly, Edward’s slider (Lerista edwardsae) has the same two leg configuration as the fossil snakes mentioned earlier. A 2008 study found that limb loss in Lerista has happened numerous times and as recently as 3.6 million years ago, a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. [13] Individuals with reduced limbs are better at burrowing than those with prominent limbs;  therefore, just like snakes, the loss of limbs benefited these burrowing lizards. [14]

The Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis), a species of legless lizard.

In conclusion, I would just like to say that I have no problem with religious people who want to reconcile their faith with science. This is their burden to bear. Catholics, for example, are proponents of theistic evolution, gradual change over time directed by God. However, I do have a problem with the way creationists distort science in order to fit their religious worldview. They start with a conclusion (the Bible), and then they hunt for evidence to support it. This is the direct opposite of the scientific method. Worst still, educated creationists present distorted and/or vague descriptions of scientific research to the uninformed masses–who often don’t read the referenced material–in order to keep them ignorant of the actual state of evolutionary theory.

Contrary to the above claims, science still does not support the Genesis story of the serpent losing its legs permanently as a curse. The exact passage states: “And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” (Gen. 3:14). The scientific evidence points to early snakes losing their limbs to maximize their ability to burrow underground. Some snakes may have lost and re-evolved legs multiple times. This fact alone disproves the aforementioned curse. Most importantly, creationists will be hard-pressed to show that this serpent was capable of speaking and understanding human language.

Notes

[1] Michael Walton et. al, “The Energetic Cost of Limbless Locomotion”, Science 249 (3 August 1990): 524, accessed July 29, 2013, http://compphys.bio.uci.edu/bennett/pubs/97.pdf.
[2] Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Federation Proceedings (Vol. 32). [Bethesda, Md., etc.]: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 1973, 422Abs, #1128.
[3] The entry does not have a date. However, this webpage and this YouTube video both date it to 6-14-13.
[4] Walton et. al. (1990): 524.
[5] Ibid, 525-526.
[6] Ibid, 526.
[7] “Legs Knocked Out From Under Theory on Why Snakes Evolved” vs. “Legs Knocked Out from Under Snake Evolution.”
[8] An entry from the 12-8-1990 edition of Awake!, a Jehovah’s Witness publication, alludes to this study: “Evolutionists assume that snakes evolved from lizards, but they are hard put to explain why lizards lost their legs. In 1973 an influential Harvard University study asserted that snakes evolved from lizards to conserve energy by slithering instead of walking. Recently, however, scientists at the University of California, Irvine, put that theory to the test. They outfitted some black racer snakes with tiny oxygen masks, put them on treadmills, and measured how much energy they actually do expend in slithering. The results: The snakes either used the same amount of energy as, or up to seven times more than, legged lizards walking the same distance.”
[9] The three most famous are Pachyrhachis, Eupodophis, and Haasiophis. For Pachyrhachis, see G. Haas, “On a New Snakelike Reptile from the Lower Cenomanian of Ein Jabrud, Near Jerusalem”, Bulletin du Museum D’Histoire Naturelle, Paris 4, no. 1 (1979): 51-64. For Eupodophis, see J.C. Rage and F. Escuillié “Un Nouveau Serpent Bipede Du Cenomanien (cretace). Implications Phyletiques.”, Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Sciences, Sciences de la Terre et des Planetes 330 (15 April 2000): 513-20. For Haasiophis, see Olivier Rieppel et al., “The Anatomy and Relationships of Haasiophis Terrasanctus, a Fossil Snake with Well-Developed Hind Limbs from the Mid-Cretaceous of the Middle East”, Journal of Paleontology 77, no. 3 (May 2003): 536-58.
[10] Olivier Rieppel et al.
[11] John J. Wiens et al., “Resolving the Phylogeny of Lizards and Snakes (squamata) with Extensive Sampling of Genes and Species”, Biology Letters 8 (19 September 2012): 1043-46.
[12] Alexandra Houssaye et al., “Three-Dimensional Pelvis and Limb Anatomy of the Cenomanian Hind-Limbed Snake Eupodophis Descouensi (squamata, Ophidia) Revealed by Synchrotron-Radiation Computed Laminography”, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 31, no. 1 (January 2011): 5.
[13] Adam Skinner, Michael S.Y. Lee, and Mark N. Hutchinson, “Rapid and Repeated Limb Loss in a Clade of Scincid Lizards”, BMC Evolutionary Biology 8, no. 301 (11 November 2008): 6
[14] Annette R. Benesch and Philip C. Withers, “Burrowing Performance and the Role of Limb Reduction in Lerista (scincidae, Lacertilia)”, Senckenbergiana lethaea 82, no. 1 (2002-06-01): 107-14.

Bibliography

Benesch, Annette R., and Philip C. Withers. “Burrowing Performance and the Role of Limb Reduction in Lerista (scincidae, Lacertilia).” Senckenbergiana lethaea 82, no. 1 (2002-06-01): 107-14.

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Federation Proceedings (Vol. 32). [Bethesda, Md., etc.]: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 1973.

Haas, G. “On a New Snakelike Reptile from the Lower Cenomanian of Ein Jabrud, Near Jerusalem.” Bulletin du Museum D’Histoire Naturelle, Paris 4, no. 1 (1979): 51-64.

