Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pangboche yeti

Rumors of partial remains of a yeti brought American adventurer Tom Slick (1916-1962) to the remote destination of Pangboche, Nepal, in the 1950s. Slick financed an expedition to the monastery in the Himalayas where the artifacts were held and team member Peter Byrne not only photographed the hand (2nd image), but took a portion of it when the monks refused to release it for
study. Byrne recently recounted, "It looked like a large human hand. It was covered with crusted black, broken skin. It was very oily from the candles and the oil lamps in the temple. The fingers were hooked and curled." When Sir Edmund Hillary and Marlin Perkins later examined the hand in Nepal in 1960 and declared it a hoax, they were unaware that it was a mix of original material and human bone that had been substituted by Byrnes. The portions of the hand that had been smuggled to the West underwent analysis over the years, and were described as "hominid" and possibly Neanderthal by an English primatologist and declared "near human" by the American TV show "Unsolved Mysteries." Shortly after the program aired, the entire hand and associated skullcap were stolen from the Pangboche monastery, and are believed to have been acquired by a private collector. To make up for the loss, New Zealand pilot Mike Allsop had replacements (3rd image) crafted by special effects designers at Weta Workshops and flew them to the monks in April 2011. "I will take these replicas back to the monks so they can replace the ones that were stolen. I want to help the monastery have an income again - I want to help them out," said Allsop, who continues to search for the original hand. Meanwhile, a portion of that original surfaced in 2008 at the Royal College of Surgeons' Hunterian Museum in London. The 3.5"-long "yeti finger" from Pangboche had been retained with other items of crptozoological interest by the primatologist who had examined it decades earlier. The RCS allowed DNA testing of the specimen by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and the sample (1st image) was analyzed by geneticist Dr. Rob Ogden: "We have got a very, very strong match to a number of existing reference sequences on human DNA databases. It's very similar to existing human sequences from China and that region of Asia but we don't have enough resolution to be confident of a racial identification." The solution to the mystery was announced last month. Dr. Ogden concludes, "We had to stitch it together. We had several fragments that we put into one big sequence and then we matched that against the database and we found human DNA. So it wasn't too surprising but it was obviously slightly disappointing that you hadn't discovered something brand new. Human was what we were expecting and human is what we got."

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