Thursday, June 30, 2016

Creature of the Month: Hand of the Yeti by Micah Hanks

The Strange Adventures of the Pangboche “Yeti Finger”

One of the longest held, and most contentious arguments against the existence of creatures like the Sasquatch has been the apparent lack of physical evidence. To counter this criticism, many researchers have argued that, in order to prove the existence of the Sasquatch — and perhaps then be able to protect them — we will likely require a body.

However, a number of decades ago one hopeful adventurer and Bigfoot enthusiast, former British big game hunter Peter Byrne, believed he had found the holy grail of cryptozoological research: an actual mummified hand that had been retrieved from the body of a Yeti.

The story is an odd one, and at times, the turns it takes border the sensational. Byrne recounts that he had been on a Yeti expedition in the region that had spanned nearly three years. “Moving through the Himalayas, we found ourselves camped at a temple called Pangboche,” he recalled of the trip. “The temple had a number of Sherpa custodians, and one evening, I heard one of them speaking Nepalese, which I speak.” The two began to chat, and eventually the discussion came around to the object of Byrne’s quest: the mythical Yeti.

“He told me that in the temple, they had the hand of a Yeti. Which had been there for many, many years.” The Sherpa asked Byrne if he would like to see it, and that evening he was taken to view the strange, twisted remains of a large, human-looking hand with darkened skin, and long curved nails.

“It was covered with crusted, black broken skin,” Byne recalled, and noted that it had been very oily, because of the candles that burned in the room the hand was kept in. Naturally, Byrne’s fascination had been piqued by the strange, chance discovery, and he initiated a prolonged correspondence with the help of runners, who carried messages to the border for him that were mailed to his contacts, Dr. Osman Hill, and Texas millionaire Tom Slick, the expedition’s benefactor. Through these correspondences, a meeting was arranged in London, at which time Byrne and the others devised a plan to retrieve the hand, or at least a portion of it, so that it might be brought back to London for scientific study.

“You’ve got to get this hand,” Dr. Hill told Byrne at a luncheon once he arrived. Byrne, of course, had asked upon discovery of the relic whether he might “borrow” it, but the Llamas at the Pangboche temple had refused, believing misfortune would befall them if the hand were ever removed. Hill then suggested that, if not an entire hand, perhaps a finger could be removed.

“It would have to be replaced,” Byrne said, to which Hill responded, “well, replace it with a human finger.” At that moment, reaching under the table, Dr. Hill produced a bag, from which he removed a similarly weathered-looking human hand. Of this, Slick (who also joined them for this meeting), was recalled having remarked, “I take it that’s not desert!”

“I took [the hand] back to Nepal,” Byrne said, “and sat down with the Llamas, and cut off one of the fingers from the Yeti hand, and replaced it with a human finger.” Drilling through the carpal bones, Byrne reassembled the temple’s unique item with wire, allowing it to maintain the appearance of being unaltered; Byrne even went to the trouble of painting the human finger with iodine, which effectively gave it the same aged appearance of the purported Yeti hand to which it had been attached.

Now, with the exchange having successfully been made, the problem of getting the specimen back to London had presented itself, since Byrne knew the item would be confiscated if it were found during Indian customs inspection. Tom Slick proposed a plan; he told Byrne to travel to Calcutta, and entrust the finger to “a Mr. and Mrs. Stewart,” who were staying at the hotel. Upon arrival, Byrne went to the desk, and asked for the man by the name Slick had advised, and was subsequently invited to the man’s room. As knocked at the door, Byrne was astonished to find that the “Mr. Stewart” who answered was none other than American actor Jimmy Stewart!

Leaving the potentially ground-breaking specimen in Stewart’s possession, the actor and his wife, Gloria, stashed the finger from Pangboche in Mrs. Stewart’s lingerie case. As planned, the belongings made it through Indian customs with no trouble, but once they arrived at Heathrow airport in London, the lingerie case was missing. Two days later, while the couple were staying at the Dorchester Hotel, a customs agent arrived wishing to speak with them. Once the young customs official appeared outside their room, they saw he was carrying the missing lingerie box, and immediately feared that the mysterious finger might have been discovered; it would involve more than a bit of explaining to help customs officials understand how, exactly, a mummified human finger had made its way into the midst of Gloria’s unmentionables.

“Eventually,” Byrne recalled of the incident, “Gloria got around to asking them, ‘by the way, I notice the case is still locked’.”

“Of course madame,” the young agent said, blushing slightly. “We would never open a lady’s lingerie case.”

Despite the successful retrieval of the mysterious finger to London, after its arrival the specimen had remained mysterious. Dr. Hill managed to determine its hominid origins, suggesting that the hand bore similarity to that of a Neanderthal. However, after some time, the finger was passed into one of the many collections at the Royal College of Surgeons museum in London, where it would remain for half a century.

Over the years, few developments would emerge regarding the case of the mysterious Pangboche hand, and its now-missing finger. In the early 1990s, it came to light that anthropologist George Agogino had obtained samples that were taken once the finger was brought to London with the Stewarts. New studies were carried out with these samples, the results of which aired on the popular NBC television show Unsolved Mysteries, which asserted that the samples appeared to be a “near match”, but were likely not actually human. Though highly tantalizing, the non-identification of the Pangboche specimens seemed to do little to enliven the debate over the existence the Yeti at the time, and soon, the hand, and its mysterious detached finger, were largely forgotten again.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the finger was rediscovered at the Royal College of Surgeons, a turn of events that prompted one BBC reporter to contact Peter Byrne and invite him to return to London for an examination of the finger. That December, scientists in Edinburgh were able to study the finger, and conclusively determine that it contained human DNA; after decades in limbo, the debate over the origins of the Pangboche Yeti hand was finally resolved.

While unable to offer that long-sought “proof” of the existence of the mysterious Yeti, the Pangboche hand affair remains, without question, one of the most colorful stories in the long history of cryptozoological research.

Micah Hanks is a writer, researcher, lecturer, and radio personality whose work addresses a variety of scientific concepts and unexplained phenomena. Over the last decade, his research has examined a variety of approaches to studying the unexplained, cultural phenomena, human history, and the prospects of our technological future as a species as influenced by science.

He is author of several books, including his 2012 New Page Books release, The UFO SingularityThe Ghost RocketsMagic, Mysticism and the Molecule, and Reynolds Mansion. Hanks produces a weekly podcast, The GralienReport, which follows his research.

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