Sunday, July 15, 2012

Giants in the Americas?

We work with facts when we can. The rest is fiction. That is how historical fiction works. For every fact there are a slew of myths and legends. But, to paraphrase Baldwin, “Every legend has a bit of truth.” It is these bits of truth that we search out. Oftentimes we are left only with the physical evidence of a historic event. More often, we are left only with the so called myths and legends, oral traditions, and ancient texts but not the accompanying evidence. Even rarer, we have the evidence, but the experts debate its authenticity, or it is buried in some archive of some museum and no one really knows how to find it. And, occasionally, we have what is held as irrefutable truth, but really how can we know for sure? It is a blend of all of these elements that help to create the world as we present it to you 5 and 6 millennia ago in our Timekeepers Series.

Our heroes are fictional characters, albeit offspring of the legendary Gilgamesh. These sizable siblings are describes as being of great stature. In fact, it is unusual for them to come across other civilizations where the people match them in height or might. Their size does not push the limit of believability, but makes them memorable. But throughout history and across the globe there have been reports of humans of such great height, they were referred to as giants. Most people are familiar with the Biblical giants. But there are other reports of giants as well. Much more “modern” reports.

Take Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who was nearly the first to circumnavigate the globe, (although he didn’t quite make it, 18 of his crew did). Did he encounter “giants” in the New World? According to chronicler of the journey, Anthony Pigafetta, he did. While they wintered at the Bay of St. Julian, along the Patagonian coast, Pigafetta recorded “One day we suddenly saw a naked man of giant stature on the shore of the port, dancing, sing-ing, and throwing dust on his head. The captain-general sent one of our men to the giant so that he might perform the same actions as a sign of peace. Having done that, the man led the giant to an islet into the presence of the captain-general. When the giant was in the captain-general's and our presence, he marveled greatly, and made signs with one finger raised upward, believing that we had come from the sky. He was so tall that we reached only to his waist, and he was well proportioned.”

English sailor offering bread to a Patagonian woman giant. Frontispiece to Viaggio intorno al mondo fatto dalla nave Inglese il Delfino comandata dal caposqadra Byron (Florence, 1768), the first Italian edition of John Byron’s A Voyage Round the World in His Majesty’s Ship the Dolphin . . . (London, 1767) [Rare Books Division].

Unless Magellan was traveling with a ship full of midgets, it sounds like they really saw a giant, and not just one, but an entire tribe of them. I found it interesting that he said the women were not as tall as the men, but “very much fatter”.
Apparently, Magellan’s crew captured two of these “giants”: “The captain-gen-eral kept two of them -the youngest and best pro- portioned -by means of a very cunning trick, in order to take them to Spagnia." Unfortunately, both of the men died before returning to Spain and were buried at sea. You can read the full account yourself at

So, here we have an eyewitness report, albeit one lacking in physical evidence. A skeleton would be nice. In fact, if such behemoths did exist, shouldn’t there be skeletal evidence somewhere? Where are the skeletons? Indeed, where are the skeletons?
More than one Native American tribe maintains oral histories of giants that terrorized their ancestors. In the west, Shoshone and Paiute legends speak of cannibalistic giants who kidnapped and fed on their people. According to legend, the Paiute finally grew weary of the wicked and interestingly, red-headed giants, and banded together to exterminate them. When they had reduced their numbers to but a few, they trapped them in a cave (now known as Lovelock Cave) they had taken refuge in. When the giants refused to come out and die an honorable death, the Indians filled the mouth of the cave with brush and set it on fire. Some giants rushed out only to be slain by arrows while others died of asphyxiation within the cave. As it goes with such caves, an earthquake collapsed the entrance, and for millennium, it remained a crypt and a guano factory. Bats were still able to fly in and out and fill the cave with guano, which decays as saltpeter, a key ingredient of gun powder and a valuable commodity to the American West. When miners discovered the several feet thick mine of white gold, they also discovered skeletons and other artifacts, but didn’t immediately share their discovery with archaeologists. By the time preservationists arrived on the scene, much had been destroyed, but they still allegedly retrieved over 10,000 artifacts and more remarkably, at minimum, 2 redheaded skeletons, a female and a male, measuring 6.5 and 8 feet respectively. Nobody seems to know where the skeletons are now, but I’m willing to bet the shorter female was much fatter than the male.

Cache of 11 duck decoys at removal from Lovelock Cave,
by Llewellyn L. Loud, photo by M.R. Harrington, 1924,
photo courtesy of the Museum of the American Indian,
Smithsonian Institution.


“Patagonian Giants.” Princeton University Library. Princeton. Web. 14 July 2012.  

“The Philippine Islands, 1493-1803: explorations by early navigators, descriptions of the islands and their peoples, their history and records of the Catholic missions, as related to contemporaneous books and manuscripts, showing the political, economic, commercial, and religious conditions of those islands from their earliest relations with European nations to the beginning of the nineteenth century.”  Viewed 14 July, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chief Joseph's Medicine Bag

Chief Joseph


A recent story I read about the contents of Chief Joseph’s medicine bag got me reflecting on medicine bags in general.  I had some personal experience with the medicine bag, having sported one myself for most of the nineties.  I met a mountain man my first summer out of high school.  Sporting buckskins and a flowing beard, he told me of the powwow circuit he traveled and showed me the medicine bags that he made and sold, more or less covering his travel expenses.  He sold me what I consider a starter kit, a basic fringed leather pouch on a string containing five essential types of medicine.  He stressed that I not show anyone the contents of my pouch or its medicine would be lost, and I stuck to this rule, until I had kids who insisted I let them explore its contents.  I didn’t wear my bag around my neck, but hung it proudly from my rear view mirror.  I feel it kept me safe in my youthful exploits.  

