Amid continuing debate over the existence of Bigfoot and similar creatures, one geneticist claims he's found strong evidence that a woman who lived in 19th-century Russia may have been a yeti — the so-called abominable snowman.

Discovered in a remote region of the Republic of Abkhazia, a towering woman named Zana was captured by local hunters in the 1850s and sold to a nobleman who "tamed" her and kept her on his estate as a servant until her death in 1890, according to local accounts.

Zana's resemblance was described as that of a wild beast, "the most frightening feature of which was her expression, which was pure animal," wrote one Russian zoologist in 1996.

Now Professor Bryan Sykes at the University of Oxford says he believes Zana had a strain of West African DNA that belonged to a subspecies of modern humans.

Sykes explained that while the woman, said to stand 6 feet 6 inches tall, was genetically 100 percent African, she showed little physical or genetic resemblance to any group living in modern Africa.

Sykes has published a book, The Nature of the Beast, in which he writes that Zana's ancestors could have come out of Africa more than 100,000 years ago and lived for many generations in the remote Caucasus region.

Zana had at least four children, fathered by local men, and some of her descendants reportedly still live in the area.

Sykes says he conducted DNA tests on saliva from six of her living descendants and on a tooth from one of her sons. He has also done further research on Zana since writing the book. 

"They will be published in the regular scientific press so I can't be more specific," he said (subscription required).

This is not the first time Sykes has been in the news with claims about yetis; Sykes also claims to have discovered genetic evidence in hair samples of a previously unknown species of bear that may be behind sightings of Yetis in Bhutan — a claim cast in doubt by a number of his geneticist colleagues.

They say Sykes' two samples of "yeti" hair came from a polar bear and a kind of rare bear native to high mountain ranges in Asia.

Sykes, however, remains adamant that "anomalous primates" could exist in remote regions of the world, and that dozens of witness accounts convince him there is "something out there."

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