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The Headless Blemmyes: A Little-Known Cryptid

When it comes to cryptozoology, a handful of staple creatures get all the attention and cable television programs. These include Sasquatches, water monsters like Nessie and Champ, aliens, and occasional appearances by local folkloric figures such as the Mothman. Since these creatures are the most well-known in the cryptozoology community, they are the most likely candidates to be discussed in scientific papers, documentaries, and other media, leading to their increased visibility.

Sadly, one anchor of the crypto world, Jeremy Wade, retired from River Monsters in 2017. Why? He ran out of mystery monsters: “Ten years ago, I had a list in my head, which seemed impossibly ambitious at the time, but everything has now been ticked off — and then some.”

But other mysteries remain. Like why do Bigfoot prints keep turning up? Many cryptids remain unexplained, and Jeremy may have felt that there were still enough unsolved mysteries out there to keep exploring. Additionally, Jeremy may have wanted to move on to other passions and explore different opportunities.

And Brachiosaurus-type critters still get sighted in Loch Ness and Lake Champlain? Eyewitness accounts and anecdotal evidence fuel these mysteries long after a dearth of evidence should put them to bed. Nothing better illustrates this than the history of the headless Blemmyes, a mostly forgotten mystical creature with a long literary shadow. For example, the Blemmyes are mentioned in the works of Pliny the Elder, Marco Polo, and even Geoffrey of Monmouth, yet no physical evidence of their existence has ever been found. However, there have been many instances where eyewitness accounts and anecdotal evidence have been proven to be reliable. For example, there have been many cases of people accurately describing crimes or identifying criminals from eyewitness accounts. Anecdotal evidence can also be used to support scientific claims.

Cryptozoology remains an incredibly popular subfield of science. And it’s easy to see why. Tales surrounding legendary creatures contain the tantalizing hope that some unexplored parts of the globe still exist, and some questions remain unanswered. In other words, these stories stoke our curiosity while reassuring us that we don’t have it all figured out. For example, there are still many reported sightings of the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, despite several attempts to disprove its existence.

Whether you’re a mystery monster TV addict or an occasional sampler, it’s easy to discern a pattern in many of these programs. (Although Jeremy Wade’s River Monsters usually gets to the bottom of a given mystery with a hook in the jaw.) As for other shows, they typically assemble a team of so-called experts that search for evidence but bump up against dead end after dead end. It's almost as if the show's creators strive to keep viewers intrigued by the slow-moving plot, in part because the shows are often aired over a span of several weeks. Each episode typically provides a glimpse of progress, but rarely offers a definitive solution to the mystery. A supposed Sasquatch hair turns out to be that of a deer. An image of the Loch Ness monster doesn’t pass the smell test. Or a video of a supposed river monster turns out to be a manatee. Despite the lack of evidence, however, viewers remain engaged as they anticipate the next episode, hoping it will bring them closer to finding the answers they seek.

Despite the absence of reliable data, anecdotes and eyewitness accounts continue to keep these stories alive in the public imagination. This echoes the ancient and medieval obsession with the Blemmyes, a race of headless humans who always conveniently managed to exist outside the realm of discovery and civilization. It is likely that these stories were spread as a way to explain what was unknown or a way to create a source of mystery and fear. People were often afraid of what they didn't understand, and these stories provided an explanation of sorts.

Although it sounds surreal today, headless Blemmyes were once considered a bona fide people group, thriving along the frontiers of discovery. Close enough to make occasional appearances but distant enough to prevent debunking. Between their humanoid appearances and their ability to appear and disappear at random, they had a lot in common with modern-day Sasquatches. Fortunately, they lacked the rank smell, bloodcurdling screams, and furry feet. It's as if the Blemmyes were shrouded in a mystical fog - gradually taking shape and solidifying in the minds of adventurers until eventually the fog began to lift and their reality was revealed.

Of course, one of the most vital areas of evidence regarding the existence of Bigfoot remains the great body of eyewitness accounts and oral histories. These include oral traditions stretching back to the pre-Columbian period in North America. But if you think that’s a clincher, wait until you see the incredible evidence related to the headless Blemmyes. They had so much documentation on these creatures that people remained convinced of their existence for centuries. The Blemmyes were described by ancient historians and geographers such as Pliny the Elder and Herodotus. Accounts of them were also found in medieval literature, such as The Travels of Sir John Mandeville and Marco Polo's The Travels of Marco Polo. These accounts provided vivid descriptions of the Blemmyes, and even though they were considered mythical, people still believed in them for centuries.

The first “historian” to delve into describing headless Blemmyes was Herodotus. In the fifth century BC, this ancient Greek author and father of historical narratives described them as “headless creatures with eyes in their chests (at least, that is what the Libyans say)” in his work The Histories. Herodotus also explained that where the tribe lived in Libya was filled with hilly, lush forests, the ideal place for eye-catching humanoids to hide.

Herodotus was far from the last famous historical figure to discuss this tribe. For example, Strabo, a first-century Greek geographer, described the Blemmyes as an honest-to-goodness people group inhabiting southern Nubia. Other scholars have chimed in over the years thanks to a robust tradition of Scholasticism. Additionally, some have suggested that the Blemmyes were the ancestors of modern-day Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.

These individuals represent a laundry list of famous figures, including Pliny the Elder, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Isidore of Seville. Sir Walter Raleigh’s account of these creatures in the New World is both funky and fascinating. He referred to them as Ewaipanoma or Iwaipanoma, stating that “they are reported to have their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts, and that a long train of hair grows backward between their shoulders.”

What’s more, references to the legend also made their way into medieval maps by cartographers and explorers like Andrea Bianco, Piri Reis, and the 12th-century Hereford Mappa Mundi. These references and images by famous historians, natural philosophers, cartographers, and explorers helped the headless Blemmyes gain even more traction. But despite all the anecdotes, the search for the headless Blemmyes, like so many other cryptid ventures, has so far led nowhere. Some people believe that the headless Blemmyes are actually a type of alien life form that has not yet been discovered. Others believe that the legend is simply a way to explain away things that cannot be explained by science.

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