ZANA - the apewoman who gave birth to four children with human locals

Hundreds of explorers, theorists and fantasists have spent their lives searching for the infamous 'big-foot'. But a leading geneticist believes he has found evidence to prove that it - or rather she - could have been more than a myth.

Russia’s ‘Almasty Hunters’ have been obsessed with her story for over half a century and have always believed that Zana could be a surviving Neanderthal, the human-like species that is thought to have died out tens of thousands of years ago.

Professor Bryan Sykes of the University of Oxford claims a towering woman named Zana who lived in 19th Century Russia - and appeared to be 'half human, half ape' - could have been the fabled yeti.
Witnesses described the six-foot, six-inches tall woman discovered in the Caucasus mountains between Georgia and Russia as having 'all the characteristics of a wild animal' - and covered in thick auburn hair.

Experts believe the wandering 'Wild Woman' was found lurking in the remote region of Ochamchir in the Republic of Abkhazia.
She was captured by a local merchant in the 1850s who hired a group of hunters to subdue and shackle her in the mountainous terrain.
Professor Sykes claims Zana was kept in a 'ditch surrounded by sharpened spikes' and sold from owner to owner until she came to serve nobleman Edgi Genaba as a servant.

Famously known as the ape woman, Zana had at least four children by local men and some of her descendants still live in the region, the Times reported. 
Sykes made an astonishing discovery when he carried out saliva tests on six of her living relatives and the tooth of her deceased son Khwit.
The DNA analysis revealed that they all contained the right amount of African DNA for Zana the ape woman to be '100 per cent African' but remarkably she did not resemble any known group.  

Her resemblance was that of a wild beast - 'the most frightening feature of which was her expression which was pure animalic,' one Russian zoologist wrote in 1996.
The man who organized various eyewitness accounts of Zana wrote: 'Her athletic power was enormous. She would outrun a horse and swim across the Moskva river even when it rose in violent high tide.' 

To answer the riddle and establish what species she belonged to, Professor Sykes has tested samples from six of Zana’s living descendants. He has also recovered DNA from a tooth taken from the skull of one of her sons, Khwit. Such work is highly specialized and Sykes was the first geneticist ever to extract DNA from an ancient bone.
The results are complex and fascinating. First, they show that Zana was, in fact, no more Neanderthal than many of the rest of modern humans. When the Neanderthal genome was sequenced in 2010 it became clear that Europeans and Asians contain around 2 to 4% of Neanderthal DNA; almost certainly the result of interbreeding.
But the big surprise in Sykes’ results was that Zana’s DNA is not Caucasian at all, but African. Khwit’s tooth sample confirms her maternal African ancestry and the saliva tests on the six living descendants show that they all contain African DNA in the right proportions for Zana to have been genetically 100% sub-Saharan African.
“The most obvious solution that springs to mind is that Zana or her ancestors were brought from Africa to Abkhazia as slaves, when it was part of the slave trading Ottoman Empire, to work as servants or labourers,” says Professor Sykes. “While the Russians ended slavery when they took over the region in the late 1850s, some Africans remained behind. Was Zana one of them, who was living wild in the forest when she was captured?“
But that theory would not explain her extraordinary features, described by reliable eyewitnesses. There is an even more intriguing alternative theory. Having carefully studied the skull of Zana’s son, Khwit, Professor
Sykes believes there are some unusual morphological skull features – such as very wide eye sockets, an elevated brow ridge and what appears to be an additional bone at the back of the skull – that could suggest ancient, as opposed to modern, human origins.
And Sykes has raised the bold theoretical possibility that Zana could be a remnant of an earlier human migration out of Africa, perhaps tens of thousands, of years ago. If correct, Zana could be evidence of a hitherto unknown human ‘tribe’, dating from a distant time when the human species was still evolving and whose ancestors were forced into remote regions, like the Caucasus mountains, by later waves of modern humans coming out of Africa.

Some have argued that she was a runaway Ottoman slave but Professor Sykes says her 'unparalleled DNA' refutes that theory.
He believes her ancestors came out of Africa over 100,000 years ago and lived in the remote Caucasus for many generations.
The archaeological site of Dmanisi, located in the Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia about 93 km southwest of the capital Tbilisi, has only been partially excavated so far, but it’s already providing the first opportunity for anthropologists to compare and contrast the physical traits of multiple human ancestors that apparently coincided in the same time and geological space.
“The differences between these Dmanisi fossils are no more pronounced than those between five modern humans or five chimpanzees,” said Dr. David Lordkipanidze from the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, a lead author of a paper in the journal Science and co-author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Traditionally, researchers have used variation among Homo fossils to define different species. But in light of these new findings, Dr. Lordkipanidze, and his colleagues suggest that early, diverse Homo fossils, with their origins in Africa, actually represent variation among members of a single, evolving lineage – most appropriately, Homo erectus.

Zana was eventually 'tamed' by the nobleman who bought her as a servant and kept her on his estate in Tkhina in the Republic of Abkhazia.
Accounts from the time claim she was incredibly muscular, slept outdoors and ran around naked until she died on the estate in 1890. 
Some of his colleagues doubt his other findings - which include a claim that an unknown species of bear might account for yeti sightings in Bhutan. 
One of the Russian Almasty hunters, Dr. Igor Burtsev, offers testimony in the Channel 4 documentary that may back this theory up. He unearthed Khwit’s skull in 1971 and a few years later, showed it to a group of anthropologists in Moscow. They were, he says ‘amazed’, and identified a mix of ‘primitive’ and ‘progressive’ (modern) features in the skull. Lacking the scientific tools at Sykes’ disposal, they could take it no further. Now Sykes is able to propose the theory with some confidence.
It is only a theory at this stage – and a bold and speculative one at that. But Professor Sykes intends to study it much further before reaching his final conclusions.

There are also scientists who criticize the statements of Professor Sykes.
But then, what else can you expect from someone who deplores…math? Take a look at the prominent pull quote.
“Professor Sykes criticized modern genetics for its lack of ambition and its fixation on mathematics. I’m afraid the golden years are over, he said. It is a field now dominated by the arrogance of bioinformatics and, as such, has lost its way.”
That is utterly baffling. Doesn't he like that genetics is fixated on mathematics? But genetics has relied heavily on math since Mendel! If he actually analyzed Zana’s descendants and compared them to extant human populations, he was using the principles of bioinformatics! What he seems to be saying is that he wants to ignore the data to give greater credence to the bigoted legends of Zana, the Russian ape-woman.

Despite the lack of hard proof from the analysis of the alleged 'yeti hairs', he says he has developed a strong sense that 'something is out there' after speaking to dozens of witnesses. 
Professor Sykes could not say if the yeti, bigfoot or the Russian almasty is the best candidate for a surviving race of human 'apemen'.

He said: 'Bigfoot has many more people trying to find it. But I suppose, either the yeti or the alma / almasty, which live in inaccessible and very thinly populated regions, is the most likely.'


                                                               photo credit: google.com

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