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Catalogue of Monsters.  By Gregory Panchenko. Olma Press, Moscow, 2002. 383 pp.  (in Russian)
Reviewed by Karl C. Beyer

Gregory Panchenko is a biologist from Ukraine and has collected the majority of his field experience under the direction of  Dr. Marie-Jeanne Koffmann in  the northern Caucasus. He is a member of the Russian Society of Cryptozoologists and, according to Koffmann, has participated in her field work since 1984. During the 1980’s, he was one of her most important young coworkers. Additionally, he is the first representative of the young generation of field researchers in the former Soviet Union who became known in the West: His night observation of a being, which is considered to be an Almasty, was published by Bayanov and Koffmann in 1992. According to them this encounter took place in summer 1991.[1] The book was published with 5000 copies - a high number compared to other Russian "Snowman" literature. Therefore one can hope that a few copies will make their way to the West, not only because the book contributes important knowledge about the Caucasus wildmen.
The author writes in his introduction: "A special  thanks  must  be given to the oldest, and for many years, leading Russian cryptozoologist Shanna Josifovna Koffmann, withoutwhose help, not only could  the  book  in  front  of  you  not  be  written,  but also  the entire area of this science (yes, science!) not be at the level it is today." (p. 6-7).

The book consists of two parts, illustrated with black and white drawings. Part I is concerned - after a general introduction in Cryptozoology - only with the "relic hominoids". The results of the field work of the author and that of his soviet Russian colleagues serve as proof. Here he writes: “…The discussion will mostly be from the Caucasus , where most of the research work of the Russian cryptozoologists has taken place, through the many years of participation from Sh. J. Koffmann. One must therefore stress this fact, because the uniqueness of the Caucasus areal has led to the development of a one-of-a-kind situation, which is not repeated anywhere else in the world.” (p. 71).

In the chapters Relic Hominoids: Life picture, Relic Hominoid: Ecology  and  Almasty and Karate knowledge of the field researchers is presented, on the basis of eye witness reports. A large part of the chapters consists of long quotes from Koffmann - her commentary to such knowledge. Unfortunately, the concrete sources of these quotes are not named. It would have been important to know this, because these quotes do not come from Koffmanns publications known in the West. Some eye witness reports are apparently published in their entirety, in the form of a dialogue consisting of questions and answers between the researcher and eye witness. For the reader who is interested in the procedure of such interviews, this presentation is particularly welcome. The eye witness reports from the Caucasus known from the literature are almost always published in the form of a monologue. However, in reality such reports are almost always in the form presented by Panchenko. For a large part of the eye witness reports quoted in the book, one cannot recognize where and where they were taken down. The names of these eye witnesses are also not given.

Some aspects of the ethnology of the Almasty are presented by the author in much detail. Particularly this part of the content shows itself to be an all-encompassing knowledge of the Soviet-Russian researchers as a result of 40 years of field work. Such knowledge is apparent, for example, in what Panchenko shares about the Almasty’s use of tools. The use of wooden “combs” appears to be supported by many eye witness reports. The author quotes Koffmann here, too: “Naturally I tried to find out what these combs look like. But what they make them for is a complete mystery, because their fingers are very long, they have very long fingernails, and that is completely adequate to comb their hair. Maybe it’s an element of the imitation of humans. […]” (p. 83).  “ […] There were Almasty observed that combed themselves, combed their head with this comb, and then took the comb, stuck it under their belt, and left.” (p.85).

Another example in connection with the Almasty’s behaviour compared to that of humans is given in the following way: “I went into a leaf hut and lit a match. Almasty stood in two corners: A woman and a man. I was startled and ran away immediately. As I was running down the street, two elders stopped me: ‘Why are you running as if you were sick?’ they asked. I told them everything. They laughed and said ‘Why were you startled?’ […] They asked me to go with them to the leaf hut. One of the old men went in. After a while he came out, pulling an Almasty with him by the hair. He placed her in front of us and began to pet her. We looked at her and then took her for a walk. You hear this from the elders very often: ‘Don’t be afraid of her! If you were a real man, if you have the heart of a reckless guy, go right up to them and take them by the chest. He won’t do anything.’ [...] ” Koffmann is also quoted regarding this: “In such cases, if you handle them very openly, really, despite their massive power, they do not put up any resistance. The discussion is, as said, of the females. Or from the young males […] ” (p. 75).

In the chapter Almasty and Karate, the author analyses reports from eye witnesses with whom the Almasty behaved aggressively, for example, to defend themselves. Apparently, he is in the habit of “hitting with an open hand” and not a fist. According to Panchenko, the anatomy of an Almasty hand does not allow it to make a tight fist, as in humans. Based on eye witness descriptions, parallels between this and a Neanderthal hand, and the hypothesis of a “hydraulic hit” are presented. This hit “with a soft hand” has the energy, different from the usual punch with a fist, which is converted into the inner body in the sense of a contusion. A possible result of this hit could be bruising or injury of internal organs without trauma on the surface of the body. The author makes comparisons to Asian fighting techniques and writes: “All of these contusion-abilities are possible with the correct execution of the hit. [...] With the smallest mistake, the opposite is achieved…” (p. 144). This presentation is completed though testimony of the locals: “And suddenly, he hit me with such force that I flew through the entire herder’s hut and fell down.” (p. 144). “Then the Almasty hit me so that I flew a few meters away [...] He didn’t hit me with his fist, rather with the fingers like a cat...” (p. 145).

The author stressed, just as Koffmann did in 1992, that the information about the observation of an Almasty almost never leads to a successful observation by the researchers.[2] This is based upon the constant change of location of the individuals. On the other hand, Panchenko quotes eye witnesses, according to whom the Almasty has returned to the same place several times, for example to gather food. For the reader who is unfamiliar with the few places named in the book, it should have been added that the majority of these results were not just found somewhere in the 750 mile long Caucasus main range, but in a very small area (in relation to the total area): in the western part of Kabardino-Balkaria. In the chapter Relic Hominoid: Ecology  there is a page of a Russian translation of a French text passage from Koffmanns “L’Almasty du Caucase: mode de vie d’un hominoide”.[3] It would have been desirable if the author had identified this as a proper quote.

In the second half of the book, consisting of eight chapters, further "cryptids" are dealt with. Some of them, for example, “hairy snakes” are a subject of interviews during the field work for the Almasty. These chapters are also interesting, because people and places are named, in which the Almasty field research is meaningful. The book ends with an appendix from Koffmann: “Regarding the questioning of the population about the problems of the relic hominoid” and “Necessary actions when finding of a corpse of the relic hominoid.”  The picture that exists in the West today of the Caucasus field work has been mainly determined by the publications of Porshnev, Koffmann, Bayanov and Makarov. Panchenko’s book adds to this picture some significant aspects, even though at the end of his achievements to the Almasty he determines: “All of this is just an insignificant amount of material which we have access to.” (p.120). For the specialist, who is concerned with this problem in Eurasia, this book is not to be missed. But even for the beginner interested in Cryptozoology, the Catalogue of Monsters  is suitable as an introduction.

Karl C. Beyer, May 2005

[1]   Bayanov, Dmitri.1996. In the Footsteps of the Russian Snowman. Mocow: Crypto-Logos.
       Koffmann, Marie-Jeanne.1992. L'Almasty du Caucase: mode de vie d'un hominoide.
       Archeologia, 276, pp. 52-65.
[2]   Koffmann, Marie-Jeanne.1992. op. cit. (note 1)  p. 55.
[3]   Koffmann, Marie-Jeanne.1992. op. cit. (note 1)  p. 63.

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