Authorities said yesterday that the foot found in a Spotsylvania County landfill belonged to a bear.
Spotsylvania Sheriff Howard Smith said the state laboratory in Richmond made the determination after further investigation, including consulting an anthropologist, of the mystery.
Officials initially had thought the appendage, about 8 inches long and hairless, found Feb. 10 by landfill workers might be a human foot and evidence of a homicide. They searched half of a 127-ton load of fresh garbage but halted the search because, Smith said, the medical examiner had determined the foot belonged to an apelike species.
Several outside observers, including anthropologists, primatologists and even Bigfoot enthusiasts, had said they believed the foot was the skinned hind foot of a bear.
Smith, laughing, would not comment on initial speculation about a Spotsylvania Sasquatch but said he was relieved that the mystery was solved. "I'm glad we were able to identify what type of animal it was," he said.
The sheriff had previously said he planned to send the specimen away for further testing, but he said yesterday that he will not. "This foot will be kept at the state lab for training purposes," he said.
Idaho State University professor Jeff Meldrum, one of the world's foremost Bigfoot experts, applauded the decision to use the foot as an instructional aide. Meldrum said he has a forensic anthropology textbook that includes a section on the similarities between human and bear feet.
"It's probably more common than people realize," he said, referring to confusing a human foot with a skinned bear paw.
Smith said he considers the case closed and will not investigate further because of the cost and the relatively minor nature of the offense. It is a misdemeanor under the county's ordinances to dispose of animal parts in such a manner.
"I don't know that there would be any way of finding out" how it got there, Smith said. He said he suspects the animal was killed during bear-hunting season and then skinned by a taxidermist. The foot appeared to have been sawed off above the ankle.
Meanwhile, Bigfoot researchers say the episode is just another example of how each possible Bigfoot find must be scientifically eliminated. "You never know when the real evidence of these creatures may surface," said William Dranginis of Manassas, who heads the Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization.
"I don't consider this a waste of time," he said, "because I know they're out there."