Saturday 10 March 2012

The Creatures of the Caucasus. 1. Background

    In the Caucasus Mountains, which separate Europe from the Middle East, live manlike creatures of which the outside world knows nothing.
    Throughout the “taiga”, or boreal conifer forests which stretch from Scandinavia to the Bering Sea and beyond, come reports of animals not unlike the famous North American bigfoot. However, the creatures of the Caucasus appear to be a little smaller, a little more manlike, and a little more social.
    As the following translation reveals, Russians first became aware of them after hearing news of the Himalayan “abominable snowmen”, and researchers over there still refer to their subjects as “snowmen”. In this field, the leading lights were Boris Porshnev (a brilliant polymath, according to a Russian mammalogist I spoke to), and Marie-Jeanne Koffmann (b 1919), a French-born Soviet citizen, surgeon, soldier, and mountaineer. The interview she gave in 1988 provides some background on her life – though not the six years she spent in prison, a victim of Stalin's last purge. 
   Porshnev died in 1972, but Koffmann continued to make personal expeditions to the Caucasus, and in 1991 she wrote a 19-page article in the French journal, Archéologia, a translation of which follows. The Caucasus is a refuge, not only for wildlife from many different zones, but also of ethnic groups and languages, and each language has a different word for the animals. Koffmann settled on the Kabardian term, almasty. This is perhaps unfortunate, since it invites confusion with the almas of Mongolia – which may well be a similar animal, but it is certainly a completely unrelated word. (Note that, in Mongolian, almas is singular; it is not the plural of alma.) She also refers to them as “hominoids”, which simple means “manlike”.
    Because of the length of the original article, this translation is divided into four parts: the background, two posts on eye witness testimonies, and the final one on analysis. They are posted in such a way that they can be read in the correct order. At the end of each part, you can go to the next by clicking on the link at the bottom of the post – or by going to the archives.
    My thanks to Michel Raynal for providing me with photocopies of the original article.
    P.S. I note that on 22 July 2019 she turned 100 years old. She now lives in Paris.

The Creatures of the Caucasus. 2. Witnesses

    Out of 500 eyewitness testimonies, Dr Koffmann chose to publish twelve. In order to keep my posts within reasonable lengths, I have decided to spread them out over two posts. In reading them, you should keep in mind a number of reservations.
    Firstly, it is unlikely that all of the witnesses spoke Russian. It is likely that many of the testimonies were provided by means of an interpreter. Secondly, this was the Soviet Union. Having a Russian interviewer taking down notes on a clip-board was probably not the best way to get a Caucasian to “open up”. It is likely, therefore, that these testimonies were written up by memory after the interview was terminated. (On the other hand, considering that she had 500 reports to choose from, these might just be the exceptions to the rule. It is evident that some of the witnesses were prominent men.) Thirdly, as European folklorists have discovered, if you visit places where people still believe in fairies, you will find people who claim to have seen them. It is possible, therefore, that some of these stories are fictitious. On the other hand, one must also consider the uniformity of the testimonies across ethnic boundaries, as well as collateral evidence, such as footprints.
    Finally, quite apart from the normal increase in human population, this area has been, and continues to be, the site of bitter internecine strife. In view of this, I can only feel disturbed by noting that very few of these reports date from the 1950s or later. There are also frequent references to their being more common in the past. Is man's closest relative going extinct before it is even recognized by science? (This is a fear expressed by more recent researchers, although close-up sightings are still being reported.)

Friday 9 March 2012

The Creatures of the Caucasus. 3. More Witnesses


    The account of Zhigunov Khazrail Khamid, 46, Kabardian, brickyard batcher from Baxan.
    “At the end of September 1939 or 1940, I was following the road from Nizhny Kukuzhin to Malka. I decided to cut across an immense field of maize. Scarcely had I left the road, forty yards from it, when I fell upon the remains of an almasty devoured by wolves or dogs. Over a clearing of about a dozen yards in diameter, completely trampled down, the maize was knocked over and ravaged. In the middle of this zone lay the head of the almasty with what remained of the neck. The left half of the neck had been devoured. Up to that day, I did not believe in the existence of almasties. I used to laugh and asserted that they were fables, inventions. That was why I proceeded to the examination of this head with particular interest. Armed with a stick, I turned it over on all sides and, seated on my heels, I examined it attentively. The head was completely enveloped in a crop of very long hair which, in the living state, would have probably reached the waist; it was very much entangled and cemented with thistles. This crop of hair was so thick that, when I turned over the head, it remained in the air, like a cushion. That was why I could not discern the shape of the skull. But the dimensions were those of a human skull. The brow was recessive. This spot jutted out a lot (he pointed to the superciliary arch). The nose was small, trumpeted. It had no root, it was like pushed into the face. It was the nose of an ape. The cheek bones jutted out like a Chinese's. The lips were not those of a man's; they were thin and straight like an ape's. I did not see the teeth; the lips were tightly clenched. The chin was not like a man's, but rounded and heavy. The ears were human; one was torn, the other intact. The eyes were strongly bridled, the slit was directed down and outwards. I do not know the colour of the eyes; the lids were closed, and I did not open them. The skin was black, covered with dark brown hairs. The hairs were absent around the eyes and on the area above the cheeks. The cheeks themselves and the eyes were covered with short hairs; they were longer on the neck and chin.

The Creatures of the Caucasus. 4. Analysis

Finally, we come to Dr Koffmann's analysis of the data. You will note, that Dr Koffmann toys with the idea that the almasty may be a relic Neanderthal. This is a popular belief among Russian and French cryptozoologists, but I have explained in another document why this cannot be the case. (This is a PDF document; you will need to scan to page 9.)  However, if you want a short summary of almasty ecology, there is also a translation of one of her Russian articles available.
At the end is appended some correspondence between Dr Koffmann and an eminent specialist on human origins.