Thursday, November 23, 2006

Cryptozoology at the American Anthropological Association Meetings

I was somewhat surprised to see a paper on cryptozoology at the 105th annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association. These took place last week in San Jose. I went largely to do job interviews and collect intelligence on what is going on in my little corner of archaeology. But while I was there, I noticed the following paper in the program, in a session entitled Disorder, Dangerous Terrains, Topics, and Critiques

Pamela D McElwee (Arizona State University) "The Dangerous History of Cryptozoology: Curious Cases from Vietnam"

UPDATE: Loren Coleman reproduces the abstract of the paper on his blog

The paper addressed the way cryptzoologists have decided that Vietnam is a "lost world," a terra nullius within which we can imagine and dream. During the 1990s, as Vietnam opened up to the post-Cold War world, reports and then discoveries of large mammals and other species began to emerge from Vietnam. This attracted the attention of not just mainstream zoologists but cryptozoologists. They looked for somewhat more mundane game, such as the Kthing Vor cattle with twisted horns (there is debate on whether it actually exists or if the horns are created by humans as magical items) as well as for the more exotic Yehren-style wild men.

The paper was somewhat skeptical of the more extreme claims of cryptozoology, though more open-minded than one might expect. But the real takeaway message in regards to cryptozoology was that it is wrong to treat Vietnam as some kind of "lost world" or otherwise unknown place of mythical beasts, when it is actually an increasingly populated and urbanized region.

This in turn led to a spirited debate with a member of the audience, clearly a bigfoot researcher. This individual (who I didn't catch his name, but was at the meetings for the duration, not just for the individual session) took issue with some of the skepticism from the presenter and others at the session, and made it clear that he and his fellow researchers know much more about bigfoot genetics, society, and other issues than one would expect. I could tell, by the time the Minnesota Iceman was mentioned, that I was the only one in the symposium (besides perhaps presenter Dr. McElwee) who knew what this man was talking about.

I had to skip the SETI session, which had some real SETI luminaries. It was at the same time as the annual Ceramic Ecology session, and I figured that was better for my career.

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