A Native American medicine bag was and is very personal in nature.  Its supernatural power, or medicine, is meant to protect the owner of the bag.  Its contents are considered sacred and include such things as herbs, stones, gems, minerals, bones, feathers, claws, teeth, etc.  Each of these items has special meaning and power.  Today’s medicine bags can also contain modern items that are meaningful to the owner such as photos, coins, etc.  For the life of me, I can’t seem to recall the contents of my bag other than the button made from antler “that I might always have clothing”.  It must have been powerful medicine because I always went about fully clothed. 
So what did the US Cavalry find in Chief Joseph’s medicine bag when they captured him in 1877?  Surprisingly, an Assyrian cuneiform tablet.  This piece of baked clay, measuring no more than one square inch, was determined to be a bill of sale dating to 2042 BC.  It reads "Nalu received 1 lamb from Abbashaga on the 11th day of the month of the festival of An, in the year Enmahgalanna was installed as high priestess of Nanna".

Mary Gindling of History Mysteries writes:  "The chief said that the tablet had been passed down in his family for many generations, and that they had inherited it from their white ancestors. Chief Joseph said that white men had come among his ancestors long ago, and had taught his people many things. His story echoes those told by Native Americans in both North and South America about white culture bringers. But in this case, Joseph had a souvenir to demonstrate the truth of his story."

I don’t know what else was in the bag, at least history seems to have kept that secret and sacred.  The tablet is rumored to be archived at the museum at West Point in Virginia. As for the bag itself, Benjamin Daniali of, believes the insignia on Chief Josephs’s bag to be the Star of Ashur, the same insignia used by ancient Mesopotamians and still found on the Assyrian flag.  

Chief Joseph's Medicine Bag

Assyrian Flag

My research of medicine bags eventually led me to Wikipedia where I learned that medicine bags should not be confused with bandolier bags, most frequently associated with the Anishinaabe people, which includes the Ojibwe.  While a medicine bag is meant to be worn across the shoulder (this I did not know—I wore mine around my neck before it replaced my graduation tassel on my rear view mirror), the bandolier is worn across the shoulder, to the side, or in front like an apron.  It is actually quite a stylish looking accessory and I think I would prefer the bandolier as a replacement pouch.  In fact, genetics might dictate that I choose the bandolier.  You see, I may be of Ojibwe descent.  The lineage here is almost as sketchy as the contents of my medicine bag.   My great-grandfather on my father’s side who was adopted.  As I was searching for his birth roots, I came across the usual stumbling blocks, the church that could have held clues in its archives but had burned down and the family friend who when asked what he knew of my great grandfather’s birth family mailed me a genealogical gold mine of Ojibwe royalty and then died before I had a chance to interrogate him.  I still don’t know how my family line ties into this Ojibwe line, but maybe I can keep a copy of it in my bandolier bag.  

Bandolier Bag

photo courtesy of Children's Museum of Indianapolis

To read more about Chief Joseph's cuneiform tablet, visit: Chief Joseph Carried the Star of Ashur, Benjamin Daniali, 4/25/12

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Back in the blogging saddle again!  With the recent release of the Kindle Edition of Pieces of the Puzzle and the second book of the Timekeeper Series due to be released this summer, we are busy promoting ourselves!  Our Facebook page has been updated, our Website has been overhauled, and now the blog has been reincarnated. 
One of the places you can expect to read about in Book Two is Lake Titicaca, an Andean Lake that borders Peru and Bolivia, and the cradle of ancient Peruvian civilization.  The Island is spotted with over 40 artificial islands made by the native Uro people out of totora reeds.  The islands were originally made for defensive purposes.  They are anchored to the bottom of the lake, but can be moved if necessary.  Since they are in a constant state of decay, a new layer of reeds has to be added every few months.  It is not known when the islands were originally created, so we felt comfortable using them in our story.

Totora Reed Houses

The Andes were home to the Incas.  Lacking a written language, the Incas passed on their creation stories orally.  The story or “myth” that we took license with in the book tells how the god Viracocha created the eight Ayer brothers and sisters who emerged from a cave near Lake Titicaca and went on a long journey to find a place to settle.  One of the brothers, Ayer Atchi, had powers that threatened his brothers.  They deceived him into returning to the cave from which they were born and trapped him inside.  The siblings, with the exception of one other brother who was turned to stone, resumed their travels and ended up in the Cusco Valley where they built their home.

Near the south-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca, lie the ruins of Tiwanaku, an ancient temple complex.  A conservative estimate says the place was probably inhabited as early as 1500 BC, while more liberal archaeologists say it could be one of the oldest ruins in the world. Tiwanaku used to sit at the edge of the lake, the subset ruins of Puma Punku are even suspected to be a harbor, but the lake has receded to such a level that nearly twelve miles separate the two now.
The megalithic stones used to create Tiwanaku stand as a stark contrast to the reeds the natives built boats and islands out of.  One block is estimated to weigh 440 tons and was quarried a full ten miles away.  It is still a mystery as to how the ancient people transported the stones or even built the complex.
Gate of the Sun

To learn more about Tiwanaku, visit the Unesco World Heritage site:

or Archaeology Magazine's Interactive Dig: