By Silvia Helena Cardoso, PhD

From time to time, we hear news about "werewolves" been displayed in circus or freak road-shows. These crittters are described as human beings similar to us, but generally with plenty of hair covering the whole body.

As a matter of fact, these creatures should not be compared to mythologic figures such as werewolves, but rather to our natural ancestors: monkeys and apes.

There are some rare cases in medical literature which could be interpreted as ATAVISMS, that is, the reappearance of our ancestors' organs, in which morphological traits, already lost by human beings thoroughout evolution, are expressed again.

Such is the case of supranumerary mammal glands, with V-shaped nipples similar to pre-primates mammals, of sacral tails, and pilosity patterns covering the whole face or body, very chimp-like (see above the case of a Chinese child, who was born with his body covered with thick hair; the man with a sacral tail and another with several nipples).

However, genetic atavism is not accept by many scientists, who agree only to the extent that the theme is a controversial one. What has been interpreted as atavism, they argue, sometimes is just a particular example of abnormal embryonic development or a rare disease. The fact that a phenotypic trait resembles morphological characteristics of primates or other mamals in the evolutionary development does not necessarily mean that a "hidden" gene in our genome has been de-repressed. This is yet to be to be proven at molecular level.

Another reason why atavism theory is not well-accepted is that in the past it was used by Europeans to support racial discrimination. Cesare Lombroso, the nineteenth century Italian physician, built a "theory", with no scientific evidences, by which criminals and "inferior peoples" could be easily identified due to the existence of "atavisms" in body structures such as very proeminent forefront and frontal arch, large prognathic jaw, long arms, excessive corporeal hair and so on.

It was assumed that people displaying atavisms were genetically inferior persons marked to become criminals, with bad moral characteristics etc. Such theories were openly used by colonial empires, by the nazis and others to justify their domination of other people.

Source: "Evolution: Zufall oder Sinn ?". Bild der Wissenschaft, 4: 114-126, 1979.

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 Atavistic "Werewolf localized