Houssaye, Alexandra, Xu FENG, Lukas Helfen, Vivian De Buffrenil, Tilo Baumbach, and Paul Tafforeau. “Three-Dimensional Pelvis and Limb Anatomy of the Cenomanian Hind-Limbed Snake Eupodophis Descouensi (squamata, Ophidia) Revealed by Synchrotron-Radiation Computed Laminography.” Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 31, no. 1 (January 2011): 2-7.

Michael, Walton, Jayne Bruce C., and Bennett Albert F. “The Energetic Cost of Limbless Locomotion.” Science 249 (3 August 1990): 524-27. Accessed July 29, 2013. http://compphys.bio.uci.edu/bennett/pubs/97.pdf.

Rage, J.C., and F. Escuillié “Un Nouveau Serpent Bipede Du Cenomanien (cretace). Implications Phyletiques.” Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Sciences, Sciences de la Terre et des Planetes 330 (15 April 2000): 513-20.

Rieppel, Olivier, Hussam Zaher, Eitan Tchernov, and Michael J. Polcyn. “The Anatomy and Relationships of Haasiophis Terrasanctus, a Fossil Snake with Well-Developed Hind Limbs from the Mid-Cretaceous of the Middle East.” Journal of Paleontology 77, no. 3 (May 2003): 536-58.

Skinner, Adam, Michael S.Y. Lee, and Mark N. Hutchinson. “Rapid and Repeated Limb Loss in a Clade of Scincid Lizards.” BMC Evolutionary Biology 8, no. 301 (11 November 2008): 1-9.

Wiens, John J., Carl R. Hutter, Daniel G. Mulcahy, Brice P. Noonan, Ted M. Townsend, Jack W. Sites, Jr., and Tod W. Reeder. “Resolving the Phylogeny of Lizards and Snakes (squamata) with Extensive Sampling of Genes and Species.” Biology Letters 8 (19 September 2012): 1043-46.


Blog migration

WordPress suggests a blog should have a clear focus when it is first created. Although I originally intended to focus on topics regarding pseudoscience, this blog has slowly morphed into one about Western folklore. I have therefore decided to rectify this problem by creating a new sister blog, The Eternal Hunt, for this material. Those who enjoyed my piece on witch lore should follow me over there. This blog will continue to report on “woo” of all sorts. The migration will take place over the next couple of days.


Evolution in Man of Steel

(Last Update: 6-24-13)

Note: This article contains Man of Steel spoilers…

The new Superman film Man of Steel (2013) depicts Kryptonians as an ancient technologically advanced race that mastered space travel and began to colonize the stars thousands of years ago (even visiting Earth at one point). Growing children in chambers replaced live birth because population control in these far-flung outposts and on the overcrowded home world was important. These outposts were eventually forsaken when the Kryptonian council elders forbid space travel and turned inward. The council’s choice to mine the planet’s core for energy eventually leads to the destruction of Krypton. Fearing for the future of his race, Jor-El, the father of Kal-El (Superman) and the planet’s top scientist, risks his life to retrieve an ancient primate-like skull covered in runes from an underwater chamber. This skull, known as the “Codex,” is a piece of biotechnology that contains the entire Kryptonian genome. Jor-El imprints the information from the skull into the cells of his son before sending him to earth, thus ensuring the future resurrection of the Kryptonian race.

In most sci-fi films, you always see how technologically advanced an ancient alien race is, never the steps that it took to get to that point. That is why I was pleasantly surprised to see the Codex skull appear in the storyline. It implies that Kryptonians, like us, evolved from some type of primate-like creature. It seems like a natural conclusion considering their overwhelming anatomical similarities with humans. The skull only appears on the screen for a short time, but I noticed it had a small brain pan and a very prognathic face. It was very similar to that of the fossil ancestor Australopithecus afarensis, which lived about 4 million years ago.

Australopithecus afarensis

I really like the concept of a fossil skull being the bases for, or repurposed as, biotechnology used to house the genome of an entire species. The Codex skull essentially contains the evolutionary history of the Kryptonian race. Likewise, all of the fossils that science has accumulated over the last 200 years serve to illustrate the evolutionary history of the human race. Most of these fossils are far too old to draw any genetic material from, but the entire Neanderthal genome was extracted and mapped in 2010 thanks to the pioneering efforts of the Max Planck Institute in Germany. In addition, the chimpanzee (2005), rhesus macaque (2006), orangutan (2011), bonobo (2012), and gorilla (2012) genomes have all been successfully mapped. This compiled genetic data serves as our own “Codex” because it helps unlock the mysteries of the human genome that was mapped in 2001. If cloning technology is ever perfected in the future, this information could, in theory, be used to reestablish the human race after a great catastrophe.

