Cryptid capers: The Iceman, Scooby Doo, and those meddling copyright holders

Dr. Darren Naish has a new post out on the Minnesota Iceman. It’s adapted from his book Hunting Monsters which is soon to be out in hard copy (already in electronic format). Good news! However, the cryptozoological go-hards don’t generally like the scholarly-type books which often carry a more skeptical tone. They tend to go for the anecdotal collections that have few or poor references and that promote the mystery beasts as real. So books like this one from Darren, along with Radford’s Tracking the Chupacabra, Regal’s Searching for Sasquatch and Loxton and Prothero’s Abominable Science (among others) are deliberately ignored, or trashed by a few surly self-styled cryptozoological experts (who wouldn’t even read the entire book). It makes me think that many in the field don’t want to do the work needed to actually document the cases well and fit them into the literature, or they just want to promote their preferred beliefs and the truth doesn’t matter as much. They also have a chip on their shoulder about those who do the book work, so to speak, a necessary academic exercise, as opposed to seeking a mystery creature out in the woods who wins the award for Hide and Seek Champion.

Speaking of the truth, the Iceman’s origin is cloudy. The owner, Frank Hansen did not have a version that he stuck to. Darren relates five different origin stories:

  • Discovered in a block of ice floating in the sea near Siberia
  • Found by a Japanese whaling ship found the body.
  • Found in a deep-freeze facility in Hong Kong
  • Shot by hunters in Minnesota.*
  • Shot in Vietnam and flown to the United States in a body bag.

Whenever I hear these origin stories, I can’t help but think how the writers for Scooby Doo used the Iceman story for inspiration for this episode. (Take a trip back in time and watch the whole episode here.)

frozen-caveman

The most parsimonious explanation was that the Iceman was a hoax, a latex form encased in ice. But it certainly was a rather successful hoax in terms of money for the owners, a lasting pop cultural impression of what ancient humans were thought to look like, and success in fooling the leading cryptid voices of the time, Heuvelmans and Sanderson. Post-Iceman, the reputation of these two, and cryptozoology in general, suffered. But Darren notes another curious sidenote to the Iceman which applies to most cryptids as well – the copyrighting of images.

…a startling and frustrating fact about this case is that none of the pictures famously associated with it are available free, under a creative commons licence, online… everything is protected by copyright. I’ve noticed this about images pertaining to bigfoot as well; there is strikingly little philanthropy going on as goes image sharing and so on. I’ve therefore created some Minnesota Iceman images of my own and am releasing them.

The Minnesota Iceman. Drawings by Darren Naish. Public domain.
The Minnesota Iceman. Drawings by Darren Naish. Public domain.

This is another indication that the field is tainted by dollar signs and lacks perhaps the larger scientific-minded goal to share information with other experts in order to get the best answer to what is really going on. This closed-group aspect to cryptozoology keeps it on the fringes of science. Its general lack of scholarship, aversion to critical thinking, and sometimes very rude response to skeptical opinions will keep it there. Fortunately, there is some good stuff out there to dig into and I recommend that you do. It’s a fascinating mix of biology, folklore, and sociology.

I strongly suggest you get these books! Here are the links:

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Post script

*Busterggi informed me of another “origin” story I missed. He’d heard that “some poor country gal was in danger of being ravished by the monster when she shot it in defense of her virginity”. Good one!

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