Edinburgh scientists solve mystery of yeti finger from Nepal
FOR YEARS it was revered by Himalayan monks who were convinced it protected them from bad luck.
Seized by an American explorer in the 1950s, the mummified finger was said to have belonged to the yeti, the mysterious ape-like creature which featured in two early Doctor Who storylines.
Now, scientists at Edinburgh Zoo have revealed the finger, hidden in the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons for decades, once belonged to a human.
The news about the finger, found in the vaults of the London college’s Hunterian Museum three years ago, has dashed the hopes of experts in cyptozoology, the study of animals, who are yet to find scientific proof of the beasts’ existence.
Experts at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, who carried out the DNA tests, said the news “wasn’t too surprising, but obviously slightly disappointing”.
The revelation is the latest twist in one of the great mysteries of the 20th century, which first emerged when Westerners began their attempts to conquer the Himalayas, and reported seeing strange footprints, as early as 1925. “Yeti-hunting” expeditions were carried out in the 1950s, some of them funded by Texas oilman and adventurer Tom Slick, who became obsessed with the hand after hearing two Sherpas talking about it.
His teams brought back photographs of the shrivelled hand which was held by the Pangboche Monastery, in Nepal, and eventually an Irish-American explorer, Peter Byrne, was persuaded to try to obtain it from the monks. They reputedly only agreed to part with the finger if Mr Byrne replaced it with a human bone.
Although he managed to smuggle his find across the border to India, it was only brought back to the UK thanks to the actor James Stewart, a friend of the oilman. His wife Gloria smuggled it through customs in a lingerie case.
The finger was handed over to the world-renowned primatologist Professor William Charles Osman Hill, whose tests concluded in 1960 it was not human.
A collection of his specimens and research notes was bequeathed to the London museum in 1975, but it was not until three years ago that conservation work on the collection threw up the discovery of what was described as a “yeti finger”.
Research carried out for a BBC documentary, broadcast yesterday, tracked down Mr Byrne, now 85, to his home in the US, where he confirmed it was the one taken from the monastery.
“The temple had a number of Sherpa custodians,” he said. “I heard one of them speaking Nepalese, which I speak. He told me that they had in the temple the hand of a yeti which had been there for many years.
“It looked like a large human hand. It was covered with crusted black, broken skin. It was very oily from the candles and the oil lamps in the temple. The fingers were hooked and curled.” The college granted permission for the zoological society to carry out the DNA tests.
Dr Rob Jones, senior scientist, said: “We have got a very, very strong match to a number of existing reference sequences on human DNA databases. It’s very similar to existing human sequences from China and that region of Asia but we don’t have enough resolution to be confident of a racial identification.”
Another scientist Dr Rob Ogden, added: “We had several fragments that we put into one big sequence and then matched that against the database and found human DNA. So it wasn’t too surprising but obviously slightly disappointing that we hadn’t discovered something brand new.”
Dr Sam Alberti, director of the Hunterian Museum, said: “The fascinating story of how this artefact came to find itself in our museum store reveals the extraordinary lengths people have gone to prove the existence of mythical animals.”
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