I really want to know what creationists think about evolution being mentioned in the film. I’ve looked around, and I have yet to find anyone commenting on the skull. I have, however, found a brief article on the Discovery Institute website by David Klinghoffer entitled “In Man of Steel, Superman Is Pursued by Darwinian Bad Guys.” He takes note of one scene where the main villain Generl Zod, the former protector of Krypton, asks Jor-El to help him destroy the “degenerative bloodlines that led us to this state.” The “degenerative bloodlines” refer to the Kryptonian elders and “this state” refers to the imminent destruction of the planet. Jor-El retrieves the Codex in an attempt to keep Zod from deleting the genetic lineages of these elders from the skull after his planned assassination of them. Klinghoffer comments that this film has an “eerily Darwinian philosophy,” so he thinks the idea of exterminating inferior people somehow meshes with Darwin’s work. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Theory of Natural Selection. The theory is merely an explanation for the mechanics behind the fact of evolution. It states that animals who adapt to changes in their environment will survive longer than those who are not well adapted for said changes. This is often called “survival of the fittest.” Fitness in this context does not mean something is physically larger or stronger, only that their adaptation has allowed them to survive long enough to produce more children. For example, a smaller, weaker animal with more offspring would be considered “fitter” than a larger, stronger animal with less offspring. I think Klinghoffer is confusing Zod’s statement with Social Darwinism. This ideology posits that only physically strong and mentally brilliant people should survive, while mentally and physically handicapped people should not be able to propagate. The Nazis were proponents of Social Darwinism, killing some 70,000 psychiatric patients and forcefully sterilizing hundreds of thousands more during the 1930s and 40s. Darwin has no direct connection to Social Darwinism, so equating evolution with eugenics is nothing more than a straw man.

A more obvious allusion to evolution is mentioned towards the end of the film when Superman battles Zod’s female lieutenant Faora. After noticing that he is willing to put himself in harm’s way to save humans, she tells him: “The fact that you possess a sense of morality, and we do not, gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if history has proven anything, it is that evolution always wins.” Klinghoffer comments:

The only problem with her analysis is that evolution, in the presumed Darwinian sense here, “always wins” by discarding things that don’t give an “evolutionary advantage.” That would seem to include the exquisitely tuned conscience with which human beings are gifted — what advantage does that confer? — the existence of which, as we know well, poses one of many enigmas that a Darwinian view is helpless in explaining.

I actually agree with him that removing one’s conscience or sense of morality would provide no evolutionary advantage. The Kryptonian soldiers would have no allegiances and would randomly attack anyone, even members of their own unit. I, however, do not agree with the second half of his last sentence. Klinghoffer has either not read the corpus of literature on the subject, or he is purposely misrepresenting it. The evolutionary origins of morality have been explored by many scientists. In his recent book The Bonobo and the Atheist (2013), Primatologist Frans de Waal presents evidence that morality is not “top-down” (God-given), but “bottom-up,” meaning it issues forth from the naturally arising hierarchy in primate society. Chimps, for example, have a very complex social society that is determined through competition for rank. All individuals within a community from the largest male down to the smallest child all have their place in that society. There are rules for interactions between all members—i.e. greeting, eating, mating, playing, grooming, etc. De Waal states that chimps and other primates exhibit first- and second-order fairness, the ability to recognize inequality and share resources, respectively. See this video for an example:

The monkey’s ability to recognize the unfairness of the exchange is the bases for understanding the difference between right and wrong. That is why transgression of the aforementioned rules is punished by members of the community, thus enforcing conformity. Like humans, chimps have the capacity for reconciliation. Confrontations between in-group members are immediately followed by hugging, kissing, and/or grooming; and those refusing to make up are made to reconcile through a mediator, usually a female. In addition, brain anatomy and chemistry help reinforce positive group relations. For instance, research has shown that social animals like primates (including humans), cetaceans (dolphins and whales), and elephants have large areas of “spindle cells.” This type of brain neuron is associated with empathy (dysfunctions in the brain can lead to lowered empathy). This, coupled with “mirror neurons,” explains why these animals are able to adopt the emotions and behavior of fellow group members. This ensures cooperation and a more harmonious existence.

Those wishing to argue in favor of universal morality have to grapple with the fact that cultures all across the world have different ideas on what constitutes morality. For example, superstitious hunter-gatherer tribes of South Africa believe it a service to the community to kill twin babies because they are considered bad omens. This may be reprehensible to you and me, but we are simply judging this practice though the lens of our own culture. Any agreement between modern systems of morality—many of which are linked with different religious and judicial philosophies, I might add—stems from our common human origins. Most importantly, human morality is not static and unchanging. For instance, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says that rebellious children must be stoned to death by the community. But when was the last time a child in the western world was executed just because they talked back to their parents? Countries around the world would certainly have far less children if this was a universal law. Thankfully it and other such laws from the bible are no longer considered acceptable. Morals evolve along with society, plain and simple.
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Update 6-19-13: Klinghoffer’s article has also been covered over at “The Sensuous Curmudgeon” blog.
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Update 6-20-13:

Anyone who has seen Man of Steel knows that Superman is an allegory for Christ. His father was a man named El (God in Hebrew) who sent him to earth, he was raised by commoners, he appears at the age of 33 working miracles, and he helps save humanity through a great deal of suffering. Visuals like Kal-El standing in front of a sunlit stain glass window featuring Jesus while discussing faith and the fate of the world really drive this point home. These Judeo-Christian elements were no surprise to me since I read the comics as a child and knew Superman’s creators were Jewish. However, I was surprised when I found out today (via this video) that the filmmakers specifically targeted Christian groups. This article explains:

“Warner Bros., the studio, employed Grace Hill Media, a public relations firm focused on the Christian market, to arrange screenings for pastors, supply churches with free film clips and even draft sermons that draw on themes in the film that can be given a Christian interpretation.”

So the film was written with Christians in mind. This means the filmmaker’s intentionally associated evolution, the bane of creationists, with the amoral and murderous bad guys, while highlighting Superman as the Christian hero and messianic savor of mankind. By doing this, the filmmakers are perpetuating a twisted image of evolution, one that prevents the general public from accepting it and keeps law makers questioning its scientific merit.
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Update 6-24-13:

Grundy over at the “Deity Shmeity” blog has written an article that shows how Faora’s comment about not having a sense of morality conflicts with displays of Kryptonian morality from the film, and the absurd idea that an amoral society is the pinnacle of evolution.


Science Should Be Like a Jet Ski?

(Last update: 3-24-13)

Ketchum recently posted a comment on her Facebook page calling for volunteers to contact state and government offices about protecting Bigfoot. A great many people–one as far away as South Africa–volunteered to lobby in their respective areas. But the thing that struck me was the number of anti-science comments. I just wanted to post some of them to demonstrate how the people supporting her have no idea how science works and or have religious reasons for rejecting the reports that say the DNA study is flawed.

I’m pretty sure science is hesitant to study Bigfoot because of the great many hoaxes associated with the subject, as well as the complete lack of evidence for the creature (unless you count grainy video of blobs, footprints that can be faked, and human-contaminated bear DNA as proof). I find it funny that they portray scientists as being ignorant rednecks because of some perceived weakness in discovering new species. Allow me to introduce the ASU International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) lists for the “Top Ten New Species” of 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Take note of how the IISE finds making this list “a daunting task” because “over 18,000 new species [are] officially described each year” (see 2012). I’m pretty sure this means scientists know more about discovering new species than what the Ketchmite gives them credit for.

Ketchum’s associate Robin Lynne replied with the following post.

Yes, they are so jealous that she sequenced contaminated bear hide and self-published a paper with pictures of a Chewbacca mask and citations to an April Fools joke. I’m sure any scientist worth their weight in degrees would jump at the chance to ruin their credibility like that.

Here’s another goody. It likens truth to a Jet Ski.

So science should rocket forward with no regard for safety and ultimately slam into pedestrians? Thankfully, that’s not how science works. I think the giant ship is a more fitting metaphor. A giant ship will stay on a course because time has shown that it is the best course to take. Many ships have traveled that same course for years and years and never run aground. If a captain can reliable show that altering the route by just a few degrees will make the trip faster, then all ships will have no problem changing course. Likewise, science will gladly change a position on something if it can be demonstrated to be wrong or a new method or theory can be demonstrated to be better. All one has to do is look at history to know that science is self-correcting. This is the only way that progress is made. It’s funny that the person mentions the Flat Earth. When was the last time any credible scientist argued in favor of this model?

I saved the best for last. I think the phrase “batshit crazy” best defines this.

You heard it here first, folks. The Bible is true because Bigfoot is an alien. I think the “extraterrestrial” male parentage that they speak of refers to the supposed “unknown DNA” from Ketchum’s paper. Robert Lindsay was the first to report that it was “Angel DNA.” This is based on a fringe theory even among Bigfooters that Bigfoot is actually a Nephilim, the giant offspring of angels and human women (Genesis 6:4). One source indicates that Ketchum voiced her belief in this theory in a phone conversation back in 2011. There is additional evidence that her research may have been influenced by religious conviction. The Over the Line, Smokey! blog reported a few weeks ago (update 3-5-13) that she appeared on a coast-to-coast AM radio show and told the host that her research: “doesn’t support Darwin’s theory of evolution.” That sounds like something a proponent of Intelligent Design would say. I’ve commented elsewhere (update 2-23-13) that the fundamentalist-type Bigfooters remind me of creationists so much because of their hatred of mainstream science and unquestioning support of Christian “scientists” claiming to have undeniable proof for the existence of God. The Bigfooters have just replaced “God” with “Bigfoot” and the biochemist Michael Behe with Melba Ketchum.
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Update 3-24-13:

Ketchum posted a comment to her Facebook page the other day saying that an independent review of her data came back in her favor. Cough…BULLSHIT…cough. Excuse me. Another one of her supporters posted some crazy stuff:

I figured the other possibility was “Goddidit” so I checked his user page and found this update:

I figured as much considering his statement about “evolutionists” (a term often used by creationists in a pejorative manner). I later pressed him on the discussion page to reveal what the other possibility was so people would know he was going off of faith and not evidence. This was his reply:

The comment really piqued my interest because he referred to the entity in question as “some thing” rather than God or Jesus. After further pressing, he finally wrote this:

This is a new one for me. I’ve never heard of anyone ever try to use the “ancient alien” theory to disprove evolution. It turns out his views were influenced by the following video. The host, Lloyd Pye, a supposedly well-known crank and proponent of “alien creationism,” uses his flawed understanding of genetics and evolutionary history to claim humans did not evolve from apes but were engineered and placed on earth.

