Is Bigfoot Denisovan Man?

A few weeks ago, the New Scientist magazine published a very interesting article about Denisovan Man. Denisovan Man is similar to Neanderthal Man. They are both offshoots, like ourselves (Homo Sapiens) from an earlier common ancestor, Homo Heidelbergensis.

We know of the existence of Denisovan Man because a scientist named Michael Shunkov from the Russian Academy of Science looked for interesting fossils in a cave in Siberia (named after a hermit called Denis). In the cave, Shunkov found an interesting sliver of a finger bone. He bagged and labelled the shard and sent it off for analysis.The results came back. The bone belonged to a hitherto unknown version of primitive man. This strain was genetically similar to ourselves and Neanderthal man but clearly separate. Excited by the news, Shunkov searched the cave for further evidence of this new species. He found a surprisingly large wisdom tooth. At first, he thought the tooth was too large to be Denisovan (or any proto-human) but the genetic testing carried out later confirmed it was also from Denisovan Man.

Scientists have carried out further genetic analysis and examination of these artefacts and have been able to work out what Denisovan Man would have looked like. They are confident that Denisovan Man had dark skin, brown hair and brown eyes. It is also likely that Denisovans were as hairy as Neanderthal Man, possibly even as hairy as their common genetic ancestor, Homo Heidelbergensis. It is also likely that Denisovans were large and robust, like Homo Heidelbergensis. As the article states: "[Homo Heidelbergensis] were big and robust guys, with body mass estimates around 100 kilograms”.

Interestingly, the Denisovan wisdom tooth also indicates that the Denisovans were large and powerful individuals. In fact, it is possible that they were larger than Homo Heidelbergensis. There is no reason why Denisovans could not have grown to be nine feet tall. This would have put a strain on their heart and other physical processes, leading to a shorter life, but the benefit it gave to survival may have outweighed this limitation. We - home sapiens - became group operators and tool users to fend off large predators. Denisovans may have evolved a different approach; to become large and powerful like gorillas to avoid predation by bears, tigers and other large carnivores. Built like this, Denisovans could have operated in small, family groups, consuming an omnivorous diet. They wouldn’t have had claws for protection, but their physical power and some crude weapons could have been enough to ensure their survival amongst wild animals.

Denisovans wouldn’t have stood a chance against Homo Sapiens. We would have wiped them out if they tried to compete with us. Their best tactic to survive on a planet inhabited by homo sapiens would be to avoid us whenever possible. If we came close, they would need to get away and, ideally, drive us off. Driving us off with violence would probably only result in their deaths. Denisovans would therefore benefit from some sort of non-violent repulsion, like creating a terrible stink. With this ability, and enough remote, wild terrain to lose themselves in, Denisovans could theoretically have survived on a planet dominated by homo sapiens

If Denisovans did develop these abilities (evasion of humanity, repulsive smell) then there’s a fascinating possibility, that they have not died out but still exist. There still are some wild and remote parts of the world in which they could still be living. The reason we haven't captured a Denisovan is that, unlike other rare creatures, Denisovans would be very adept at deliberately avoiding detection by humans. All a hunter would experience would be a dim shape, followed by a terrible smell and possibly the distant sounds of movement in the underground. If this is true, it would explain the stories of Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti etc. It would also explain why so many cultures in our past accepted and believed that an elusive, huge, powerful ape-man existed that avoided man and could emit a terrible smell.

Unfortunately, there can’t be many Denisovans left. Top predators need a large territory to survive and Denisovans would be no exception. If one was captured, people's initial disbelief would be followed by fascination and a mad rush to bag some more, rapidly followed by the realisation that there were critically endangered. Perhaps it's better if we do believe that Denisovans died out and Bigfoot doesn't exist; it's probably a lot safer to be a myth! ;-)