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The Mysteries of the PleistoceneJD Adams Salem-News.com
Whether Bigfoot is a species of giant ape or is descended from Gigantopithecus, remains to be seen...
(SALEM, Ore.) - The Pleistocene Epoch spans a time from 2.6 million years ago to the end of the last Ice Age at 12,000 years Before Present. It is an immensely interesting period because of the existence of legendary, enigmatic creatures and people.
We shall discuss the mysterious disappearance of the Pleistocene Megafauna, the changes wrought by Ice Ages, the massive Missoula Floods that scoured Oregon and Washington, how a meteor impact changed evolutionary history, and how the interaction of ancient human species with the towering Gigantopithecus, the largest primate ever to live on Earth, relates to our modern legend of Bigfoot.
Human history corresponds roughly to the Pleistocene and is known as the Paleolithic Era. It is initially characterized by the use of tools made of stone, wood, or bone, advancing to more complex tools used in agriculture.
The migration of humans out of Africa and into Asia, and subsequently into the North American continent, is thought to have been a contributing factor to the extinction of the large animals known as the Pleistocene Megafauna.
During the last Ice Age, the lowering of the sea level created the Bering Land Bridge between what is now Siberia and Alaska. Paleolithic hunters brought their skills and techniques over from Asia, confronting a world of mammoths and mastodons, saber-toothed cats, and the giant bear arctodus simus, the largest North American carnivore, standing over 11 ft. on their back legs.
These great beasts were examples of extreme adaptation, evolving exotic forms in the fertile land that lay south of the glaciers. During this time period, there is volcanic upheaval while glaciers recede and advance, shaping a constantly changing landscape of lakes and streams in valleys where giant bison and ground sloths grazed.
These variations in climate would have severely stressed the Megafauna by altering food sources and locations. On other continents, the timetable for extinctions was somewhat different, but ultimately resulted in the proliferation of the smaller, smarter, more versatile animals similar to what we see today.
Ice sheets covered large areas of the northern United States during the Pleistocene Epoch, including northern Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The release of an ice dam backing up a glacial lake flooded the Willamette Valley 400 feet deep!
The raging torrent swept down the Columbia River drainage, permanently altering the landscape in the most significant event of its kind ever recorded in geologic history.
Roughly 15,000 years ago, glacial ice grew southward into northern Idaho to block the Clark Fork River, creating 200-mile long Glacial Lake Missoula in western Montana. As the level of the lake increased, it eventually worked its way under and around the obstruction.
When the ice dam gave way, a flood of unimaginable fury hurled down the Columbia Basin, scouring the topsoil from large areas of Washington and moving boulders the size of houses, some of which were carried on floating ice for many miles and deposited as glacial erratics.
The torrent slowed in the Portland area, depositing huge mounds of gravel and backing up into the Willamette Valley beyond where Eugene is today.
In Washington the Missoula Floods have sculpted an area known as the Channeled Scablands, containing stark canyons known as coulees, dry falls and numerous lakes. The damming and release of Glacial Lake Missoula occurred dozens of times over thousands of years as the ice sheet advanced.
The rich soil of the Willamette Valley is the result of this repeated flooding, much of it stripped from Washington.
A Paleo-Indian people known as the Clovis culture appears in the fossil record at the end of the last Ice Age. They are named for their characteristically fluted-shaped spear points, but archeologists do not agree whether it belongs to a single people or is a natural progression in weapon technology.
Also controversial are the origins of the Clovis. The prevailing theory ascribes a migration down the Pacific Coast, yet recent research has uncovered another, possibly parallel origin in Europe and a migration down the Atlantic coast. Further confounding the situation are the remnants of much older habitations being unearthed.
The Clovis people drop from the fossil record at the same time as the Pleistocene Megafauna upon which they subsisted. There is little doubt that the destiny of the Clovis people is intertwined with that of the Megafauna, either by virtue of over-hunting, or because of an impact event known as the Clovis Comet Hypothesis.
The theory is supported by the finding of a carbon-rich layer of charred soil at 50 Clovis-age sites in North America, along with substances usually associated with extraterrestrial objects, such as nanodiamonds, magnetic,carbon, and metallic spherules, along with iridium.
It's proposed that these materials are the result of a swarm of comets producing numerous airbursts and impacts on the surface north of the Great Lakes region. Although the theory remains controversial, a leading Clovis archeologist by the name of C. Vance Haynes is emphatic that "...something major happened at 10,900 B.P. that we have yet to understand."
Within the time frame of the Pleistocene emerges a genus of ape that dwarfs even the largest primates of today. The hulking creatures stood almost 10 feet tall, and weighed in excess of 1000 lbs. The first fossil evidence of the giant apes were molars an inch wide that turned up in a Chinese apothecary shop as 'dragon's teeth' in 1935.
Anthropologist Ralph von Koenigswald made the connection to the species and named it Gigantopithecus. The few fossils that have been found have come from China, Vietnam, and India, consisting of only a few jawbones and teeth. From the U-shape of the mandible, it was possible to ascertain that the windpipe could fit within the jaw like modern man, and so it was likely that the skull and spine were oriented upright, enabling bipedal locomotion, rather than on all fours like gorillas.
The Gigantopithecus lived during the time of primitive humans such as homo erectus, but was a plant eater. Some evidence suggests that homo erectus hunted the giant ape, and so given it's large cranial capacity and assumed intelligence, it could easily have developed strategies for avoiding humans.
Bigfoot researchers have grasped the significance of Gigantopithecus and it's similarity to humans, in terms of upright stature and intelligence. The ingrained avoidance of humans is possibly an instinct developed over thousands of years from the predation of homo erectus.
Whether Bigfoot is a species of giant ape or is descended from it remains to be seen, but the facts surrounding the fossil evidence of the giant ape have yielded some revelations relevant to the existence of Bigfoot.
Only scant fossil remains have been found of Gigantopithecus, but it's existence is undisputed, yet the lack of skeletal remains is often cited as a reason to be skeptical of Bigfoot.
Without the rare circumstances allowing fossils to be preserved, bones will be scavenged and decompose quickly in the forest habitat where Bigfoot has been observed. Combine that with the element of surprise in most sightings, the arrestingly humanoid appearance, the secretive habits of a rare, poorly understood creature, and the legend of Bigfoot is born.