The problem with using aliens to disprove evolution is that it begs the question of where the aliens came from. Were they also genetically engineered by an older race of aliens that were themselves engineered? This would have to continue back through time ad infinitum. Sure, someone could argue that God created the very first alien race long ago, but why doesn’t the Bible mention this? If true, this would mean the biblical account of Man’s creation is wrong. It’s a good thing that these alien creationists have Bigfoot on their side, because his long arms will be a big help in removing the buckets of dirt from the giant pit they are digging for themselves.


Bigfoot Horse Hair Braiding

(Last update: 11-18-14)

Melba Ketchum, the Texas veterinarian who claims to have sequenced the Bigfoot genome, has posted a picture of a horse that supposedly had part of its mane braided by a Bigfoot. The photo caption on her genome project website states: “Sasquatch appear to take an interest in our animal companions and have been reported to braid horse manes.”

Bigfoot hair braid

(Fair use under 17 USC § 107.)

A similar practice of tying knots into animal fur has been reported in the Mahale Chimpanzee community in Tanzania, Africa. The primatologist William C. McGrew comments in his book The Cultured Chimpanzee (2004) that he had discovered an adult female chimp named Akko wearing the fur of a red colobus monkey that had been knotted into a necklace.

The necklace

A drawing of the necklace.

The knot

A drawing of the knot. [1]

Pretty amazing, right? This is obviously proof that higher primates have a penchant for hair manipulation. Well, not exactly. I’ll let McGrew explain:

Was this the first record of a manufactured ornament in a wild ape? … Perhaps, but not likely. It could have been: (1) accidental, from Akko’s repeated manipulation of the skin, so that a knot got tied inadvertently; (2) mistaken, as Akko might have been trying to bandage her cut finger with the skin but instead tied a knot; (3) observer error, as we might have mistaken Akko’s draping a piece of bark around her neck for her wearing of the skin, (4) misattribution, as the knot might have been tied by a baboon, and then only found by Akko; (5) hoax, as our field assistant might have knotted the skin, as a joke. Or the one useful explanation could be that this was (6) the invention of the necklace in Mahale’s [local chimpanzee community], to be followed perhaps by a whole fashion for body ornamentation. Sadly, it apparently was not the start of a fad; since recovering Akko’s knot in 1996, we know of no further instances. It may have been one of those many memetic mutations that never caught on.

But, you may say, the anecdote of Akko’s knot at least shows that chimpanzees have the capacity to use a knot to make a necklace. Wrong. An accident, mistake, error, etc., says nothing about an ape’s capacity to do anything. All that an anecdote can do is alert us to a possibility, so that we will look for it again… [2]

The researchers never saw Akko actually tie the knot, so attributing the skill to her is unwise. Likewise, no one has ever seen a Bigfoot braiding a horse’s hair, so attributing the phenomenon to a creature that has never been demonstrated to exist is ridiculous. There are any number of things that can explain the braids. It’s best to eliminate all possibilities like McGrew did above before coming to a conclusion. It could be: 1) Bigfoot actually braids the hair; 2) it’s a hoax, meaning a human is braiding the hair and attributing it to Bigfoot; 3) wind twirls the hair into braids; or 4) the hair is matted into braids through scratching and rubbing. Let’s face it, there is zero evidence for number one. Number two is very possible since hair braiding is common knowledge–a boy doesn’t grow up with sisters and not learn how to do it. The last two are actually the most plausible. According to the book Grooming Horses (2009): “In the worst-case scenario, the mane can become hopelessly tangled into long, matted ‘witch’s knots’…by the wind and the elements.” [3] That is why there are products specifically designed for detangling matted hair. Take this page, for example (pay close attention to the first picture). It is important to note that matting is a danger to horses because their legs can get caught in their hair:

Let’s not forget that Bigfoots are not the only mythological creatures to be associated with tangled hair. The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1870) states the French Lutin goblins: “Sometimes…so tangle the mane of a horse or head of a child that the hair must be cut off.” [4] These myths are simply used to explain natural hair matting.
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Update 3-14-13:

Elves were also associated with tangled hair. Brand’s Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (18th-century) defines “Elf-Locks” as “[a] matted lock of hair in the neck.” [5] The phrase “To Elf” was understood as a verb meaning “[t]o entangle in knots.” [6] The most famous instance of elf-locks in association with horses comes from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” (1597):

—This is that very Mab,
That plats the manes of horses in the night,
And brakes the elf-locks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes. [7]

The play is often considered the first recorded mention of elf-locks. [8] However, the phenomenon was first recorded all the way back in the 13th-century. William of Auvergne (d. 1249), Bishop of Paris, wrote about female spirits led by a queen representing the goddess Diana. At night, “[t]hey sometimes enter stables with wax tapers, the drippings of which appear on the hairs and necks of the horses, whilst their manes are carefully plaited.” [9] I think it’s safe to assume this folk legend predates the bishop’s writings. This just goes to show that the Bigfoot is the most recent explanation for this phenomenon.
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Update 3-15-13:

Witches are also associated with the phenomenon. The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines a “Hag’s Knot” as: “Tangles in the manes of horses, etc., supposed to be used by witches for stirrups.” [10] This was once a common belief among African Americans of the southern United States in the 19th- and early 20th-century. According to Newbell Nil Puckett:

