Umm, Mail? Doesn’t work this way

But a leading geneticist believes he has found evidence to prove that it – or rather she – could have been more than a myth.

Professor Bryan Sykes of the University of Oxford claims a towering woman named Zana who lived in 19th Century Russia – and appeared to be ‘half human, half ape’ – could have been the fabled yeti.

Witnesses described the six-foot, six-inches tall woman discovered in the Caucasus mountains between Georgia and Russia as having ‘all the characteristics of a wild animal’ – and covered in thick auburn hair.

OK, dodgy historical claims about yeti, check.

Famously known as the ape woman, Zana had at least four children by local men and some of her descendants still live in the region, the Times reported.

Sykes made an astonishing discovery when he carried out saliva tests on six of her living relatives and the tooth of her deceased son Khwit.

Excellent, so proof that she was fertile with human beings….and that those children were themselves fertile. Under the usual standards this means that she was a human being. Sure, people get a little more sophisticated about this but a general description of a species is that if you’re fertile, and the children of sucm matings are fertile, then those doing the mating are members of the same species.

Thus, that there are descendants to test the DNA of shows that she was a human. Mebbe an odd one but one all the same.

Yes, this definition does get tested when we note that some ligers and tigrons can be fertile and so on, the very occasional hinny is but not mule etc. But gorillas and chimps and humans are not cross fertile. It’s not therefore an entirely strict dividing line but it is a useful one.

18 thoughts on “Umm, Mail? Doesn’t work this way”

  1. Not quite. The mating criterion isn’t really as absolute as people think. It’s now generally recognised that some hybridisation between non-African sapiens and neanderthal occurred. But neanderthals were a different species to us.

    I’m of the opinion that eventually when we dig a mummified one out of the permafrost we’re going to discover they were furry all over and much less human than the current increasingly similar to us reconstructions suggest also, but that’s another matter.

  2. So Much for Subtlety

    The obvious explanation is that she did not have four children with any local men, but four children with a random assortment of passing yeti males.

    She was a Birmingham Yeti.

  3. Ian,

    There is a suggestion that, like many ape species, humans might have robustus and gracile variants and that Neanderthal man may actually have been Homo Sap Robustus and we are Homo Sap Gracilus. Which would explain the ability to interbreed.

  4. Could be yeti were early human colonisers who survived in high cold places because they were hairy. Btw have you seen the body hair on men from the Caucasus? Almost needs combing esp the backs. (Go to a banyo, a communal bath house to see)

  5. SE-

    I think we’re too different for that. Look at the skeletons, it’s not just robustness, they are very different. Of course the whole problem of what defines a species is really a bit vague anyway. But for my money, I think we are sufficiently different from them in terms of both phenotype and what we know of behaviour to count as separate species, and I would also guess that if we ever find one well preserved- rather than just a skeleton- we’ll see even an even greater difference.

  6. Scientists seeking publicity are usually yelling ‘Gimme da money’.

    Or as they say in Yeti: ‘Gimme da money, please’, Yetis being well brought up shavers. Or probably non-shavers.

  7. “Professor Bryan Sykes of the University of Oxford claims a towering woman named Zana who lived in 19th Century Russia – and appeared to be ‘half human, half ape’”

    Sykes is unaware that humans ARE apes?!?!

  8. Surreptitious Evil


    “Robustus” and “robustness” are not the same things.

    Chimps, Robustus, Bonobos, gracilus.

    With gorillas it’s the mountain sort versus the others. I think the mountain ones are gracilus.

    Orangs are, afair, all the same (but the other lot, probably the gracilus, may have been slaughtered.) On the other hand, if the current ones are grac, I hate to think what pongo pongo Robustus would have been capable of.

  9. Bloke in Costa RIca

    The majority opinion seems to be that the cladistic categorisation is Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis, hence different species, but there is a school of though that has them as Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis i.e. both sub-species of H. sapiens. However we know (“we” being palaeontologists who I assume are not just making it up) that modern humans have some admixture, like 1–3% of Neanderthal DNA. Therefore the reproductive isolation between the two groups cannot have been perfect, which means either they were not distinct species or the definition of species needs a few caveats.

    Either way, the idea of some putative population of very hairy Caucasoid Eurasians being the origin of the Yeti myth is purest Mailbollocks. For a start, Yetis are Himalayan, as any fule kno.

  10. The gene for a hairy body is switched off in humans. In rare circumstances a genetic defect switches the gene on and you get a hairy human.

  11. Bloke in Costa RIca
    April 5, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    “modern humans have some admixture, like 1–3% of Neanderthal DNA.”


    40% of our DNA matches cabbage.

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