From Russia with hominins

The photograph showed the hunters with the skull and hide of the creature. The skin looked like that of an elephant seal but was hairy. The skull was thickset and had eight interlocking teeth. The hunters sent details of the creature to Moscow University and received a letter saying… “Thank you for this information. No such  animal exists.”

Another story related by Grigory involved a friend of his who had been a geologist specializing in searching for oil deposits. In the early 1980s he had been in eastern Siberia carrying out investigations into possible deposits. He was working north of Vladivostok when some locals informed him that something like a ‘dead crocodile’ had washed up on the beach. He took a look at the carcass and photographed it several times. It was a large, elongatee creature with only four teeth. These were arranged two on the upper and two on the lower jaw. The teeth were at the very tip of the jaw. He did not know the significance of the find and it was soon washed back out to sea.

Sadly, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, he lost his job and subsequently his house and family. He ended up drinking himself to death. Grigory, however, had copies of the photographs and thought that they might be the remains of a primitive whale or archaeocete.However, when he sent copies to me it was obvious the creature in the pictures was nothing more than a dead beaked whale.

At the farm, Anatoly said he had heard a male almasty vocalizing to attract a mate. Adam had heard some weird crashing noises, but no one had seen anything. The camera traps they had set up around the farm and its out buildings revealed nothing, but branches and grass moved by the wind.

Next day I resolved to join them on a second vigil at the farm. During the day Grigory, Chris, Dave and I set out to climb up a mountain called Gobisanty to investigate an avalanche. Avalanches kill mountain animals such as wild goat and yak that the almasty will then feed on.

As we set out to the foothills the air was split by a loud, inhuman sounding bellowing emanating from behind some bushes. Grigory immediately said that it was no animal he knew of. The harsh noise continued and got louder. Chris, Dave and I fanned out around the bushes in a pincer movement cameras at the ready. Could we have disturbed a sleeping almasty? As we drew closer something loomed from the bushes. It was Alexey and Humma. He had taken a short cut ahead of us and then hid and made some spectacularly inhuman noises to scare us!

Grigory had warned us that we might have to cross some streams on the way up Gobisanti. These ‘streams’ were in fact increasingly dangerous rapids that we had to cross on foot. On either side we had to navigate endless legions of rocks and boulders. It was slow, tedious and exhausting. We finally reached the avalanche area. The snow had retreated and frozen but hundreds of pulped trees lay strewn around like matchsticks. The only dead animal was a rancid cow too foul for an almasty to eat.

After a quick lunch beneath the snowline we headed back down. The rapids were getting ever fiercer and crossing them harder. One area was particularly savage. We got a large log and braced it over the rapids. They were not wide but very fast. With Grigory holding one end and Dave the other, I tried to haul myself across. Halfway the pull of the cascading water sucked me down and my grip faltered. Grigory wrenched me out and onto the bank saving me from being smashed into the rocks by the thundering cascade.

Next Chris tried his luck. He came even closer to me than death and was plucked out by Grigory. We finally staggered back to Neutrino damp and shaken.

That night Anatoly, Dave, Adam and I did a stake out at the abandoned farm. The building consisted of three rooms, two of which were locked. Around this in an ‘L’ shape ran a veranda with a door at one end. The main building was surrounded by other smaller outbuildings.

We set up camera traps in four different locations around the grounds of the farm. Anatoly brewed up red wine and honey on an old stove in the hope the smell would attract the creature. We also laid out bread and honey.

We all took up posts in various places on the veranda as night fell. The hours seemed to go quickly as I sat staring out into the darkness, listening for the slightest sound. Around 10-30 at night something made a bird-like twittering noise. Shortly afterwards one of the camera traps fired. The almasty is said to make a twittering sound. One of the specimens Grigory saw was making such a noise. Anatoly went out to investigate and did not return.

Dave fell asleep on one of the manky beds in the open room. Adam and I sat on the other one listening intently. A lull in activity was supposed to occur around midnight to 3 o’clock in the morning. Hence Adam and I had entered the room to warm ourselves around an old stove. The 7 -foot door of the room was open an inch or two and starlight from the clear night was pouring in. At around 2-30 in the morning Adam and I heard a deep, guttural vocalization. The nearest phonetically that I can write this is ‘bub-ub-bub-bub’.

Did you here that?” I whispered?

Adam nodded solemnly.

Shortly after something passed by the door blocking out the light momentarily. Whatever it was, was large enough to put the 7- foot door in shade and it seemed to be walking along the veranda.

