A great deal of confused speculation has developed around the biological identity of a “wild woman” named Zana, who reportedly lived during the 19th century in a remote village called T’Khina in Abkhazia, south of Russia.
Zana, described by eyewitnesses as an athletic and muscular six-foot, six-inch “half-human, half ape” woman covered in auburn hair “who could outrun a horse,” was reportedly captured in the mountainous forests of the Ochamchir region of Abkhazia in the 1850’s by a group of hunters hired by a local merchant.
She resisted her captors violently. But she was subdued and sold to a local nobleman who made her serve as a household servant and sex slave.
Eyewitness accounts compared her to a wild beast with an “expression which was pure animal.” Her fierce resistance likely contributed to exaggerated tales of her physical prowess.
Although, evidence indicates that she was human, people have speculated that she was “non-human.” Some have suggested that she was an Almas, while others have suggested that she was a surviving Neanderthal.
The facts about the woman, including the details of her physical features and appearance, appeared to have been exaggerated by witnesses who, being overwhelmed by their impression of her “wildness” at the time she was captured, and her distinctive features, tended to give accounts that emphasized supposedly non-human “ape-like” traits, including extraordinary strength and physique.
She was forced into sexual relations with local men, including a man called Edgi Genaba, and gave birth to several children. Contemporary accounts indicated that her children were human in appearance, behavior and adaptability. Thus, the impression that she was “non-human” might have been due to her state at the time she was found, after having lived and survived apparently alone under harsh conditions in the wild.
Four of her children survived to adulthood: Two boys, Dzhanda and Khwit, born in 1878 and 1884 respectively, and two girls, Kodzhanar and Gamasa, born in 1880 and 1882 respectively. The children reportedly grew up as normal human adults, married and had families of their own.
Zana herself reportedly died in 1890.
Speculation after her death that she might have been an Almas, Yeti, a Neanderthal or some other exotic or cryptozoological species led Dr. Grover Krantz to examine Khwit’s skull in 1990.
Krantz’s pronouncement that the skull was human, with no Neanderthal traits, suggests that Zana could have been a member of an ancient aboriginal group racially/ethnically distinct from modern groups in Abkhazia that arrived later and likely forced the gradual extinction of the original inhabitants of the area.
Conclusions by another anthropologist, who reportedly also examined the skull, appear to support the theory that Zana was an aboriginal human. The anthropologist reportedly noted that although Khwit’s skull was different from the skulls of other Abkhazia males, it was apparently human.
Indications that Zana was a member of an aboriginal human population possibly dating back to the Neolithic, but driven to extinction by later arrivals, developed a new twist when the University of Oxford professor of human genetics Bryan Sykes concluded after conducting DNA tests that Zana was of “100% Sub-Saharan origin” and that she could have been a slave brought to Abkhazia under the Ottoman Empire.
According to Sykes, DNA tests on saliva samples taken from living descendants of Zana and DNA recovered from a tooth taken from the skull of Khwit showed that Zana was “100% Sub-Saharan African” and possibly a slave brought to the region by the Ottomans.
“The most obvious solution that springs to mind is that Zana or her ancestors were brought from Africa to Abkhazia as slaves, when it was part of the slave trading Ottoman Empire.”
The unfortunate aspect of Sykes’ confused “expert” speculation for the Channel 4 documentary Bigfoot Files, was that he did not clarify sufficiently what he meant when he said that Zana was “100% Sub-Saharan African.”
The professor’s confusion about the results of his DNA tests is indicated in subsequent speculation that Zana might have come from a population of ancient protohumans that left Africa in prehistoric times, about 100,000 years ago. His subsequent speculation creates uncertainty about whether Sykes thought that Zana was a modern Sub-Saharan African (read: Black African) or a descendant of a protohuman species ancestral to modern humans that migrated out of Africa in prehistoric times.
The confusion inherent to Sykes’s speculation is better appreciated when it is understood that anthropologists believe that all human races are descended from a protohuman species that migrated out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago. Thus, in a sense, all human races are of “Sub-Saharan African” origin.
The major genetic distinction between “Sub-Saharan Africans” and other modern races is that European and Asian races have significant Neanderthal admixture but “sub-Saharan Africans” do not.
Thus, Sykes’ statement that Zana was “100% Sub-Saharan African” could simply be an ineloquent way of saying that Zana was genetically similar to Africans because, unlike Europeans and Asians, she carried no significant Neanderthal genes.
Besides, eyewitness descriptions of Zana as being “very big and strong with her whole body covered in hair” does not suggest she was modern Sub-Saharan African.
Needless to say, modern Sub-Saharan Africans rank among the more prominently glabrous (smooth-skinned and hairless) of human races and there are no known Black African groups that have “whole body covered with hair,” not to mention “auburn hair.”
Hairiness is a trait of European races, not of Africans. African women are even more noticeably glabrous and only very rarely remarkably big and strong, muscular and aggressive, as eyewitness descriptions of Zana suggested she was.
“But that theory [‘100% Sub-Saharan African’ theory] would not explain her extraordinary features, described by reliable eyewitnesses… And [thus] Sykes has raised the bold theoretical possibility that Zana could be a remnant of an earlier human migration out of Africa, perhaps tens of thousands, of years ago.”
However, evidence in support of existence of aboriginal groups that predated the present populations in the Caucasus region comes from popular accounts of “wild men” in the region. One could conclude that the aboriginal populations, if they ever existed, were descendants of protohumans who never interbred with Neanderthals and thus constituted an ethnically or racially distinct group compared with modern Eurasians.
It amounts to obscurantist mischief pandering, for the sake of TV ratings, to the racist stereotype of the “ape-like” African to dub aboriginals whom Sykes speculated had lived in the Eurasian continent for tens of thousands of years “100% Sub-Saharan African.”