Were There Giants on Earth?
Humans have long expressed a mixture of fascination and fear around the question, “Were there giants on Earth?” Whether in legends or life, giants have been worshipped, reviled, ostracized, and celebrated. While the existence of dinosaurs is largely accepted, and millions of people travel across continents to marvel at majestic, larger than life monuments, the facts about human giants, or giant races, are much debated. Regardless of whether they are dismissed as myth or accepted as fact, giants represent important aspects of our individual and collective psyche. They capture our imagination, appear in religious texts, and drive scientific endeavor. But the question still remains — did giants once roam the earth?
What Are Giants? A Brief Look at Gigantism
Merriam-Webster defines a giant as being a “legendary humanlike being of great stature and strength,” as well as “a living being of great size.” In physical terms, a giant is a person over seven feet tall with a condition known as “gigantism.” The tallest person documented modern history was Robert Wadlow (1918-1940), known as the “Alton Giant,” or the “Giant of Illinois,” who stood 8 feet 11 inches tall.
Wadlow intended to study law, but lived as a celebrity after traveling with the Ringling Brothers Circus and as a spokesman for giant-sized shoes. He died at a young age, an all too common end for those with gigantism — their weight and size puts constant strain on the heart and skeletal system.
Today genetic giants are gaining acceptance because overall, humans have evolved into a taller species. According to Max Roser, an economist studying global standards of living conditions, between 1810 and 1980 European male height grew from an average of 160 centimeters to 185 centimeters. But despite this acceptance, giants can still find life in a normal-sized world stressful and lonely, and like Wadlow, are treated as an oddity. This contradiction mirrors the way in which giant races have been regarded throughout history.
Evidence of Giants: Discovered, Disregarded, and Discarded
In the mid-1800s, a flurry of activity emerged across North America in the fields of archeology and anthropology, triggered in part by the discovery of the Chickasawba tribal burial mounds of Oklahoma, in which were found human bones seven feet and longer in length. In fact, during the years ranging from the late 1800’s all the way to the 1990s, over 1000 reports of giant-sized human skeleton remains were found across North America. These stories were met by the general public with curiosity and an increased appetite for the possibility that giants once roamed the country.
In the United States, this period of archeological discovery took place during the Manifest Destiny period, which began in 1845 and was highlighted by rapid and aggressive territorial growth. A Puritan-led religious fervor fueled expansion across the West; Native Americans were looked upon as heathens, to be converted, civilized, or eliminated. Discoveries of ancient, pre-New World giant races directly contradicted the Manifest Destiny’s ideals of white racial, religious, and ethnic superiority; it was common for giant skeletal remains to be confiscated and destroyed.
According to Richard Dewhurst, author of “The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America,” The Smithsonian Institute, then in its early stages of establishment, administered the Manifest Destiny philosophy through the Powell Doctrine, named after John Wesley Powell, the first bureau head of the Smithsonian Department of Ethnology. The doctrine reflected the isolationist mindset of the times and mandated that no archeological or anthropological research would include mention of ancient tribal cultures. Despite the documented existence of ethnology reports stating that the Smithsonian was in possession of giant human remains, none can be found today.
But what else might have contributed to these attitudes and actions surrounding proof of giants on Earth? Was it megalophobia, the psychological fear of large objects or people, or something deeper that has been present since the time of ancient cultures?
Legend of Giants Around the World
Ancient traditions overflow with legends of giants — St. Christopher, Goliath, the Nephilim, Gilgamesh, Viracocha, Sasquatch, and more, across continents, languages, and landscapes. Old Testament accounts of the Nephilim, a biblical race of giants and demigods, stated that they were so large they made the Israelites feel like, “Grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13: 28-33). The Paiute myth of Si-Te-Cah, is a tale of a giant tribe of cannibals who were eventually destroyed by their maker. This is similar to the myth of the first people created by Viracocha, the ancient Inca god, who he destroyed because of their uncontrollable and unruly behavior.
Carol Rose, the author of Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth, writes that giants “exist beyond the realm of human order and had to be controlled, banished, or defeated,” and were considered “destructive entities.” Natural disasters were associated with mythical giants, who were also thought of as terrifying hybrids and mutations representing the darker side of our psyche.
Elusive proof of giants remains a compelling narrative fueling controversy and connecting us to aspects of Earth’s past. As more is discovered through scientific advancements with DNA and forensics, we can anticipate these conversations continuing now and into the future.