Did you see that?” I asked

Something is on the veranda said Adam.

Adam and I grabbed our digital cameras and rushed out to find only darkness and silence. We did a circuit of the building with our torches but found nothing. Did an almasty pass by us only 12 feet away on the veranda? I don’t know. If it did it was as fast and silent as a cat. But something blocked out a slit of starlight 7 -feet tall only seconds after the weird vocalization.

At first light we looked for Anatoly. We were worried that he might have fallen in the dark and hurt himself, or even been attacked by a bear. We found him asleep in one of the out buildings. We took the camera traps back to the flat and downloaded the images onto Alexey’s laptop. They showed sunrise, sunset and branches moved by wind.

The twelfth day was to be the last for Adam, Keith and Dave. Surgit phoned telling us that the friend he had given the almasty tooth to was a wise woman who was using it as a charm. She worked in a restaurant in a nearby village and he would take us to her. He duly arrived and we set off.

The wise woman was not the crone that the phrase ‘wise woman’ conjures up but a fairly normal- looking middle- aged woman. We had a pleasant meal in the restaurant whilst Surgit spoke with her. Apparently, she had given the tooth to her daughters in the city of Nalchik. They had mislaid it and were now tearing apart their flat in order to find it. I found it very odd that an object used as a ‘charm’ was being treated so off hand.

That night we all drank beer, wine and vodka to see the three lads off. Alexey drove them back to Mineranye Vody and picked up his girlfriend Natasha.

Next day there was still no sign of the elusive tooth. Chris, Grigory and I staked out the farm again. This time adding pungently smelling fried onion to the bait. Nothing happened but I had re-occurring nightmares. Each time I fell asleep I dreamed that something with long, bluish fingers and dressed in a blue – black monk-like robe, was trying to strangle me. They were lucid dreams in which I struggled to wake up.

Back at the flat in the morning Surgit arrived and told a strange story. He said that the spirit of the almasty had made the tooth vanish as well as the body on the mountain. However, he announced proudly, djinn (Islamic spirits) had given him a red hair from the queen of the almastys. He presented us with this item. It looked more like a vegetable fibre to me.

What were we to make of this wild tale? Grigory was rolling his eyes whilst translating. Surgit never once asked for money. He also trekked up the mountain again and again and worked hard looking for the supposed almasty corpse. The only conclusion we could come to was that he believed his own story and must have had some kind of mental problem. The promising lead of a corpse and a tooth vanished in a puff of smoke.

We phoned a man called Saeh Kumbunov whose number Surgit had given us. He said the man was with him when he found the body. The 70 -year- old was much surprised at Surgit’s claim and said there had never been a body in the first place.

Later that day a gaggle of local women burst into the flat jabbering excitedly in Balkarian. They looked like stereo-typed peasants in some old film. It turned out that the person we were renting the flat from was not its owner. It looked as if we were going to be ejected onto the street! Grigory seemed to pacify them after a bit and they relented and let us stay. After that the electricity went out.

Alexey returned with Natasha, the editor of a furniture magazine. We were also joined by two Russian body builders called Sasha and Victor. We departed for an area called Gushgit. We drove as far as we could then walked up a long, winding steep path onto the hills. We made camp then went off to explore a kosh or shepherd’s house. The almasty is often said to lurk around these as some shepherds put out food for them. This one was a long abandoned and malodorous shanty that no self-respecting relic hominid would be seen dead in.

In the morning we set off to explore a series of shallow caves in the high mountains. We found some hair and a lot of dung. Grigory also unearthed what may have been finger bones. We carefully bagged all the material. We came upon another abandoned kosh. This was in a worse state than the first, but it had an interesting Balkarian tribal symbol on the wall.

The following day I felt totally drained and had to turn back. I got to camp and collapsed into the tent. I made the right choice. A violent thunderstorm struck, and the others returned soon after apart from Anatoly who had vanished once again.

In the morning Anatoly returned. He had found a cheese factory deep in the mountains! There were guards with dogs and machine guns that were often fired randomly into the night. He thought that any almastys would have long left the area. We returned to Neutrino.

We visited Elbrus village again on the track of eyewitnesses. Grigory was hoping to track down the shepherd who had been lifted up by the almasty in the old farm in 2005. We found out that this man was away at a funeral and wake for several days, but we did find some other witnesses who we interviewed.

