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Darwin killed off the werewolf

16 June 2009 British Society for the History of Science

It was Darwinian theory that did away with the werewolf. For much of recorded history, humans have reserved their greatest fears for dog-human hybrids like the werewolf. These beasts were once thought to be real, hiding behind every tree waiting for the unsuspecting traveler.

But, argues Brian Regal, assistant professor of the history of science at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, USA, the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species 150 years ago focused minds on a different kind of monster – ape-men such as the Yeti, Bigfoot and Sasquatch.

Regal will present his thesis in July at the annual meeting of the British Society for the History of Science in Leicester, UK. He will use period artwork to chart the ‘evolution’ of the werewolf into Bigfoot.

From the late 19th century onwards, stories of werewolf encounters tailed away significantly, says Regal. “The spread of the idea of evolution helped kill off the werewolf because a canid-human hybrid makes no sense from an evolutionary point of view,” he says. “The ape-human hybrid, however, is not only evolutionarily acceptable, it is the basis of human evolution.”

Today, in Darwin’s bicentenary year, werewolves have been relegated to films. When it comes to the actual monster scene, it’s Bigfoot that now dominates.

Attached files

  • 19th century image of a werewolf. Copyright Brian Regal.

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