When I started blogging 18 months ago, I made myself a promise. That I would blog about things I enjoy. One of the categories I created has been rather neglected of late. The category is ‘paranormal’. Alongside history, all things paranormal has been a consistent interest of mine throughout my entire life.
I think my hobby – the paranormal shares some similarities with my occupation – a historian. The fundamental feature of both is the exploration of the truth. Looking into the past is much like investigating the paranormal, it’s a step into the unknown. A quest for answers to complex mysteries. I have spent hundreds of hours investigating things that go bump in the night. But I have also spent many hours researching and pondering other mysteries. Namely ‘monsters’ or cryptozoology.
What is Cryptozoology?
Cryptozoology is the investigation of animals that have not yet been recognised by mainstream science. A few examples of such creatures would be the Loch Ness Monster, the Sasquatch (or Bigfoot) and the Chupacabra. Researchers, or Cryptozoologists around the globe search for evidence of the existence of such creatures. Scientists make new animal discoveries all the time, however, they dispute the existence of many cryptozoological animals (or cryptids) on the basis of lack of ‘evidence’.
Indeed in order to identify an animal’s existence, scientists need to catalogue a number of biological factors, most importantly, the animal’s DNA sequence. If no body (alive or dead) has been studied, scientists are therefore unable to catalogue the animal and verify its existence.
Science vs Cryptozoology
Cryptozoologists sometimes receive a negative response from the mainstream scientific community. Scientists often dismiss cryptozoologists as relying on a lack of evidence and lacking a scientific approach. But what is a scientific approach? Science relies on ‘facts’. As a historian, I understand that the world is full of mysteries. We do not have the answers to all the questions.
Quite often, sightings of cryptid animals can be found in folklore tales and ancestral tales. Sometimes oral history – tales passed down throughout the generations is an important element of cryptozoology. However, this is not the only evidence used in the exploration of these creatures.
Evidence of the existence of a cryptid often comes from eye-witness accounts rather than scientifically recognised evidence. Scientists might suggest that an animal was ‘misidentified’ and therefore the eyewitness had in fact seen a known animal rather than a cryptid. Or indeed, not an animal at all!
(I took the photo below on the shores of Loch Ness, my children thought the rocks in the water were Nessie!)
In many cases, I find this a rather dismissive and insulting approach. If I saw a tiger in my local woods, I would instantly recognise it as a tiger. Sceptics could tell me all day long it was a large dog, but I would know the difference. I spend a huge amount of time walking in the woods and I see dogs there every day. I know the difference between an aminal I see all the time and an animal that ‘shouldn’t be there’. This works the same for eyewitnesses – they know they have seen something unusual, anomalous. And no amount of mockery and criticism could change their minds.
A Question of Evidence?
Most scientists haven’t been to the moon, but they know all about its features from the account of eyewitnesses! They trust the evidence obtained by these witnesses. Of course, there may be cases of misidentification of cryptids, but to completely dismiss every sighting as misidentification, and to dismiss all evidence presented, is an insult to those who know what they saw.
Scientists often take the view that much of the world has already been catalogued, what more could there be left to discover? This is a rather pessimistic view and seems to have the perception of the world as a small, shrinking place. Whereas cryptozoologists represent those of us who believe there is still some mystery left in the world to discover. That the earth is a huge planet much of which we still don’t understand.
As with the belief in ghosts and UFOs, cryptozoology is a controversial subject which can often lead to ridicule. For this reason, many people who have been fortunate enough to spot a cryptid keep their sightings to themselves for fear of their reputation.
But do Cryptids really exist?
All of this depends upon your belief and experiences. Some cryptids are reportedly animals that once roamed the earth but have become extinct. For instance, some describe the Loch Ness Monster as a Plesiosaur, a long-necked aquatic dinosaur that swam in our oceans millions of years ago. The animal is thought to have become extinct some 66 million years ago. Some believe a population of these dinosaurs escaped extinction and still roam the world’s oceans and lakes. Scientists dismiss this theory for a variety of reasons, for instance, a Plesiosaur was an air-breathing creature. It would have to surface frequently and therefore, we would have many more sightings of the creature.
Perhaps the Loch Ness monster is something else then?
Some creatures, once thought to have been extinct have proved otherwise. For instance, the Coelacanth, a fish thought to have gone into extinction 65 million years ago was spotted in the 1930s. Also, huge animals, such as Java elephants have evaded detection for hundreds of years. Indeed, Westerners did not have a sighting of a gorilla (and therefore catalogue their existence) until the mid 19th century.
The Example of Bigfoot
Sightings of Bigfoot (or similar variants) have been recorded for millennia from people across the globe. A wild, often tall hairy man who leaves huge human-like footprints.
Scientists claim that it is impossible for a 7-9 foot tall ape/man hybrid to remain hidden in the jungles, mountains and forest regions of the globe. However, these creatures have not remained hidden. They have been spotted by thousands of people (and countless others who have remained silent about their sightings).
Science has not retrieved a body to study, to obtain DNA from to catalogue. Nevertheless, huge human-like footprints have been cast. Screams have been heard in the forests. Fur has been collected. Therefore other evidence has been documented that would support the existence of Bigfoot. Albeit evidence that is not sufficient for the scientific community to declare the Bigfoot as a living, breathing creature.
Why do I find Cryptozoology so fascinating?
I’m drawn to all things mysterious – history, Cryptozoology, ghosts, the list goes on! The investigation of cryptids is very similar to my profession as a medieval historian. When researching into the medieval past, I have only a small sample of evidence upon which I can rely and make an assessment. Just like cryptids for which there is little evidence. Both disciplines require in-depth investigation, analysis and some interpretation of the evidence. In both instances, the quality of the evidence must be assessed for its validity.
There is nothing wrong with supposing that there is still so much yet to be discovered. That science is an ever-evolving discipline (to use a scientific phrase). It is comforting to know that humans cannot hold the answers to everything and there is still some mystery left in the world.
So, do I believe in cryptids? Absolutely! Let me know your thoughts on the existence of real life monsters!