Almas

WlLDMAN of Central Asia.

Etymology: Mongolian (Altaic), "wild man," though possibly derived from ala ("to kill") + mal ("animals"). The word is found in many southern Mongolian place-names.

Variant names: Albast, Albasty, Alboost, Almast (Kazakh/Turkic), Habisun mortu ("edgewise going"), Khun Goruessu, Nuhni almas ("burrow" almas), Zagin almas ("saxaul" almas), Zagitmegen ("old woman of the saxaul thickets").

Physical description: Adult height, 5 feet-6 feet 6 inches. Covered with 6-inch-long, curly, reddish-brown hair except for hands and face. Dark skin. Prominent browridges. Small, flat nose. Pronounced cheekbones. Jutting jaw. No chin. Short neck. Females have pendulous breasts. Long arms. Long fingers. Short thumb. Fingernails and toenails present. Bare, callused knees. Short legs. Broad feet. Big toe shorter than others but massive and projecting inward.

Behavior: Walks with knees bent and legs spread apart (at least in snow). Females throw breasts over their shoulders when running. Said to be able to outrun camels. No known language but can produce some bloodcurdling shrieks. Eats grass, wild plants, and perhaps small mammals. Lives in caves. Possibly engages in primitive barter with humans (will leave skins at prearranged places and pick up items left by the nomads) and may interbreed with them (a lama at the Lamaiin Gegeenii Huryee Monastery in Mongolia was said to be a half-breed Almas). Said to occasionally suckle human infants. Can use only simple tools. Apparently has no knowledge of fire.

The Almas, wildman of Central Asia. (Richard Svensson/Fortean Picture Library)

Tracks: Rarely seen but slightly longer than a human's and much wider. No arch present.

Distribution: Altai Mountains, Mongolia; Gobi Desert of Mongolia and Nei Mongol Autonomous Region, China; Tian Shan Mountains of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China; Qilian Shan Mountains of Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, China; Sayanskiy Range, Tuva Republic, Siberian Russia.

Significant sightings: Bavarian soldier Johannes Schiltberger was captured by Turks at the Battle of Nikopol, Bulgaria, in 1396; after the Turks lost to Timur at the Battle of Ankara in 1402, Schiltberger became a slave to various Mongol warlords, migrating all the way from Armenia to Mongolia itself and finally returning to Europe in 1427. While in the Tian Shan Mountains in the retinue of the Mongol prince Egidi, he became the first Westerner to see an Almas, two of which had been caught in the mountains. They were covered with hair except on their hands and faces.

Sometime in the late nineteenth century, a caravan was resting in the southern part of the Mongolian province of Ovorhangay on the way to Hohhot, Nei Mongol Autonomous Region, China, when one of the men in the party went to collect the camels that had been set loose to graze. When he did not return, the others went off into the saxaul thickets to look for him. At the entrance to a cave, they found evidence of a struggle and figured an Almas had abducted him. One of the elders suggested they pick him up on the way back from Hohhot, which they did, waiting until the creature emerged from the cave at sundown and shooting it. The rescued man seemed to be insane and died two months afterward.

In April 1906, Soviet scholar Badzar Baradiin reportedly had a brief encounter with an Almas while he was traveling in the Gobi Desert near Badain Jaran, Nei Mongol Autonomous Region, China. However, Michael Heaney considers this story a fiction, based on the fact that there is no mention of the incident in Baradiin's meticulous diary of the trip; moreover, the actual route was 150 miles east of where the event supposedly took place.

A seven-year-old Almas female was accidentally killed in the Gobi when she set off a crossbow attached to an animal snare. Many people in the sparsely populated area are said to have seen the body, but the locals begged investigators not to talk about it, since crossbow snares were illegal.

In 1927, travelers left a caravan unattended while they went to look for a camel that had dropped back. Upon their return at daybreak, they found several Almas warming themselves by the dying campfire. The creatures had eaten some dried dates and sweets but had left the jars of wine untouched.

A monk named Dambayorin was traveling across the Gobi in 1930 when he saw a naked child in the distance. When he got closer, he saw it was covered with red hair, realized it was an Almas, and fled in terror.