When you find your hair plaited into little stirrups in the morning or when it is all tangled up and your face scratched you may be sure that the witches have been bothering you at night … Horses as well as humans are ridden; you can tell when the witches have been bothering them by finding ‘witches stirrups’ (two strands of hair twisted together) in the horses’ mane. A person who plaits a horse’s mane and leaves it that way is simply inviting the witches to ride, though they will seldom bother the horses except on very dark nights, and even then have a decided preferences for dark colored horses. In England and Scotland, such ‘fairy stirrups’ are attributed to the pigsies (piskies) riding the animals.” [11]

I wonder if Bigfoot and the witches trade braiding secrets.
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Update 3-19-13:

As I mentioned in my last update, a common piece of folklore is that witches braid horse manes into stirrups so they can ride them. Well, it turns out that some people actually believe juvenile Bigfoots are braiding horses so that they can do the same. In September 2011, the Western Bigfoot Society had a meeting during which:

Don Monroe from Montana had an interesting presentation on the braiding of the manes of horses. He thinks it is a sign of higher intelligence in the Wild People, and indicated a great dexterity. Three plaits are arranged one over and under another; interwoven and twisted together, often lengthened by including tail hairs to make a possible rein to hold on to for riding. Rhettman commented relayed [sic] an account from an equestrian lady in Montana that stated it is not the heavy adults, but the younger creatures whose tiny fingers do the braids and rode the horsed [sic] (Don commented on Asian horses being ridden in that fashion).

The “[t]hree plaits…arranged one over and under another” is demonstrated by this illustration:

Briaded horse mane

(Click here for a larger picture.)

The summary of Monroe’s presentation continues:

[The braids] from simple three strands to more complicated ones similar to a French braid and are tied off with a tight hair knot. Don has investigated horses from near Owyhee, Oregon, on the Neil Hink Ranch and at Blazer Horses at the Phil Jenson Ranch to determine that out of 135 horses examined, 40, a trifle over a third, were found to have braids. The puzzled farmers usually just cut them off. It was noted that there is no activity when snow is on the ground, but only when the ground is hard and dry and doesn’t leave tracks.

I find it extremely hard to believe that those farmers don’t know where the knots are coming from, especially when they are so common (“a trifle over a third, were found to have braids”). As I’ve explained above, these plaits can be caused by the elements. For instance, a member of a British horse forum started a thread asking whether their horse’s plaited mane was caused by natural or supernatural forces. Another member replied by saying:

My little welshie gets them all the time through winter…When you see pictures of neglected horses with thier [sic] manes all matted…well thats [sic] how they start…with a small ‘plait’. If you leave it long enough more will add to it and you will end up with a huge mass of knotted mane. I have had my pony 11yrs now and she gets them every winter.

Here are the pictures that they provide as proof:

plaited hair

(Click here for a larger picture.)

(Click here for a larger picture.)

These look like they’ve been done by hand, don’t they? Monroe seems to think that it’s possible to determine the handedness of the Bigfoot doing the braiding: “there is about a 79% chance that the braiding is done by a left handed creature, from the direction that hairs are divided.” Really? What hand was used to braid this three-plaited masterpiece?

(Permission to use this picture was graciously provided by
Emily Gibson of the Barnstorming blog. Check her out.)

Hmm…this looks sort of like Monroe’s drawing of the braided horse mane from above. Emily’s delightfully tongue-and-cheek article “Gernumbli gardensi Infestation” posits that it’s the handiwork of gnomes, but she is aware that’s its the product of nature. Now if only Bigfooters would catch up with the rest of us.
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Update 5-28-13:

I’ve written a brief introductory article (a work-in-progress, really) that explains the origins of the horse hair braiding myth:

http://theeternalhunt.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/witches-knots-their-origin-connection-to-wild-hunt-folklore-and-spread-to-america/
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Update 7-25-13:

I learned from this blog (thanks for the shout out) that Don Monroe published a book on Bigfoot braiding. I looked around and found it was named The Braided Horses Are Coming (2013). It apparently had a very limited release because I can only find one place selling the book, and it is no longer available. Here is a description:

Exploring the mysteries of the strange braided loops repeatedly found in the manes of horses, both wild and domestic, Don Monroe takes us along on his personal adventure of discovery. These loops have long been taken merely as annoying tangles formed by the wind and brush; on closer inspection they seem to have been made by skilled hands, but whose? Monroe looks at possibilities from the ever elusive ‘Sasquatch’ or ‘Bigfoot’ to humans who have chosen to go ‘feral’ and live off the land totally separate from ‘civilization.’ What is the truth of it? Join him and perhaps we will find out…

I would love to get my hands on a copy to see what method he used to analyze the braids. I’m certainly not going to pay to read it, though. I’ll update this entry if I gain access to a copy.
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Update 8-2-13:

Ketchum made the following announcement on her Facebook page on 7-31-13:

Had a good interview with Jen Brien at WBZ out of Boston CBS affiliate tonight. It was cleansing as I vented about how things have gone with the project and how unfair the research has been treated. I seldom do this but considering the recent unwarranted criticism, I decided not to be quiet for a change. Jen might be the first media person to visit our habituation sites. I truly hope that she does. Time will tell.

