In 2007, a set of peculiar bones were recovered from a forested area in rural West Virginia. The bones, apparently the remains of a large foot and lower leg, were odd-looking; and yet, they were also strangely human in appearance. But if not human, what else could they possibly have been?
Local law enforcement who were alerted to the discovery reached out to the Smithsonian Institute for assistance with solving the mystery, who after analyzing the bones made a surprising discovery: they actually weren't human after all.
"Sometimes, the distinctive adaptations in bone are tricky to spot," read a statement about the discovery from the Smithsonian website.
So what did the "mystery foot" belong too?
"This clawless hind paw of a black bear looks somewhat like a human foot," the Institute's website reads. Once enough of the flesh had decomposed around the remaining bones, the hind paw--likely removed by a hunter shortly after dispatching the animal during the previous hunting season--might have been carried away from any other identifiable remains by scavengers. The remaining hind paw, picked mostly clean and all by itself, certainly gave it an odd, humanlike appearance.
Misidentifications like this happen all the time, which just goes to show how much the remains of species like bear and other large mammals can, at times, look very much like human remains. However, there is probably no other creature that, if it exists, might blur the lines between man and beast more than the Sasquatch, America's alleged great ape of the Northwest.
This brings to mind an interesting question, especially on account of the fact that Sasquatch is purported to closely resemble a large, primitive variety of human: what would happen if a Sasquatch's remains were actually found? What should a person do in the unlikely event that they stumbled across the remains of a "beast" that was officially unknown to science, but which was more human than any other animal?
Attempting to discern what procedure should be followed in the event of such an unlikely circumstance is difficult, since in most states there appears to be no official stance on the issue (understandably, most law enforcement agencies and other state organizations wouldn't plan for such "what if" scenarios if they deem the creature's existence unlikely in the first place). However, there are certainly guidelines for what to do in the event that human remains are found, which vary depending on what kind of remains they are, what their age appears to be, and whether it is believed a crime might have been involved.
One U.S. state known for its sightings of Sasquatch is Washington, where the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation says, "If you have found human remains or suspected human remains, Washington State law requires you to notify the County Coroner and local law enforcement. This must be done in the most expeditious manner possible. Any person engaging in ground disturbance activities that resulted in the exposure of human remains must cease all activity which may cause further disturbance to the remains."
Note the inclusion of "suspected human remains" in the statement above. While Sasquatch may be deemed an animal by many (including several proponents of its existence), I couldn't imagine another "animal" that is more closely said to resemble humans. Arguably, the remains of any animal which could not be identified, but which bore a strong similarity to a human, would fall into this category.
After the remains have been reported to the County Coroner and local law enforcement, in most states the coroner then assumes jurisdiction over the remains in order to determine whether they are forensic or not (i.e. pertaining to a crime, missing person, or other instance where law enforcement may be concerned).
If the remains are not deemed to be forensic, they are generally managed by state anthropologists thereafter. In Washington State, "If the county coroner determines the remains are non-forensic, then the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) will take jurisdiction over those remains found on non-Federal and Non-Tribal land."
"Once jurisdiction is assumed, the State Physical Anthropologist will make a determination of whether the remains are Indian or Non-Indian and report that finding to any appropriate cemeteries and to the affected tribes," according to a fact sheet at the DAHP website. When archaeological remains are determined to have been of Native American origin, tribes in the region are notified, and granted a period of five business days "to communicate with the DAHP their interest in those remains."
"If the State Physical Anthropologist determines the remains to be Non-Indian, then the DAHP will handle all consultation concerning the remains," the fact sheet reads, and coordinates all matters pertaining to their "future preservation, excavation, and disposition."
Based on this information, and using Washington's Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation as an example (especially since similar guidelines are required to be followed in other states), it seems likely that once law enforcement and coroners were able to determine that the alleged Sasquatch remains were not, in fact, human remains, they would likely be handed over to state anthropologists. With little doubt, entities like the Smithsonian Institute may be called in to aid in the identification of anomalous or unidentifiable remains (as we saw in the case with the bear's hind paw earlier).
Obviously, a discovery of this magnitude would garner a lot of attention from the scientific community in general, ranging from disciplines like evolutionary biology to primatology and others. But where would things go from here? What kinds of agencies would become involved on the federal level, and are there any existing policies that pertain to how the U.S. Federal Government might react to such a discovery?
In part two of this post, we'll look at what U.S. government agencies actually have said what their involvement would be under such unlikely circumstances, as well as whether there is any precedent for certain agencies arriving to claim the body, among other things.