Feb 16, 2018 I Micah Hanks

How an 18th Century Anatomical Dictionary from Tibet Offered Evidence of the Legendary Yeti

It is well known that among Native Americans, long legendary traditions exist which document the existence of the creature known today as Sasquatch. Although many different names have been attributed to the creature, mostly throughout parts of the Pacific Northwest, similarities remain present throughout the various cultural traditions pertaining to the creature.

The indigenous peoples of the American Northwest aren't the only representation of cultural beliefs pertaining to large, mysterious hominids that have existed for centuries. In fact, an unusual discovery made in 1959 provides a glimpse at similar traditions that have long existed elsewhere in the world, in relation to the alleged existence of large, manlike beasts; more specifically, the famous Yeti of Tibet and Nepal.

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Footprints purported to have been made by the Yeti, photographed in 1953.

The discovery in question was made in 1959 by Emanuel Vlcek, a Czech paleoanthropologist, and professor at the Anatomical Institute of the First Medical Faculty of Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. Vlcek had been part of an anthropological expedition sent by what was then still the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences to Mongolia to study the memorial of Prince Kulteghine, and in a more general sense, to "establish conditions for anthropological research in Mongolia."

While visiting Tibet and Mongolia, Vlcek made a unique discovery: the inclusion of an unknown, manlike animal in a rare, eighteenth-century manual on anatomy and diagnosis of various diseases. In a paper which subsequently appeared in the journal Man (which carried on after 1994 as the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute), Vlcek wrote of his discovery as follows:

While investigating Tibetan books in the library of a former lamaistic university of Gandan, I found a book, by Lovsan-Yondon and Tsend-Otcher, entitled in free translation "Anatomical Dictionary for Recognizing Various Diseases." This illustration shows a biped primate standing erect on a rock, with one arm stretched upwards. The head with the face and the whole body, except for the hands and feet proper, are covered with long hair. The illustration is realistic only stylized according to the conception of lamaistic art.

During a subsequent visit to Mongolia, Vlcek found a later edition of the book in the central library of the Scientific Committee in Mongolia, depicting a slightly updated, but otherwise nearly identical rendering of the Tibetan bichun, noting that:

The illustration of the wild man from the thematic viewpoint is absolutely identical with the 100 years older copy of the Peking edition, though it is effected in less stylized and far more credible manner. Again, the upright position of the figure on the rock is identical, even the upraised arm and the slightly bended knees. The head is covered with hair and the face with a full beard and the rest of the body, excepting the hands and feet proper, with short fur that does not conceal the proportions of the body, such as the configuration of the large thoracic muscles.

The "bitchun" or "man-animal," as depicted in the Tibetan Anatomical Dictionary, discovered in 1959 by Emanuel Vlcek.

Excerpts from the Anatomical Dictionary were reprinted with Vlcek's accompanying article in Man, of which New Scientist summarized, "show animals of various kinds including monkeys, small carnivores, birds, reptiles, fish and a number of invertebrates, all drawn with a minimum of stylization and none of them mythical in the manner of the European beastiaries. One of the animals, a large, hairy primate, is called a bitchun or Kumchin gorugosu , which is Mongolian for the man-animal. The bitchun, according to Dr. Emanuel Vlcek, of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, seems to be none other than the famous Yeti of the Himalayas, the creature popularly known as the Abominable Snowman."

It was the interpretation of Vlcek at the time that the animal referred to in these texts as the "bichun," "peeyi" or "zerleg-khoon," accompanying an image of a man like, but hair-covered animal, "document[s] in a remarkable way the existence of a creature known to the natives of Tibet for at least two centuries."

The presence of documented cultural traditions of the Yeti in Tibetan and Mongolian texts bears similarity to its western counterpart, as represented by the Sasquatch in North American folklore shared among indigenous groups. If the existence of such creatures were purely legendary, what would the prevalence of "wild men" in traditions spanning many different regions worldwide represent, in terms of culture and anthropology?

Even if the door were to be closed on the case for a biological Yeti or Sasquatch, the cultural consistencies between reports of the creatures would nonetheless remain fascinating.

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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