Image: Illustration of the legendary yeti creature. (Credit: Philippe Semeria/Wikimedia Commons).
A blackened, curled, oversized finger, long claimed to belong to a yeti, has been identified as human after all.
Featuring a long nail, the mummified relic - 3.5 inches long and almost an inch thick at its widest part - has languished for decades in the Royal College of Surgeons' Hunterian Museum in London.
The specimen caught the interest of scientists in 2008, when curators cataloged a collection bequeathed to the museum by primatologist William Charles Osman Hill. Among Hill's assemblage of items relating to his interest in cryptozoology (the study of animals not proved to exist), there was a box labeled simply the "Yeti's finger."
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The notes in the box revealed that the digit was taken from the hand of a yeti in the Pangboche temple in Nepal by mountain climber Peter Byrne.
"Mr Byrne is now 85, and living in the United States, I discovered," said Matthew Hill, the BBC journalist who last year was granted permission to research and produce a documentary on the mysterious finger.
A member of a 1958 expedition sent to the Himalayas to look for evidence of the legendary creature, Byrne camped at the Pangboche temple and learned of a Yeti hand preserved there for many years.
"It looked like a large human hand. It was covered with crusted black, broken skin. It was very oily from the candles and the oil lamps in the temple. The fingers were hooked and curled," Byrne told the BBC reporter.
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A year later, Byrne returned to the monastery and struck a deal with the monks about removing just one finger.
According to Byrne, the alleged yeti's digit was replaced with a human finger provided by professor Osmond Hill, who got it from a severed hand belonging to the Hunterian Museum.
The relic was smuggled out of Nepal with the help of Hollywood movie star James Stewart, who was on holiday in Calcutta with his wife, Gloria.
Hidden in Gloria's lingerie case, the finger finally reached the scientist in London.
Professor Hill identified it as belonging to an early hominid.
But DNA analysis performed at the Zoological Society of Scotland in Edinburgh proved that Hill was wrong.
"We found human DNA," the zoo's genetics expert, Rob Ogden, told the BBC.
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"It wasn't too surprising, but it was obviously slightly disappointing that you hadn't discovered something brand-new.
"Human was what we were expecting, and human is what we got," he concluded.
Also known as the Abominable Snowman, the yeti is a legendary tall, nocturnal, hairy ape-like creature said to roam the forests and mountains of the Himalayas.
Although reports of encounters with the hairy beast abound, the scientific community regards the yeti as just a legend.
According to Sam Alberti, director of the Hunterian Museum, the Pangboche finger testifies to the fascination the yeti continues to exert on people.
"The story of how this artefact came to find itself in our museum store reveals the extraordinary lengths people have gone to in order to prove the existence of mythical animals," Alberti said.