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This essay was originally published in the journal Northwest Science, Vol. 62, No. 3, 1988 pages 129 and 130. A PDF version of the article is found here:
I’ve taken the liberty to re-post it here, to put into HTML. The original illustration is not included here. A short discussion of mine follows Bodley’s essay.
Sasquatch Footprints: Can Dermal Ridges be Faked?
John H. Bodley, Department of Anthropology
Washington State University Pullman Washington 99164-4910
In May 1987 six very fresh giant human-like footprints (approximately 45 x 15 cm) were discovered in the
Blue Mountains of southeastern
Washington State by myself and a student. These
tracks resembled those that have been reported
throughout the Pacific Northwest and which
some attribute to the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, a
legendary, bipedal, human-like creature (Green
1978). With the exception of a single scuff mark,
and one print over a bent shrub, each footprint
was a complete, very clear impression, approximately one centimeter deep in the firm damp
soil of the trail, or somewhat deeper in the softer
soil beside the trail. These particular tracks were
of special interest because they were extremely
fresh and because upon close inspection they
were found to contain distinct impressions of dermal ridges. Dermal ridges are the tiny swirls or
concentric ridges on palms and digits of hands and feet that leave “finger prints” or “toe prints.”
Such friction skin is found only in primates.
Given the presence of the ridges, the general
crispness of the footprints, and the fact that it
had been raining lightly during the afternoon the
prints were found, it seemed likely that the prints
were perhaps only a half-hour old when first
found. Unfortunately, the ridges did not transfer
to plaster of Paris castings that were made the
following day. These casts were made by Paul
Freeman who, unlike us, had the necessary
materials with him.
However, several years earlier, in June of
1982, plaster casts made by Paul Freeman, then
a U.S. Forest Service patrolman, from similar
tracks in the same general region did yield
distinct dermal ridge impressions.
Casts of these
earlier tracks were analyzed by several dermatoglyphic experts (including Douglas M. Monsoor, a Colorado
criminologist; Robert D. Olsen,
with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and Edward Palma and Benny Kling, with Wyoming law
enforcement offices) who all concluded that
it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible,
for someone wishing to make fraudulent
“Sasquatch” tracks to also produce such fine detail
as these ridges (Krantz l983). They all found the
pattern consistent with foot arrangements, and not
patched together from several hand impressions.
Even though Krantz’s analysis of the 1982 casts
led him to discount the possibility of deliberate
faking in that case, the circumstances of the 1987
tracks led me to test the feasibility of artificially
producing prints of dermal ridges. I was especially puzzled by the remarkable perfection of the
tracks and their distribution along the trail.
Although the tracks were randomly distributed
along a quarter-mile stretch of trail over basically
uniform ground, only a single pair of sequential
left-right prints were found. The other associated
print was a single scuff mark found 10 meters
up the trail from a print very deeply pressed in-
to the center of the trail. It was difficult to ex-
plain why so few tracks were found on so much
available soft soil. The possibility that they had
been artificially planted could not be ruled out,
but it was necessary
to account for the presence
of the detailed dermal ridge impressions.
Krantz (1983:72) reported that some critics
had speculated that dermal ridges could be produced using rubber castings. He also observed
that the wind-blown loess topsoil of southeastern
Washington was fine enough to hold the imprint
of dermal ridges and demonstrated
with his own
thumbprint that ridges could be transferred from
skin-to-soil and then to a plaster cast. I was interested to see if entire footprints could be produced, complete
with such ridges. The purpose
of this experiment was to determine if dermal ridges could in fact be produced in a deliberately faked footprint.
In order to produce dermal ridges, a mold of a
44 cm Sasquatch-like footprint was shaped from
modeling clay. I then carefully rolled my bare
big toe in the soft clay to leave clear dermal ridge
I rolled my heel across the heel of
the mold, and imprinted my forehead on the
center of the clay footprint. Additionally, impressions of hand and feet skin were made with
Elmer’s glue and dried pieces of glue pressed
into the clay. Plaster of Paris was then poured
into the mold and allowed to harden. Upon removal, impressions of dermal ridges were clearly
visible in the resulting cast. An outline of the
track was then traced on the damp ground, the
soil beneath was loosened with a screw-driver,
and the plaster cast was pressed firmly into this
prepared soil, In order to make a good impression, it was necessary to stamp on the cast. (The
cast was broken in the process, but this seemed
not to affect the impression). Fresh plaster was
then poured into the impression in the soil, and
the second cast was examined. It also faithfully
reproduced the dermal ridges that were imprinted into the original clay mold.
Under the right soil conditions, impressions of dermal ridges can easily be transferred from skin-
to-clay, from clay-to-plaster, from plaster-to-soil
and finally from soil back into plaster. Even more
remarkable was the transfer from first skin-to-
glue and then into the same transfer sequence:
clay to plaster to soil and into plaster again,
although the resulting cast in this case was a
Krantz (personal communication) readily
recognized that the resulting cast I produced was
a clumsy fake because of the crudely-shaped toes,
and seven dermatoglyphic experts (certified latent
print examiners in Washington, Oregon, and
California, and another visitor from Scotland
Yard) readily determined that the ridges were not
Dermal ridges can be faked in footprints with
relative ease, at least under certain soil conditions. This experiment certainly does not prove
that the specific tracks examined in May 1987
were fakes, but it does suggest that any purported
sasquatch prints containing impressions of dermal ridges need to be carefully evaluated for the
possible presence of patching or other irregularities throughout the entire footprint.
The author was accompanied in the field by
Lonnie Somer, a graduate student anthropology at Washington State University.
Grover S. Krantz provided the contacts that made
this field investigation possible, and showed my
creation to the fingerprinters. My son, Brett
Bodley. prepared the glue skin impression.
Green,John. 1978. Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us. Seattle:
Krantz, Grover S. 1983. Anatomy and Dermatoglyphics of
Three Sasquatch Footprints. Cryptozoology 2:53-81.
Received 2 January 1988
Accepted. 15 February 1988
I discovered this essay only recently, after having done my own tests to see if textures as fine as dermal ridges could really be captured in natural substrates, and then in cement casts. Indeed, one test I did with my own foot impressed into ordinary potters clay led to a spectacular capture of my own dermal ridges:
A close up photo clearly shows my own dermal ridges. I never did follow through and impress this cast into natural soil as Bodley did. Casting cements such as Ultracal and Hydrocal are significantly stronger than ordinary plaster of Paris. It might be interesting to see if casts made with these higher strength casting compounds would resist breakage better than plaster of Paris.
Screeds and Essays