Jeff Meldrum doesn’t believe in Sasquatch. He’s a scientist, and scientists don’t believe — they rely on evidence.
“I am convinced on the basis of the evidence,” Meldrum said. “So I would much rather say I am convinced that Sasquatch exists.”
The Idaho State University anthropology professor, considered to be the world expert on the scientific evidence regarding the existence of a species of giant bipedal hominids, spoke to a wildlife science class at Utah State University on Tuesday in Logan to discuss his research and the struggles of pursuing a subject that often meets resistance from his peers.
Due to his standing in the anthropological community, Meldrum said he doesn’t have to worry about being taken seriously, but he warns young scientists who haven’t been steeped in the “traditional dogmas of anthropology” not to push too hard.
“For their own good, I caution them not to be open about their interests, because I was naive enough to jump into that deep end of the pool before I had tenure, and it nearly cost me my career,” Meldrum said.
He said his promotion to full professor was delayed by years because of his interest in Sasquatch, and he was granted tenure by a hair’s breath. Now that he has the academic freedom to follow his desires, he spends his free time continuing the study with funding from private donors and has appeared in documentary films.
This year marks a special anniversary for Bigfoot enthusiasts like Meldrum. Fifty years ago, filmmakers Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin recorded the most well-known video of what they claim is a female Sasquatch walking along a creek in Northern California.
Meldrum said the video and the idea that Sasquatch exists received a “cold-shoulder reception” from the scientific community. At the time, Meldrum explained, anthropology was dominated by the single-species hypothesis, or the notion that human evolution had progressed in a single-file succession.
The idea of a living Sasquatch ran counter to that theory. Meldrum said the existing theory couldn’t handle another bipedal hominid, so many scientists refused to listen.
“It can’t exist, therefore it doesn’t exist,” Meldrum said. “Don’t bother me with any details.”
Fifty years later, however, the prevailing anthropological knowledge has changed. The single-species hypothesis has been replaced with a persistent multi-species hypothesis, in which offshoots of different hominid species could exist into the present.
Ever since the Patterson-Gimlin footage was released, Meldrum said there has been constant attack and criticism. From his own studies and observations, however, he thinks it’s real.
Some claim the Sasquatch is just a man in a costume, but Meldrum said the little details — like the tendon behind the knee — are too difficult to replicate. At the time, he said spandex, stretch fur and foam rubber were not easily available. The original “Planet of the Apes” was released a year later, and Meldrum said even those costumes didn’t have the detail and contour of the Sasquatch.
“It’s all too easy to say, ‘Oh, that’s just a man in a fur suit,’ until you see a man in a fur suit,” Meldrum said. “Especially a man in a fur suit from 1967.”
So if Sasquatch exists, why isn’t there more evidence? Meldrum said most encounters are by happenstance, and very few people intentionally set out to find evidence.
“The rarity, nocturnal behavior, solitary behavior, highly generalized diet makes it extremely difficult to go out with intent and collect, systematically, evidence and data,” Meldrum said.
From time to time, people claim to have witnessed a Bigfoot creature, including two students at the presentation Tuesday.
“I couldn’t explain it,” Bryce Hatfield, a senior majoring in recreation resource management, said.
Hatfield said he was hiking up Smithfield Canyon by himself when he saw a large footprint. Then he heard brush breaking and saw rocks the size of softballs falling down the hill. He saw a black or brown figure but quickly lost sight.
Kenzie Wasden, a sophomore exercise science major, said she may have had a sighting at Glacier National Park a few years ago.
“I saw something that looked like a Bigfoot equivalent, but it was white, and it was way up in the mountains, and it was too big to be a human,” Wasden said. “So I always wondered.”
She said she enjoyed the presentation and doesn’t outright deny that Sasquatch exists, but she isn’t sure.
Robert Schmidt, an associate professor from the Department of Environment and Society who invited Meldrum, said the presentation brings a scientific framework to a subject matter that if often based in myth.
“The uniqueness of Jeff is he is trained as a scientist, and he brings that vision to the issue as opposed to bringing — and there is a legitimacy to folklore — but he doesn’t bring the folklore angle into it,” Schmidt said.