An entire skin of an Almas is said to have hung in the temple of the monastery at Baruun Hural, Mongolia, in 1937. It had humanlike legs and arms and long hair hanging from its head. The Almas had been killed in the Gobi by the hunter Mangal Durekchi and given to the lamas.

A Mongolian pharmacist named Nagmit was in the mountains with two Kazakhs when they came upon an Almas. They shouted at it, offering it food and clothing, but it kept its distance. When they shot at it, intentionally missing, the creature merely seemed curious, then departed.

Russian pediatrician Ivan Ivlov was traveling in the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia in 1963 when he saw a male, a female, and a young Almas on a mountain slope. He observed them through binoculars at a distance of about a mile until they moved out of sight. Afterward, he queried a number of his child patients about the Almas and obtained some detailed stories.

Present status: Vanished or severely reduced over much of its range. P)ossible explanations:

(1) Surviving Homo erectus, suggested by Mark Hall and Loren Coleman. The nearest known fossils are the Zhoukoudian Peking man remains found north of Beijing in the 1920s. The browridge, flat nose, absent chin, and robust jaw match Almas descriptions. H. erectus used a primitive (Acheulean) toolkit of hand axes and other bifacial stone tools. The youngest level of erectus remains at Zhoukoudian date from about 300,000 years ago.

(2) Surviving Neanderthals (Homo nean-derthalensis), proposed by Myra Shackley. Neanderthal fossils are not known in Central Asia, though Shackley claims to have recovered, in Mongolia, Mousterian tools normally associated with them. Almas descriptions seem to indicate a more primitive morphology than known Neanderthal fossils, so Shackley has also theorized that they may represent a common ancestor to Neanderthals and modern humans. Sources: Johannes Schiltberger, The Bondage and Travels of Johann Schiltberger (London: Hakluyt Society, 1879); Nikolai M. Przheval'skii, Mongolia, the Tangut Country, and the Solitudes ofNorthern Tibet (London: S. Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1876), pp. 249-250; T. Douglas Forsyth, "On the Buried Cities in the Shifting Sands of the Great Desert of Gobi," Royal Geographical Society Journal 47 (1877): 1-17; Rinchen, "Almas: Mongol'skii rodich snezhnogo cheloveka," Sovremennaya

Mongoliya 5 (1958): 34-38; G. P. Dement'ev and D. Zevegmid, "Une note sur l'homme des neiges en Mongolie," La Terre et la Vie 4 (1960): 194-199; Ivan T. Sanderson, Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life (Philadelphia: Chilton, 1961), pp. 318-320; Rinchen, "Almas Still Exists in Mongolia," Genus 20 (1964): 186-192; Boris A. Porshnev, "Bor'ba za Trogloditov," Prostor (Alma-Ata), 1968, no. 4, pp. 98-112, no. 5, pp. 76-101, no. 6, pp. 108-121, no. 7, pp. 109-127, translated into French as pt. 1 of Bernard Heuvelmans and Boris F. Porshnev, L'homme de Néanderthalest toujours vivant (Paris: Plon, 1974), see pp. 40-47, 141-142; Odette Tchernine, The Yeti (London: Neville Spearman, 1970), pp. 51-62, 177; Myra Shackley, "The Case for Neanderthal Survival: Fact, Fiction, or Faction?" Antiquity 56

(1982): 31-41; Michael Heaney, "The Mongolian Almas: A Historical Reevaluation of the Sighting by Baradin," Cryptozoology 2

(1983): 40-52; Myra Shackley, Still Living? Yeti, Sasquatch and the Neanderthal Enigma (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1983), pp. 91-108, 161-164; Chris Stringer, "Wanted: One Wildman, Dead or Alive," New Scientist, August 11, 1983, p. 422; Ra Rabjir, Almas survalzhilsan temdeglel (Ulaanbataar, Mongolia: Ulsyn Khevleliin Gazar, 1990); Ivan Mackerle, MongolskéZâhady (Prague: Ivo Zelezny, 2001).

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