Leshij : Ecology, Physiology, Genetics.
By Valentin Sapunov (ed.), Rivera, St. Petersburg, 1996, 96 pp. (in Russian)
by Karl C. Beyer
The booklet that was published in 1996 contains the materials of the conference Cryptozoology and the Ecology of Rare Animals. This conference took place from October 9 to October 12, 1990, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The reason was the 100th birthday of Vitaly Khakhlov and the 85th birthday of Boris Porshnev. In an appendix, the names of 16 participants are listed as the most important guests. The majority of them are unknown in the West.
However, the Murmansk criminologist Leonid Ershov is listed among them. His name became known in the West in connection with research on the Kola Peninsula.1 The materials contain contributions from seven authors: N.N. Akoev, N.A. Bespalova, R.A. Danov. B.V. Sapunov, V.B. Sapunov, L.N. Turbina and S.J. Kargopolzev.
Dr. Valentin Sapunov writes in the Forward that the materials also contain "results of the cryptobiological research between 1990 and 1995." In his contribution Where does the Leshij come from?, he discusses some of Porshnev’s theses about man and wildman evolution. In Slavic folklore, the Leshij is a forest devil or goblin. According to Sapunov, the folklore and biological reality of the wildman came together in this being. The authors of the booklet use "Leshij" as a term for the wildman. Sapunov compares Homo sapiens and his "ecological partner", the Leshij.
The Moscow biologist N.N. Akoev is the author who wrote the most extensive contribution of the booklet: Systematics, Ecology, and the Problem of the Search for the Relic Primate from the family ‘Pseudohomo’. The author began his field work as a young man in the Caucasus in Marie-Jeanne Koffmann's team. Later, he positioned himself against her and worked independently. Today, he is an important person in the Russian “Snowman” scene. He morphologically differentiates between three forms of the wildman. In the Ecology section, three assumed migration routes of the species are shown, complimented with a map. He explains the difficulties of locating a corpse and other material evidence.
Under the title Problems of the Search for the Relic Pseudohomo, Akoev divides the entire territory of the former USSR into two main search areas. According to the geographer Bering, he divides the Russian research groups present there into a northern and southern "division": The work area for the "Southern Division" contains the Caucasus and the Soviet-Middle Asian Mountains. The groups that belong to the "Northern Division" work primarily in the northern part of European Russia. The advantages and disadvantages of the conditions for field work in the north and south are analyzed and presented in a table. Akoev reaches the following conclusion “...based on many years work and examining the information of other researchers": The area with the best chances for the current field research is the northern part of European Russia. In comparison to the north, he considers the work in the southern areas to be "practically hopeless."
According to Akoev, the researchers in the area of the former Soviet Union can be divided into the following three "almost exclusive schools of thought": The "hominologists" who reject any method to catch a wildman. He names Bayanov, Koffmann and Makarov as the main people in this school of thought. The second school, the “sensitives,” grants the wildman extra-sensory abilities. According Akoev representatives from this school are Maya Bykova, Vladimir Pushkarev and Igor Tatsl. The third school is labeled as the “zoologists.” The research object is seen by them as a purely zoological being. Popov, Avdeev and Gass are named as important representatives from this school.
It would be desirable for the reader if Akoev put in a note here that in addition to the named schools of thought, there are other Russian groups and individual researchers today who do not subscribe to any of these schools and do not participate in any conflict that exists between them.2 With an eye towards to the “intrigue, conflicts, and the division of the territory" 3 [between the schools of thought] " that appear in the newspapers and magazines”, Akoev makes a suggestion: The union of all researchers into a single, Soviet, cryptozoological society with a headquarters, press division, and statues, based on the principles of democratic pluralism.4 Akoev: "The representatives of all schools of thought must demonstrate scientific and ethical pluralism, coordinate their efforts, and unite, rather than going on treasure hunts and practicing sectarianism."
The St. Petersburg herpetologist Rosdislav Danov deals with the discovery of a tooth of an unknown primate in his contribution. A group of St. Petersburg researchers found this in 1971 during an expedition in a cave in the Northern Caucasus, western Kabardino-Balkaia, Zolsk district. Drawings of the tooth are published. Danov also began his field work as a young man in Koffmanns’s team in the Caucasus, but later he positioned himself against her and worked independently. He died in the 90s from a snake bite. He quotes from Volume 7 of the Information Materials of the Snowman Commission in connection with eye witness reports from the Caucasus about the teeth of the wildman.5
The historian Boris V. Sapunov – the father of Dr. Valentin Sapunov – deals with cryptozoological subjects in old Russian literature from the 10th to 11th centuries. One of these subjects is the Div. Boris Sapunov guesses that in ancient Russia , this name for the wild person was “borrowed” from the Orient. Later, when the species became rare in Russia , Div was no longer used in the literature. In its place, "Forest Man" and "Leshij" appeared.
The ecological consciousness of the people, reflected in the Belarusian folk tales and legends is L.N. Turbina’s contribution. She uses the hypothesis that Homo sapiens are not the only recent human species. Since these two similar species couldn’t exist in the same ecological niche, they evolved in different directions. According to Turbina, this development is a prerequisite for the survival of both species. This development created the desire in both species to not meet each other. In this way, they each developed a deep fear of the other. Turbina suggests looking at legends and fairy tales "... like documents, which fixate the imaginations of our ancestors – particularly those about dangers and things we don’t understand." She gives examples of beings in stories and legends which could be associated with the wildman. For example, those about the Forest People, which are named Asilki in Belarus and clothe themselves in animal skins. According to Turbina it seems that many of these legends come from a time not too long ago. Another similar figure in the folklore is Solovej Razbojnik (“nightingale-robber”). They are described as a creature which sits in the tress and can kill a man with a whistle. Turbina comes to the conclusion that certain beings in these stories are transformed memories of real beings, which can be associated with the wildman.
N.A. Bespalova reports about evidence of the existence of the wildman in Karelia. The last chapter, by Valentin Sapunov, is about the "last findings" – such as eye witness reports, tracks, feces, and more. In the afterword, the conference participants suggest founding s society of "Cryptobiology" within the Russian Academy of Science. Furthermore, a "general Russian program" to research the "cave people" should be organized, with the goal of "...collecting material from him and catching him.”
For the non-Russian reader who is working on the wildman problem in Europe, the following aspects of the conference materials are among others of particular relevance: Only the knowledge about the existence of the difference schools of thought and the conflicts over decades between their groups allows a large part of the Russian literature to be interpreted correctly. This is particularly important for foreigners who are working with the extensive Russian literature on the subject. In contrast to the majority of other Russian publications, here, goals are set for future field work on the problem. The detailed comparison of the field work conditions is particularly welcome for western foreigners, who are less familiar with the conditions of the country than the Russian researchers.
K.C. Beyer, January 2006
1 Bayanov, Dmitri. 1996. In the footsteps of the Russian Snowman. Moscow: Crypto-Logos, pp 190-201.
The differences described here by Akoev are also demonstrated that no one from the Moscow
"hominologists" took part in the conference.
3 “Division of Territory” – What is meant is the conflict about the “right” to work in certain “Snowman” areas.
Some of the Russian researchers claim certain areas for themselves alone.
4 The Russian Society of Cryptozoologists, which has existed since 1987, is dominated by the Moscow
"hominologists" Koffmann and Bayanov.
5 Vadim Makarov claims in his book Atlas of the Snowman, Mocow, 2002 (p. 181) that the volumes that
follow volume 4 of the Information Materials do not exist in printed form, rather only in handwritings
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