LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) - Scientists are turning to genetic testing to see if they can prove the existence of the elusive hairy humanoid known across the world as bigfoot, yeti and sasquatch.
A joint project between Oxford University and Switzerland's Lausanne Museum of Zoology will examine organic remains that some say belong to the creature that has been spotted in remote areas for decades.
"It's an area that any serious academic ventures into with a deal of trepidation ... It's full of eccentric and downright misleading reports," said Bryan Sykes at Oxford's Wolfson College.
But the team would take a systematic approach and use the latest advances in genetic testing, he added.
"There have been DNA tests done on alleged yetis and other such things but since then the testing techniques, particularly on hair, have improved a lot due to advances in forensic science," he told Reuters.
Modern testing could get valid results from a fragment of a shaft of hair said Sykes, who is leading the project with Michel Sartori, director of the Lausanne museum.
Ever since a 1951 expedition to Mount Everest returned with photographs of giant footprints in the snow, there has been speculation about giant Himalayan creatures, unknown to science.
There have been eyewitness reports of the 'yeti' or 'migoi' in the Himalayas, 'bigfoot' or 'sasquatch' in America, 'almasty' in the Caucasus mountains and 'orang pendek' in Sumatra.
Tests up to now have usually concluded that alleged yeti remains were actually human, he said. But that could have been the result of contamination. "There has been no systematic review of this material."
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This still image taken from a 1977 film purports to show Bigfoot in California.
A film still shows what former rodeo rider Roger Patterson said is the American version of the Abominable Snowman of Nepal and Tibet. The film of the tall creature was shot by Patterson and Robert Gimlin northeast of Eureka, Calif., in October 1967.
As a motor biker was driving through the Grand River area of Ohio in April 2012, an alleged Bigfoot ran across the road and was caught on videotape.
Depicted is an illustration of a creature reported to inhabit the Kemerovo region of Siberia. Scientists from the U.S., Russia and other countries have yet to find one of these creatures known as the Russian Snowman. In early October, researchers claimed to be 95 percent certain that the animal exists.
An alleged footprint of a Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, appears in snow near Mount Everest in 1951. Now, scientists are setting out to find evidence of a reported unknown, hairy, bipedal creature known as the Siberian Snowman.
Bigfoot or bear? Impression left on the driver's side window of a pickup truck owned by Jeffrey Gonzalez. The bizarre image was left by an alleged Bigfoot in California's Sierra National Forest over Memorial Day 2011. DNA samples of the impressions will eventually determine the identity of the animal responsible for them. (See next slide for a close-up of the paw-like impression.)
Close-up of the "paw" print image. The impression was reportedly left by Bigfoot on the window of a pickup truck in the California Sierra National Forest over Memorial Day weekend 2011.
Bigfoot or bear? Pictured is a second impression left on the rear side window of the same truck from the previous slides. According to forensic/law enforcement photographer Mickey Burrow, "What you're seeing is a swipe mark. It looks like a small hand, swiping to the left, leaving another impression, and there's hair within those areas -- you can see where the hair would be."
This footprint was found over Memorial Day weekend, 2011, near Fresno, Calif. by a group of campers who were on a Bigfoot-hunting expedition. The print, measuring approximately 12 inches, was found near a truck where possible DNA evidence was left behind by more than one Bigfoot creature.
This footprint was found in 2008 in the Sierra National Forest near Fresno, Calif.
Thomas Byers snapped this photo of "Bigfoot" along Golden Valley Church Road in Rutherford County on March 22, 2011.
Bill Willard is the leader of a group searching for evidence of a Sasquatch or Bigfoot creature, spotted by, among others, his two sons in Spotsylvania County. He is shown on May 19 in Thornburg, Va., with a plaster cast he made from a suspicious footprint several years ago.
This still frame image from video provided by Bigfoot Global LLC shows what Whitton and Dyer claimed was a Bigfoot or Sasquatch creature in an undisclosed area of a northern Georgia forest in June 2008.
This October 2007 image was taken by an automated camera set up by a hunter in a Pennsylvania forest the previous month. Some said it was a Bigfoot creature; others believed it was just a sick bear.
A preserved skull and hand said to be that of a Yeti or Abominable Snowman is on display at Pangboche monastery, near Mount Everest.
Idaho State University professor Jeffrey Meldrum displays what he said is a cast of a Bigfoot footprint from eastern Washington in September 2006. Some scientists said the school should revoke Meldrum's tenure.
Joedy Cook, director of the Ohio Center for Bigfoot Studies, talks to a visitor to his booth on Oct. 15, 2005, at the Texas Bigfoot Conference in Jefferson, Texas. The event, hosted by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, drew enthusiasts and researchers of the legendary creature.
Ken Gerhard of Houston, Texas, holds a duplicate plaster cast footprint Oct. 15, 2005, at the Texas Bigfoot Conference. The event, hosted by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, drew enthusiasts and researchers of the legendary creature.
Josh Gates, host of Syfy TV's "Destination: Truth," holds a plaster cast of what Malaysian ghost hunters said was a Bigfoot footprint in 2006.
Al Hodgson, a volunteer guide at the Willow Creek-China Flat Musuem in California, holds up a plaster cast of an alleged Bigfoot imprint in 2000. The museum houses a collection of research material donated by the estate of Bob Titmus, who spent his life trying to track the creature.
Costume maker Philip Morris, who does not believe the Bigfoot legend, claimed the Patterson-Gimlin film showed a person wearing a gorilla suit that he made.
The project will focus on Lausanne's archive of remains assembled by Bernard Heuvelmans, who investigated reported yeti sightings from 1950 up to his death in 2001.
Other institutions and individuals will also be asked to send in details of any possible yeti material. Samples will be subjected to "rigorous genetic analysis", and the results published in peer-reviewed science journals.
Aside from the yeti question, Sykes said he hoped the project would add to the growing body of knowledge on the interaction between humanity's ancestors.
"In the last two years it has become clear that there was considerable inter-breeding between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals ... about 2 to 4 percent of the DNA of each individual European is Neanderthal," he said.
One hypothesis is that yetis are surviving Neanderthals. The joint project will take DNA samples from areas where there have been alleged sightings to see whether the Neanderthal DNA traces are stronger in the local population.
As for the project's chances of success? "The answer is, of course, I don't know," said Sykes. "It's unlikely but on the other hand if we don't examine it we won't know." (Reporting by Chris Wickham; Editing by Andrew Heavens)