30.7.16

SKATING ON THIN ICE

Bernard Heuvelmans.   Neanderthal: The Strange Story of the Minnesota Iceman. Translated by Paul LeBlond, afterword by Loren Coleman.  Anomalist Books, 2016.

The story of the “Minnesota Iceman”, an alleged hairy humanoid displayed in a block of ice by a carnival grafter Frank Hansen in 1968 is perhaps one of the oddest in cryptozoology, not least because the overwhelming probability that the thing was a fake. One would have thought that the very facts that a carnival showman was displaying the thing, that no-one was ever allowed to see it outside the block of ice, and that the moment it looked as though scientists were taking an interest in it the individual displaying it claimed it had been replaced by a replica indicated that. The stories of how he got hold of it were constantly changing and above all it doesn’t actually resemble anything from bush of human evolution as understood by modern evolutionary biologists.

Despite this Bernard Heuvelmans, the Belgian pioneer of cryptozoology insisted that it was genuine, and that it was a surviving Neanderthal. Even at the time, paleoanthropologists considered this to be an incredibly grotesque insult to the poor old Neanderthals. Not even artists like Zdenek Burian, who portrayed them as shambling brutes, ever showed the Neanderthals as the hairy ape-like things that Ice Ma appeared to be. Today, as Loren Coleman acknowledges in his afterword, we know from genetic analysis that many Neanderthals had pale skins and fair or red hair and increasingly they are seen as people by no means as different from us as once thought, who interbred with incomers peoples from Africa, our majority ancestors.

For younger people who have read up on human evolution Heuvelmans’ text will be not just weird but actually incomprehensible. We now know he was wrong about everything, dates, lineages and the macroscopic view of human evolution. Even by the standards of the late 1960s and early 1970s his views were antique and eccentric and in good measure appear to have been strongly influenced by pre-Second World War texts.

To add to this, Heuvelmans emerges from this book, first written in French in 1974, as a classic crank, complaining constantly about the establishment suppressing inconvenient information and ganging up on him. Of course when paleoanthropologists were presented with a genuine major anomaly, the Flores “hobbit”, the response of the vast majority was quite different.

In his afterword Loren Coleman tries to shift the iceman back to Homo erectus, but again that won’t do. Homo ergaster, the ancestor of Homo erectus had already developed a modern human body shape below the neck and had shed its body hair in adapting to a fast paced savannah existence about two million years ago. To sind something rather resembling iceman you have to go back to the Australopithecines at least.

This strikes me as a sad book, and in selecting it as the work of Heuvelmans to republish it does him no favours, rather it does him a considerable disservice. -- Peter Rogerson.


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