From what I’ve been able to find out, Jen Brien talks to people on air about UFOs and conspiracy theories just like Coast to Coast AM, which Ketchum previously appeared on. This means she specifically targeted a “fringe friendly” radio personality to help her prove the existence of Bigfoot in the public eye. She has pretty much given up on the scientific arena since her study has been torn to shreds. I’m interested to see if the mane braiding will be a subject touched upon if Brien does visit the supposed habituation site. I’ll keep an eye out.

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Update 8-5-13:

The Bigfoot Evidence blog recently reported that Jen Brien may have passed up on the chance to visit the habituation site. I can’t find the post on either of Ketchum’s Facebook pages. She may have deleted it to avoid pissing off Brien. However, there is a screen capture:

That’s pretty sad when a radio talk show host who discusses UFOs won’t even come visit you because they smell BS. What’s “just a little odd” is that Ketchum is still trying to wage a popularity contest in place of inviting credentialed scientists to come view the habituation site. If such a place is so active, all she would have to do is invite some primatologists with video cameras. A few days worth of notes, pictures, and footage would settle 50 years of debate. But that would be too easy if Bigfoot was a real (and not imagined) creature.

I will continue to follow this story to see if Brien or anyone else will visit the site.
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Update 8-26-13:

M.K. Davis recently posted a video of what he considers to be evidence of Patty, the supposed Bigfoot from the Patterson-Gimlim film, having a braid in her hair. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced. No matter of applying “filters” to increase the contrast in the film makes the dark blob look like a braid. First and foremost, the “braid” just so happens to appear in the exact same areas as dark spots in the foliage. This tells me that Davis is simply seeing what he wants to see. Second, the braid doesn’t swing with natural moment like it should if it is indeed that long. Davis claims the wind is whipping it around; however, again, it only appears in the aforementioned spots. Considering that the figure is walking forward, this would explain the sudden appearance of a dark blob next to the head. It is interesting to note that these dark spots are still visible in the treeline as Patty continues to walk forward.


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Update 8-27-13:

Suzanne Burnham, DVM, a friend of the Texas Folklore Society, wrote me in April of this year because she had heard of my research on witches’ knots (I had forgotten about it until recently). She is quite familiar with the natural ways these knots form. This should serve as a further example of how the people claiming these are “braids” either are delusional or are fibbing:

I have groomed horses almost all of my life and so has my husband. My background is European, English saddle and jumping horses; his is western saddle, rodeo and West Texas. Both if us are familiar with the term witch’s knot and for us both it refers to the tangle of hair in the horse’s tail that forms usually at the end of the tail bone. At the center of the knot is the evil that started it. As we apply Vaseline or heavy conditioner to the knot, we gently pick out the hair until we find what is in the middle if it. Sometimes it will be a branch of dried briar, a cocklebur or the claw seed of a pasture weed. It always has spines, thorns or sharp points on a twig. After we remove the “evil” we shampoo the tail to remove the lubricant which otherwise would attract dust and dirt. The term came to us from horsemen who came before. No idea of the origins but at the barn, it is a well known term. My daughter is familiar with it and says its the normal barn vernacular!

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Update 8-29-13:

MK Davis has once again uploaded a video about the “braid.” This time the braid has been “enhanced” so people can see it better. The film is just a blob of colors when zoomed in, so this begs the question of whether or not the braid is even original to the film. Other features on Patty’s head, such as an ear and an opening and closing mouth, have been enhanced so much they look like hand drawn caricatures. This leads me to suspect that Davis may have taken liberties by using a digital program to paint these objects in. This is not the first time he has been accused of manipulating the film to create evidence.


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Update 10-12-13:

It should be pointed out that today’s horses are not native to North America. In fact, they have been present for less than 500 years. The Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés brought the first horses with him to Mexico when he came to conquer the Aztec Empire in 1519. The first horses to make it to what would become the United States might have been those brought by the fellow conquistador Francisco Vásquez when he pushed into New Mexico looking for the fabled city of gold in 1540. A breeding population didn’t happen until sometime later when people began to settle North America. [12] When horses became widely used is unknown to me; however, their arrival predates the earliest verifiable Sasquatch stories–these mythical people were essentially giant Indians before they were recast as the furry creatures we know today–from the 1920s by almost 400 years. [13] If Bigfoot were truly braiding horse manes this entire time, there should have been such braiding stories long before they started popping up in the late 20th-century. But, instead, any stories dealing with horses and mythical creatures follow the European variants mentioned above.

As I described in an earlier entry (3-14-13), the legend of mane braiding goes back to at least 13th-century Europe. Female spirits led by the goddess Diana were said to plait the manes of horses at night so that they could ride them. Church documents from the early 10th-century considered Diana and her crew to be witches, [14] so witches riding horses at night became a common folktale that spread across Europe. This legend eventually spread to the Americas not long after the horse was first introduced. For instance, during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, one woman was accused of riding a horse with a magic bridle.
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Update 11-18-14:

Ketchum recently stated on her facebook page that she was going to be making a video about Sasquatch horse mane braiding:

My next video is about the way the Sasquatch braid horses’ manes. They use primarily the same pattern worldwide. Here’s a little preview of a slide where I pulled a couple of British horses to compare. It was funny, it was a forum and they were all freaking out because they didn’t know what was doing it. Some thought it was thieves marking their horses but none of the horses were being stolen. I did resist the temptation to enlighten them. The bay on the right is one of mine. Robin Lynne Forestpeople owns the pony from MI. There are a lot of other pics out there on the net but I just grabbed these for an example. The video will go more in depth.

