Why the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot Film Should Concern Scholars of Human Origins

Posted by K R on

The anthropological sciences occasionally have to deal with something which has a profound but unexpected impact on our understanding of human origins. Two events are noteworthy, in part because both impacted powerfully upon our concept of human evolution, but also because they were diametric opposites. One was a truth first rejected, and the other was a false contrivance embraced as fact. As presented in Roger Levin’s fine text, “Bones of Contention", the stories of the Piltdown Man and the Taung Child were meaningful because they demonstrated that ultimately the evidence will lead to the truth, but first, one must examine that evidence with an impartial and open mind. Sadly, they also illustrated that confirmation bias is a serious and formidable obstacle in the search for truth. Piltdown was a fraud, an orangutan jaw mated to a human skull, and it confirmed the bias of expecting that our human ancestor would be an ape-like body affixed to a human cranium, thus affirming that regardless of how primitive the body, the illustrious human mind remained robustly beyond any mere ape. Taung was a truthful hominid fossil, but its rightful place in human origins was rejected for many years because of its small brain. So, when we consider that some evidence with potential impact upon human origins is misunderstood, or suffers in the face of a confirmation bias, the idea has a solid foundation of prior examples demonstrating that exact issue. Perceptions of “The Bigfoot Film” Today we have a new subject with the potential to make a profound and unexpected impact upon human origins and the human family tree. And like Piltdown and Taung, there is a legitimate concern that the evidence is not being given a proper and impartial evaluation, with confirmation bias ruling the roost and dissuading the scientific community from a proper consideration of that evidence. That new subject is actually 50 years old, but it is the age of the controversy that actually justifies a new way of thinking about it today. The subject in question is a 16mm motion picture film, taken in the woodlands of Northern California in 1967, famously referred to as the Patterson-Gimlin Film or PGF (in recognition of the two men who were present, one man filming and the other man witnessing the event), but it is informally known as “The Bigfoot Film” (in recognition of the subject figure seen in that film footage).

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