Old Literary Evidence for the Existence of the 'Snow Man' in Tibet and Mongolia

Emanuel Vlcek

In 1958 the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences sent an expedition to Mongolia which started its first research project in co-operation with the Scientific Committee of Mongolia. The first task of the Czechoslovak-Mongolian expedition was the investigation of ancient Turkish memorials on the river Orkhon, dating from the first half of the eighth century. The expedition, led by the Czechoslovak archaeologist Dr. L. Jisl and the Mongolian archaeologist Serojub, further included, on the Czechoslovak side, a physician and anthropologist (E. Vlcek), a technical assistant, a surveyor, a photographer, a driver and an administrative worker, and on the Mongolian side archaeologists Perlé and Navan and ethnographer Badamkhatam. Twenty-five students of Choibalsan University, Ulanbator, worked at the locality investigated.

In addition to the main task of investigating the memorial of Prince Külteghine, the Czechoslovak-Mongolian archaeological expedition also had a secondary anthropological task — to establish conditions for anthropological research in Mongolia. The anthropological programme included in principle three main questions: in the first place, the characterization of the main population of Mongolia, the Khalkha, from the viewpoint of physical anthropology; secondly, to find out the presence and percentage of the Red Indian component in this Khalkha population in the sense of Hrdlicka's migration theory on the arrival of North American Red Indians from the Asian continent; and finally to trace possible remnants of ancient stock in the present Kkalkha population which reached as far as Central Europe, during the proto-historical and historical periods, especially the Hun and Tatar elements.

The expedition succeeded in ascertaining important facts and in gathering material on all three points. This subject will be discussed elsewhere.

The results of field work were also intended to be supplemented by anthropological and other medical data from Tibetan and Mongolian literary sources which might have contributed to the history of anthropological investigations in Mongolia and Tibet.

Fig. 1 — The wild man as shown in the 'Peking' edition.

While investigating Tibetan books in the library of a former lamaistic university of Gandan, I found a book, by Lovsan-Yondon and Tsend-Otcher, entitled in free translation Anatomical Dictionary for Recognizing Various Diseases. It was a typical Tibetan book, printed from woodcuts on long, narrow strips of paper. Each leaf was printed on both sides and each page was from a separately cut wooden plate. In the systematic discussion of the fauna of Tibet and adjacent regions I found on p. 24, in a group of monkeys, an illustration of a wild man. This illustration (Fig. 1) shows a biped primate standing erect on a rock, with one arm stretched upwards. The head with the face and the whole body, except for the hands and feet proper, are covered with long hair. The illustration is realistic, only stylized according to the conception of lamaistic art. Trilingual captions, samdja in Tibetan, bitchun in Chinese and Kumchin görügosü in Mongolian, denote this creature in translation as man-animal. The book was published as a so-called Peking edition at the end of the eighteenth century in Peking.

While studying the literature in the central library of the Scientific Committee in Mongolia I found, in the Tibetan department, another, more recent, edition of the above book, printed a century later in Urga (now Ulanbator). The author of this edition was Jambaldorje. An illustration of the above biped primate, along with monkeys, appears in this book also as part of a systematic discussion of Tibetan natural history on p. 119 (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 — The wild man as shown in the 'Urga' edition.

The trilingual names are, moreover, supplemented with explanatory notes in Tibetan. Here, the creature is called osodrashin in Tibetan, peeyi in Chinese and zerleg khoon in Mongolian, which in translation means wild man. The illustration of the wild man, from the thematic viewpoint, is absolutely identical with the 100-years-older copy of the Peking edition, though it is effected in a less stylized and far more credible manner. Again, the upright position of the figure on the rock is identical, even the upraised arm and the slight bended knees. The head is covered with hair and the face with a full beard, and the rest of the body, excepting the hands and feet proper, with a short fur that does not conceal the proportions of the body, such as the configuration of the large thoracic muscles. Left of the picture there is a Tibetan text which in free translation runs: "The wild man lives in the mountains, his origin is lose to that of the bear, his body resembles that of man and he has enormous strength. His meat may be eaten to treat mental diseases and his gall cures jaundice."

Both illustrations of the wild man document in a remarkable way the existence of this creature known for at least two centuries to the natives of Tibet and to the monks who used to meet him from Tibet to the present Mongolia and therefore included him in a kind of standard textbook of the natural history of Tibet applied in Buddhist medicine. The Mongols themselves no longer knew of this illustration, so that our search was the first to reveal these interesting documents of the ancient knowledge of the natives and monks of Central Asia, concerning the still obscure wild man in Mongolia and the rest of Central Asia.

The authenticity of these illustrations of the wild man is supported by the fact that among tens of illustrations of animals of various classes (reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals) there is not a single case of a fantastic or mythological animal, such as those known from mediaeval European books (dragons, water monsters, demons, etc.). The creatures mentioned here are actually living animals observed in nature. If this illustration is so realistic that it may be zoologically exactly determined up to the species even without reading the texts, there is no reason to disbelieve in the authenticity (except for the above mentioned stylization, of course) of the illustration of the wild man.

An interesting detail which even further supports the ecological characteristics of the creature described consists in its being placed on a rock, which indicates the environment in which the animal lives, in contrast, for instance, to the arboreal habit of the monkeys shown on the right.

On Mongolian territory, the question of this occurrence of wild man, called here almas or alboosty, is being studied by the Mongolian scientists, Dr. B. Rinchen. He has already gathered a number of testimonies of encounters with this almas (Sovremennaya Mongolia, 1958, No. 5, pp.34-38).

It is not yet possible to say what the relation of the wild man of Mongolia, almas, to the so-called snow man from the Himalayas may be, but in view of the fact that he has spread over the vast area of the whole 'Roof of the World,' the existence of certain relations must be anticipated.

Fig. 3. Specimen page from the 'Peking' edition of the 'Anatomical Dictionary'

Fig. 4. The same in 'Urga' edition

From: Man, Vol. 59 (Aug, 1959)