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Living Ape-Men

The Almas of Central Asia

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The Sasquatch and the Yeti, from the descriptions available, are large and very ape-like. But there is another wildman, the Almas, which seems smaller and more human. Reports of the Almas are concentrated in an area extending from Mongolia in the north, south through the Pamirs, and then westward into the Caucasus region. Similar reports come from Siberia and the far north-east parts of the Russian republic.

Early in the fifteenth century, Hans Schiltenberger was captured by the Turks and sent to the court of Tamerlane, who placed him in the retinue of a Mongol prince named Egidi. After returning to Europe in 1427, Schiltenberger wrote about his experiences. In his book, he described some mountains, apparently the Tien Shan range in Mongolia: "The inhabitants say that beyond the mountains is the beginning of a wasteland which lies at the edge of the earth. No one can survive there because the desert is populated by so many snakes and tigers. In the mountains themselves live wild people, who have nothing in common with other human beings. A pelt covers the entire body of these creatures. Only the hands and face are free of hair. They run around in the hills like animals and eat foliage and grass and whatever else they can find. The lord of the territory made Egidi a present of a couple of forest people, a man and a woman. They had been caught in the wilderness, together with three untamed horses the size of asses and all sorts of other animals which are not found in German lands and which I cannot therefore put a name to" (Shackley 1983, p. 93).

Myra Shackley (1983, pp. 93-94) found Schiltenberger's account especially credible for two reasons: "First, Schiltenberger reports that he saw the creatures with his own eyes. Secondly, he refers to Przewalski horses, which were only rediscovered by Nicholai Przewalski in 1881....Przewalski himself saw 'wildmen' in Mongolia in 1871."

Drawing of a Mongolian Almas from a 19th-century Tibetan book
Drawing of a Mongolian Almas from a 19th-century Tibetan book (Shackley 1983, p. 97)

A drawing of an Almas is found in a nineteenth-century Mongol compendium of medicines derived from various plants and animals. The text next to the picture reads: "The wildman lives in the mountains, his origins close to that of the bear, his body resembles that of man, and he has enormous strength. His meat may be eaten to treat mental diseases and his gall cures jaundice" (Shackley 1983, p. 98).

Shackley (1983, p. 98) noted: "The book contains thousands of illustrations of various classes of animals (reptiles, mammals and amphibia), but not one single mythological animal such as are known from similar medieval European books. All the creatures are living and observable today. There seems no reason at all to suggest that the Almas did not exist also and illustrations seem to suggest that it was found among rocky habitats, in the mountains."

In 1937, Dordji Meiren, a member of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, saw the skin of an Almas in a monastery in the Gobi desert. The lamas were using it as a carpet in some of their rituals. Shackley (1983, pp. 103-104) stated: "The hairs on the skin were reddish and curly....The features [of the face] were hairless, the face had eyebrows, and the head still had long disordered hair. Fingers and toes were in a good state of preservation and the nails were similar to human nails."

A report of a more recent sighting of live wildmen was related to Myra Shackley by Dmitri Bayanov, of the Darwin Museum in Moscow. In 1963, Ivan Ivlov, a Russian pediatrician, was traveling through the Altai mountains in the southern part of Mongolia. Ivlov saw several humanlike creatures standing on a mountain slope. They appeared to be a family group, composed of a male, female, and child. Ivlov observed the creatures through his binoculars from a distance of half a mile until they moved out of his field of vision. His Mongolian driver also saw them and said they were common in that area. Shackley (1983, p. 91) stated: "So we are not dealing with folktales or local legends, but with an event that was recorded by a trained scientist and transmitted to the proper authorities. There is no reason to doubt Ivlov's word, partly because of his impeccable scientific reputation and partly because, although he had heard local stories about these creatures he had remained sceptical about their existence."

After his encounter with the Almas family, Ivlov interviewed many Mongolian children, believing they would be more candid than adults. The children provided many additional reports about the Almas. For example, one child told Ivlov that while he and some other children were swimming in a stream, he saw a male Almas carry a child Almas across it (Shackley 1983, pp. 91-92).

