27 December 2011
Research in the collection of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons has helped explain an enduring mystery in the field of crypto-zoology (the study of mythical creatures) and is revealed in a BBC Radio 4 documentary broadcast today (11am; 27 Dec 2011).
In 2008, work on a collection bequeathed to the museum by world-renowned primatologist Professor William Charles Osman Hill revealed a specimen labelled as a “Yeti finger” and part of the “Pangboche Hand”. This linked it to a shrine in a Nepalese temple visited by a yeti hunt expedition by mountain climber Peter Byrne in the 1950s and thought to contain a hand of the creature.
At the invitation of the Royal College further investigation by the BBC brought together some of the people involved to establish the provenance of the finger, which has never been on display. It is understood that the finger was taken in return for a donation to the monastery and allegedly smuggled out of India in diplomatic baggage by the film actor Jimmy Stewart. It is believed the specimen was brought to Osman Hill for examination but its fate subsequently was until now little known. The documentary proves that this chain of events did in fact occur.
Dr Sam Alberti, Director of the Hunterian Museum, said:
“The fascinating story of how this artefact came to find itself in our museum store reveals the extraordinary lengths people have gone to in order to prove the existence of mythical animals. Now we established that this is the finger removed from the monastery in the 1950s, and confirmed that it is indeed human, we are able to decide the most appropriate course of action.”
Notes to editor:
1958 Peter Byrne, while on a cryptozoological expedition, learns of the purported ‘yeti’ hand in a Buddhist monastery in Pangboche, Nepal. The monks refuse to give him the hand, but (he claims) in return for a financial contribution towards the upkeep of the building, he is permitted to remove one digit.
C.1959 The digit is delivered (allegedly by James Stewart) to Professor William Charles Osman Hill at the Zoological Society of London for analysis; he identifies it as an early hominid.
1976 The digit arrives at RCS as part of the Osman Hill bequest. Box containing the specimen later catalogued as RCSOM/OH-91-02
2008 Collection research draws attention to RCSOM/OH-91-02.
2010 BBC journalist Matthew Hill is granted permission to research and produce a radio documentary.
2011 As part of the programme DNA from the digit is analysed. It is found to be human. Mr Hill indicates informally that the monks would welcome its return. No formal request has yet arrived.
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