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

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