In 1980, a worker at an experimental agricultural station, operated by the Mongolian Academy of Sciences at Bulgan, encountered the dead body of a wildman: "I approached and saw a hairy corpse of a robust humanlike creature dried and half-buried by sand. I had never seen such a humanlike being before covered by camel-colour brownish-yellow short hairs and I recoiled, although in my native land in Sinkiang I had seen many dead men killed in battle. ... The dead thing was not a bear or ape and at the same time it was not a man like Mongol or Kazakh or Chinese and Russian. The hairs of its head were longer than on its body" (Shackley 1983, p. 107).

The Pamir mountains, lying in a remote region where the borders of Tadzhikistan, China, Kashmir, and Afghanistan meet, have been the scene of many Almas sightings. In 1925, Mikhail Stephanovitch Topilski, a major general in the Soviet army, led his unit in an assault on an anti-Soviet guerilla force hiding in a cave in the Pamirs. One of the surviving guerillas said that while in the cave he and his comrades were attacked by several apelike creatures. Topilski ordered the rubble of the cave searched, and the body of one such creature was found. Topilski reported (Shackley 1983, pp. 118-119): "At first glance I thought the body was that of an ape. It was covered with hair all over. But I knew there were no apes in the Pamirs. Also, the body itself looked very much like that of a man. We tried pulling the hair, to see if it was just a hide used for disguise, but found that it was the creature's own natural hair. We turned the body over several times on its back and its front, and measured it. Our doctor made a long and thorough inspection of the body, and it was clearthat it was not a human being."

"The body," continued Topilski, "belonged to a male creature 165-170cm [about 5 1/2 feet] tall, elderly or even old,judging by the greyish colour of the hair in several places. The chest was covered with brownish hair and the belly with greyish hair. The hair was longer but sparser on the chest and close-cropped and thick on the belly. In general the hair was very thick, without any underfur. There was least hair on the buttocks, from which fact our doctor deduced that the creature sat like a human being. There was most hair on the hips. The knees were completely bare of hair and had callous growths on them. The whole foot including the sole was quite hairless and was covered by hard brown skin. The hair got thinner near the hand, and the palms had none at all but only callous skin."

Topilski added: "The colour of the face was dark, and the creature had neither beard nor moustache. The temples were bald and the back of the head was covered by thick, matted hair. The dead creature lay with its eyes open and its teeth bared. The eyes were dark and the teeth were large and even and shaped like human teeth. The forehead was slanting and the eyebrows were very powerful. The protruding jawbones made the face resemble the Mongol type of face. The nose was flat, with a deeply sunk bridge. The ears were hairless and looked a little more pointed than a human being's with a longer lobe. The lower jaw was very massive. The creature had a very powerful chest and well developed muscles.... The arms were of normal length, the hands were slightly wider and the feet much wider and shorter than man's."

In 1957, Alexander Georgievitch Pronin, a hydrologist at the Geographical Research Institute of Leningrad University, participated in an expedition to the Pamirs, for the purpose of mapping glaciers. On August 2, 1957, while his team was investigating the Fedchenko glacier, Pronin hiked into the valley of the Balyandkiik River. Shackley (1983, p. 120) stated: "at noon he noticed a figure standing on a rocky cliff about 500 yards above him and the same distance away. His first reaction was surprise, since this area was known to be uninhabited, and his second was that the creature was not human. It resembled a man but was very stooped. He watched the stocky figure move across the snow, keeping its feet wide apart, and he noted that its forearms were longer than a human's and it was covered with reddish grey hair." Pronin saw the creature again three days later, walking upright. Since this incident, there have been numerous wildman sightings in the Pamirs, and members of various expeditions have photographed and taken casts of footprints (Shackley 1983, pp. 122-126).

We shall now consider reports about the Almas from the Caucasus region. According to testimony from villagers of Tkhina, on the Mokvi River, a female Almas was captured there during the nineteenth century, in the forests of Mt. Zaadan. For three years, she was kept imprisoned, but then became domesticated and was allowed to live in a house. She was called Zana. Shackley (1983, p. 112) stated: "Her skin was a greyish-black colour, covered with reddish hair, longer on her head than elsewhere. She was capable of inarticulate cries but never developed a language. She had a large face with big cheek bones, muzzle-like prognathous jaw and large eyebrows, big white teeth and a fierce expression." Eventually Zana, through sexual relations with a villager, had children. Some of Zana's grandchildren were seen by Boris Porshnev in 1964. In her account of Porshnev's investigations, Shackley (1983, p. 113) noted: '"The grandchildren, Chalikoua and Taia, had darkish skin of rather negroid appearance, with very prominent chewing muscles and extra strongjaws." Porshnev also interviewed villagers who as children had been present at Zana's funeral in the 1880s.