The entire video will probably consist of analyzing random internet photos and claiming the supposed twist patterns denote an intelligent hand. At no point will video of an actual braiding event be offered as evidence. Modern day folk stories about the beast braiding manes by night will be used in lieu of this. Natural explanations for knotting, such as the wind and itching, will surely be glossed over, as well as the long history of knots being attributed to supernatural figures like elves, fairies, goblins, and witches.
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Notes

[1] W.C. McGrew and L.F. Marchant, “Chimpanzee Wears Knotted Skin ‘Necklace’,” Pan Africa News 5, no. 1 (June, 1998): 8-9, http://repository.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2433/143363/1/Pan5%281%29_08.pdf (accessed March 13, 2013).
[2] William Clement McGrew, The Cultured Chimpanzee: Reflections on Cultural Primatology (Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 77-79.
[3] Jessie Shiers, Grooming Horses: A Complete Illustrated Guide. Guilford, Conn: Knack, 2009, 102.
[4] Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Giving the Derivation Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions, and Words That Have a Tale to Tell (London: Cassell and Co, 1905), 783-784.
[5] John Brand, Henry Ellis, and William Carew Hazlitt. Brand’s Popular Antiquities of Great Britain: Faiths and Folklore; a Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, with Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated. London: Reeves and Turner, 1905, 208.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] See this etymology page, for example. It dates “Romeo and Juliet” to 1592.
[9] Paulist Fathers, Catholic World (Paramus, N.J., etc: Paulist Fathers, etc., 1865), 326.
[10] Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth Editions, 1994), 516.
[11] Newbell Niles Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro (S.l: Kessinger Pub, 2003), 151-153.
[12] John L. Long, Introduced Mammals of the World: Their History, Distribution, and Influence (Wallingford, Oxon, UK: CABI Pub, 2003), 352.
[13] Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 34-35.
[14] Alan Charles Kors, Edward Peters, and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 62.

Bibliography

Brand, John, Henry Ellis, and William Carew Hazlitt. Brand’s Popular Antiquities of Great Britain: Faiths and Folklore; a Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, with Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated. London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.

Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Giving the Derivation Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions, and Words That Have a Tale to Tell. London: Cassell and Co, 1905.

———-The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth Editions, 1994.

Kors, Alan Charles, Edward Peters, and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Long, John L. Introduced Mammals of the World: Their History, Distribution, and Influence. Wallingford, Oxon, UK: CABI Pub, 2003.

Loxton, Daniel, and Donald R. Prothero. Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

McGrew, William Clement. The Cultured Chimpanzee: Reflections on Cultural Primatology. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

McGrew, W.C., and L.F. Marchant. “Chimpanzee Wears Knotted Skin ‘Necklace’.” Pan Africa News 5, no. 1 (June, 1998): 8-9. http://repository.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2433/143363/1/Pan5%281%29_08.pdf (accessed March 13, 2013).

Paulist Fathers. Catholic World. Paramus, N.J., etc: Paulist Fathers, etc., 1865.

Puckett, Newbell Niles. Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro. S.l: Kessinger Pub, 2003.

Shiers, Jessie. Grooming Horses: A Complete Illustrated Guide. Guilford, Conn: Knack, 2009.


A precursor of religion?

Animism is sometimes considered the earliest form of human religion. But what about before we started to think in terms of us vs. them (humans vs. animals), before we left the forests and evolved into our present forms? I’m currently reading The Cultured Chimpanzee: Reflections on Cultural Primatology (2004) by William C. McGrew. The chapter on social culture mentions a very strange practice of male chimpanzees that borders on spirituality. This practice is called “waterfall displaying” or “waterfall dancing,” and it involves males rhythmically swaying or somersaulting through tree vines whenever in the presence of a waterfall. Jane Goodall suggests they might be doing it because they are awed by the waterfall itself. They also do this during thunderstorms. The book refers to it literally as a “rain dance.” Every culture has some sort of storm god, so I could see their actions possibly mirroring that of our ancient ancestors. It’s almost like some type of fearful reverence for the elements.

It’s important to point out that not all chimps live in territories near waterfalls, so this behavior is influenced by the environment. It’s the same for chimps of other communities. For example, the chimps of western Africa live in an environment that greatly differs from their eastern counterparts. Instead of living in dense jungle forest, they live in sparsely wooded grasslands. They exhibit very human-like behavior, such as sleeping in caves, lounging in springs, and (occasionally) hunting with spears. So, it’s possible that the environment played a role in the development of our spirituality.

This is a good article that describes the waterfall display and gives anecdotal evidence that “chimps have the capacity to contemplate and consider (even revere) both the animate and inanimate.”

http://www.janegoodall.org/chimp-central-waterfall-displays

I’m interested in hearing the opinion of those who study the history of religion.