(USA Today) -- The shy and secretive creature known as Bigfoot has eluded us once more. DNA tests of 30 hair samples attributed to Bigfoot, yetis and other storied beings showed the hair actually came from bears, horses, even a porcupine – but not from any ape-like animals new to science.
The most startling revelation came instead from a pair of supposed yeti samples collected in the Himalayas. The DNA in both hairs matched genetic material from a polar bear bone discovered in 2004 in the high Arctic as part of a separate effort. The bone was dated to more than 100,000 years ago. Perhaps, say the scientists behind the new study, one form of the "yeti" is actually a new species of bear, or an unknown mixture of polar bear and brown bear. Either way, the researchers say they found no trace of a new primate.
"I cannot say that the sasquatch or related animal does not exist," says study co-author Michel Sartori, an entomologist at the Museum of Zoology in Lausanne, Switzerland. "But at the moment I have no evidence of the existence of these creatures."
Both Sartori and his co-author Bryan Sykes, a prominent human geneticist at the University of Oxford, began the project with an open mind. Plenty of animals that aren't supposed to exist have been revealed to astonished scientists. The fish called the coelacanth, for example, was thought to have vanished with the dinosaurs but was rediscovered in the 1930s.
Sykes was intrigued by theories that human-like figures seen in Asia were actually remnant Neanderthals. He was also convinced that scientists had not given a fair shake to proponents of the yeti and other "anomalous primates." So in 2012, he and Sartori began searching museums and soliciting samples from sasquatch and yeti hunters. They shipped the resulting clumps of hair to a forensics lab.
DNA analysis showed that many of the samples came from cows, horses and members of the canine family, the scientists report in this week's Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. The strangest source was the ancient polar bear, though the researchers say that result is very preliminary and needs confirmation. The American black bear was the origin of six of the 30 Bigfoot samples, including one from the body of a purported Bigfoot shot by an American hunter.
"Quite how that confusion arose is anyone's guess, really," says Sykes, whose book The Yeti Enigma comes out this fall.
Another hair clump that turned out to be a bear was collected by Derek Randles, a wilderness guide who snagged a clump of hair stuck high in a bush near footprints that Randles identified as Bigfoot tracks.
"I'm a little disappointed," concedes Randles, who says he has seen a Bigfoot twice. But he has more samples and is not about to give up hope. "Bigfoot research is very hard. They're an extremely rare species, and finding good, verifiable evidence for sasquatches is a rare thing."
Randles and foremost "cryptozoologist" Loren Coleman, director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, say they're happy to have reputable scientists looking at the evidence. And scientists who aren't involved with the research don't necessarily scoff.
"The proper scientific point of view is not to dismiss any hypothesis out of hand but simply to subject it to testing," says Norman MacLeod of The Natural History Museum in London, author of an accompanying commentary on the research. He says it's still possible that something is out there, a view shared by Sykes.
"Rather than thinking 'I've disproved the yeti and Bigfoot and it's all a load of nonsense,' … I was convinced (eyewitnesses) had seen something, more than I was when I started," he says.