In the Caucasus region, the Almas is sometimes called Biaban-guli. In 1899, K. A. Satunin, a Russian zoologist, spotted a female Biaban-guli in the Talysh hills of the southern Caucasus. He stated that the creature had "fully human movements" (Shackley 1983, p. 109). The fact that Satunin was a well-known zoologist makes his report particularly significant.

In 1941, V. S. Karapetyan, a lieutenant colonel of the medical service of the Soviet army, performed a direct physical examination of a living wildman captured in the Dagestan autonomous republic, just north of the Caucasus mountains. Karapetyan said: "I entered a shed with two members of the local authorities. When I asked why I had to examine the man in a cold shed and not in a warm room, I was told that the prisoner could not be kept in a warm room. He had sweated in the house so profusely that they had had to keep him in the shed. I can still see the creature as it stood before me, a male, naked and barefooted. And it was doubtlessly a man, because its entire shape was human. The chest, back, and shoulders, however, were covered with shaggy hair of a dark brown colour. This fur of his was much like that of a bear, and 2 to 3 centimeters [1 inch] long. The fur was thinner and softer below the chest. His wrists were crude and sparsely covered with hair. The palms of his hands and soles of his feet were free of hair. But the hair on his head reached to his shoulders partly covering his forehead. The hair on his head, moreover, felt very rough to the hand. He had no beard or moustache, though his face was completely covered with a light growth of hair. The hair around his mouth was also short and sparse. The man stood absolutely straight with his arms hanging, and his height was above the average — about 180 cm [almost 5 feet 11 inches]. He stood before me like a giant, his mighty chest thrust forward. His fingers were thick, strong and exceptionally large. On the whole, he was considerably bigger than any of the local inhabitants. His eyes told me nothing. They were dull and empty — the eyes of an animal. And he seemed to me like an animal and nothing more" (Sanderson 1961, pp. 295-296). Significantly, the creature had lice of a kind different from those that infect humans. It is reports like this that have led scientists such as British anthropologist Myra Shackley and Soviet anatomist Dr. Zh. I. Kofman to conclude that the Almas may represent a relict population of Neanderthals or perhaps even Homo erectus (Shackley 1983, p. 114). What happened to the wildman of Dagestan? According to published accounts, he was shot by his Soviet military captors as they retreated before the advancing German army.

In the 1950s, Yu. I. Merezhinski, senior lecturer in the department of ethnography and anthropology at Kiev University, was doing research in Azerbaijan, in the northern part of the Caucasus region. From local people, Merezhinski heard reports of an Almas-like wildman called the Kaptar. Khadzi Magoma, an expert hunter, told Merezhinski that he would take him to a stream where the Kaptar sometimes bathed at night. In exchange, the hunter asked Merezhinski to take a flash photo of the creature for him. Merezhinski agreed, and they went to the stream, near which a few albino Kaptars were said to live. Shackley (1983, p. 110) stated: "sure enough Merezhinski saw one from a distance of only a few yards, clearly discernible on the river bank through the bushes. It was damp, lean and covered from head to foot with white hair. Unfortunately the reality of the creature was too much for Merezhinski, who instead of photographing it shot at it with his revolver but missed in his excitement. The old hunter, furious at the deception, refused to repeat the experiment."

Here once more we have a report by a professional scientist who directly observed a wildman. As an anthropologist, Merezhinski was particularly well qualified to evaluate what he saw. It is reports like this that tend to dispel the charge that the Almas is a creature that exists only in folklore.

And as far as folklore is concerned, accounts of the Almas and other wildmen are not necessarily a sign that the Almas is imaginary. Dmitri Bayanov, of the Darwin Museum in Moscow, asked (1982, p. 47): "Is the abundant folklore, say, about the wolf or the bear not a consequence of the existence of these animals and man's knowledge of them?" Bayanov (1982, p. 47) added: "Therefore we say that, if relic hominoids were not reflected in folklore and mythology, then their reality can be called into question."

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From: Forbidden Archaeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race, Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson (Bhaktivedanta Book Publishing, 1996).