One old man called Bahua Tilov had seen almastys on several occasions since the 1970s. The first time was whilst he was working in irrigation near Neutrino. He saw a large black almasty with two smaller grey coloured ones sitting amongst the rocks. As he approached the trio of beasts retreated. Another time he was with two German tourists when they saw a large male almasty walking into an abandoned house. It turned and scowled at them. The Germans were too afraid to take pictures or follow it into the house. More recently he had seen a family group of them. He had tried speaking to them, but they fled back into the forest.

Rumagha Kulmesov and his wife were a delightful couple who invited us into their house and gave us tea, bread, cheese and delicious home-made yogurt. Rumagha had seen a juvenile almasty in his back yard only 2 years before. One night someone threw a pebble at his window. Thinking it was his son come to visit he called out telling him that the door was open. There was no answer but sometime later someone knocked at the window. On investigation he saw what he at first thought was a sack of wool in the corner of the yard. Then he realized it was a young almasty. He didn’t get a good look at the face, but he said it was hair covered with pale, human-like hands. It made gestures as if it wanted food. Rumagha brought it some bread, which it took. It then made gestures that Rumagha interpreted as meaning that it had a friend who also wanted food. He brought a second piece of bread and left it in the yard. He saw the shadow of the first almasty leaving then he when back inside. In the morning the second piece of bread was gone.

Rumagha’s wife saw an almasty in 1955 at the age of 14. She and her family had been deported to Kazakhstan. She had been invited to a relative’s house. Upon getting there she found a number of children huddled in a corner crying. When she enquired what was the matter, one of them told her to peek out of the wooden shutters that covered the glassless window.

In the yard was a weird creature slightly taller than herself. From her vantage point, peeking through a crack, she could not see its legs. The upper part was covered with hair. The hair hung down obscuring the face, chest and upper arms. Her description put me in mind of Cousin It from The Addams Family. It was slowly moving its arms up and down in a manner of a child imitating a bird. It made a whistling noise like a bird. From time to time it paused to pick up mud and sling it at the wall and shutters. It was still there when she left sometime later. She found it odd that such a ‘crazy topic’ could be of interest to us.

We had heard a recent story concerning a derelict restaurant. A scant few days before, a group of armed police were camping there. When the night air was rent by inhuman screams, they fled. We, armed only with cameras, decided to stay the night there.

The restaurant had been built on the lines of a Balkarian castle. It had a 45- foot tower, battlements, circular gardens and many out buildings. All were built from great blocks of stone. It fell into disuse in the 1980s. This was a shame because in its day it must have been spectacular. If someone had the time and money to do it up it could be a glorious attraction even today.

As it is, it is inhabited only by cows and bats. Most of the rooms were covered in cow dung and we had to search for a relatively clean area to sleep. As the sun set, we set up cameras and a campfire. We put out bait and waited. It was a spooky venue worthy of Hammer Horror, Doctor Who, or Scooby Doo.

We took turns on watch, waiting for something to come lumbering out of the woods behind the buildings or for a wild scream to pierce the darkness. Nothing came. The camera traps picked up only bats.

In the morning ,we met Alexey, Natasha and Humma as they were going back to the Ukraine. Shortly after we journeyed back to Mineranye Vody. One the way we passed from the Balkarian area into the Karbodinian. The change was noticeable with less urban decay and filth. We passed through an area called Bidick, rich in unexplored caves. Anatoly and Grigory were thinking of this area for a future expedition.

And so, we returned to England with the samples. The hair from the ‘nest’ Dave found turned out to be nothing more than modern human hair.

So, what is the almasty? I believe it exists, both Grigory and Anatoly have seen it. It seems smaller and more -man like than the classic yeti or sasquatch. Grigory thinks it may be a surviving strain of Homo erectus. As far as I know, however, no fossil skulls of this species show the distinctive ‘domed’ shape. The almasty could, of course be a descendant of Homo erectus or Homo habilis. This species begat many others such as Homo hidlebergensis, Homo floresensis, Neanderthals and modern man. Why could it not have another descendant, big, powerful and adapted for forest and mountain dwelling? The almasty seems very adaptable. Grigory says it can live where ever its ecological twin, the brown bear can.

On this expedition I felt closer to my quarry than on any other. It really felt that at any moment I could be staring into the eyes of man’s closest relative. Kabardino-Balkaria is a unique place. The almasty population is on the increase and it seems they are willing to approach human habitation on occasion. There seems a good chance of habituating one and getting conclusive evidence. What this will mean biologically, ethically and even theologically remains to be seen. Different races of humans cannot seem to get along with each other, much less with a different type of man.

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