Here we are in another new episode of Search for the Lost Giants, S01E05 “Into the Bone Cave.” This episode opens with a quotation from Abraham Lincoln: “The eyes of that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara, as ours do now.” This quotation comes from lecture notes Lincoln prepared (but never used) for a speech about Niagara Falls, and his reference to giants was repeating widespread Mound Builder mythology popular in the 1840s, based ultimately on Biblical beliefs that a portion of the antediluvian population were giants. In fact, the reference is so unclear that it isn’t certain that Lincoln was even referring to Bible giants; he might have been discussing mammoths, commonly referred to in those days as giants.
This isn’t the important part of the episode, though. The important takeaway is that the show’s producers have openly endorsed the racist nineteenth century theory of the Lost Race of the Mound Builders and are openly misinforming viewers that all of the mounds raised by Native peoples across the United States over thousands of years were part of a project by a single unified lost race. This is a shocking development, and one that damns this show to a new circle of hell.
We open with a recap of “evidence” from earlier episodes of the show, including the “large tooth” from a cave in Missouri and the continued non-evidence of the Goshen tunnel in Massachusetts. Today, Jim and bill Vieira are at Big Bone Cave in Van Buren County, Tennessee. Not to belabor the point, the cave was named for the discovery of big bones in 1811; these bones were those of a giant ground sloth, mistaken for those of a Bible giant because the sloth bones were found mixed with those of humans.
The Vieira brothers reassert their belief that the skeletons of giants were reburied under NAGPRA, and they imply that this occurred to hide such giants. The narrator introduces Abraham Lincoln into the mix, and Vieira explains that Lincoln was fascinated with giants and with the Mound Builders—a fictional race that never existed. Other than Lincoln’s 1848 reference to “giants” there is no evidence he shared any interest in Mound Builders, unlike presidents Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, both of whom were deeply involved in the Mound Builder controversy but aren’t famous enough to make this show. (Arguably, Lincoln’s own height contributed to the giant craze, with his death marking the beginning of a period of searching for lost giants not unlike the martyred “giant” of American politics.)
The Vieira brothers meet up with a park ranger who is supposedly helping the brothers “find” Big Bone Cave, as though it were not a National Natural Landmark and a Tennessee Class II Natural-Scientific State Natural Area. It’s owned by the state and marked on maps. The ranger tells the Vieira brothers that a skull big enough to fit over a man’s head was found in the cave in the nineteenth century along with an effigy pipe.
Back in Massachusetts, Hugh Newman from Ancient Aliens and David Brody, the novelist and friend of America Unearthed host Scott Wolter, are monitoring events at the Goshen Tunnel. The two men are studying the inscription found on the rock near the tunnel, last seen in the pilot. The two recognize that the inscription is colonial, but Newman thinks that a circle on the rock is the sun and therefore the circle symbol is “much older than colonial America,” in the words of the narrator, and connected to “sun-worshipping” Mound Builders. Holy crap. At this point it becomes obvious that the show assumes there is a lost race of Mound Builders, a notion debunked 120 years ago.
The two men make up some useless theories about imaginary lines on the stone, but these are so lacking in evidence that of course they will become a running thread in the episode. The producers need to fill time somehow.
At the Bone Cave, the narrator pretends that the Vieira brothers “sleuthed out” the entrance to the well-known cave, and the two are planning to investigate an 1872 Manchester Democrat story about the discovery of a mummified skeleton amidst a network of passages and an underground lake. I don’t have the Democrat article, but I do have one published in the Hartford Weekly Times that is almost certainly the same one. It is nowhere near as dramatic or portentous as the show would like you to think:
Race of Giants Found In Underground Tomb Under “Old Stone Fort” in Tennessee
The big bones seem to be those of the ground sloth, mistaken for human.
The Vieira brothers try to investigate the cave but need the help of a cave guide to get beyond an unsafe part. We leave them to return to Goshen, where Brody and Newman are walking off to the northeast because Newman thinks that the slash of the letter Z on the inscription could be extended to form a tangent across the circular “sun” symbol and thus serve as an astronomical marker! They walk off and find a rock with scratch marks they cannot read. They continue on and find another rock and then yet another (this one with a drill mark) on what they say is the same line. Both men think that the rocks were intentionally placed as an astronomical marker (as opposed to, say, a property marker, or even some glacial erratics plunked down on a line when the glaciers retreated. It has to be archaeoastronomy! No one reports whether there are other boulders in the area not on this line.
The Vieira brothers are now in Cincinnati meeting with Ross Hamilton, one of the most famous gigantologists, who adopted and popularized David Childress’s 1993 Smithsonian conspiracy theory back in 2001 when he accused the museum of conspiring to hide the skeletons of giants. He calls this a “holocaust.” He also believes in a lost race of Mound Builders distinct from Native Americans because he uncritically accepts nineteenth century material as fact.
Now Hamilton claims to have a new theory about giants. He shows the men a map of Native American mound sites, and he asserts that there was a “great nation” that occupied the Hudson to the Gulf of Mexico and were a unified polity with a single ruler and a single language six thousand years ago. He calls these people what I can only transliterate as “Alihana” since the name isn’t given on screen and he seems to have made it up. He attributes all of the Native American mounds in America to what the narrator calls a “royal class of colossi,” the giants. He says that the taller the person, the more likely ancient people were to worship them as gods or demigods. The narrator suggests that the Greek Titans were of the same species and were a memory of this lost race of ruling giants. No one on the show gives even a moment’s thought to the hubris of taking from Native Americans thousands of years of their accomplishments and reassigning them to a lost global race—who are, as a global race, clearly not Native Americans.
Hamilton tells the Vieira brothers about a man who has come close to giant remains but has stayed hidden to avoid “controversy.” The men meet with “Vernon,” who acts hostile and aggressive but nevertheless agrees to speak about giants, to which he has also devoted his research and life. Jim Vieira tells Vernon Tiedge (as he is now identified) that he is nearly out of money because he devotes all of his savings to gigantology and has stopped working a stonemason to make this TV show. Tiedge in turn tells the Vieira brothers that he believes most fringe history claims, particularly those about lost wisdom. Tiedge claims to have seen a giant skeleton many years ago, and he says that he reburied the bones and was sworn to secrecy. He refuses to provide any evidence to confirm his story, and that ends his story.
Back at Goshen, Hugh Newman and David Brody run out of rocks, so they start measuring for alignments. Using a computer simulation, he draws a line between the rocks, but the on-screen graphics show that the alignment is nowhere near exact. Some stones aren’t on the line at all, indicating that there is no precision in the alignment, and likely no intention to target the solstice—let alone one “too close to dismiss,” as Newman claims.
I am disturbed though by the narrator’s insistence on speculating on an “ancient Mound Builder influence,” using a propaganda technique to reinforce the idea that there was a unified lost race of Mound Builders across the country rather than many different Native peoples who built different types of mounds at different times for different purposes. This is the stuff of old nineteenth century antiquarian fantasies, based ultimately on Americans’ need to undermine Native peoples and claim ancient America for white Europeans. Perpetuating this myth under the name of giants is disturbing to say the least, and takes the show from cranky to outright offensive.
This scattershot episode for gigantologists with short attention spans returns us to Tennessee to watch the brothers explore Big Bone Cave. The poke around the cave and explore its various passages. They find various passages indicated in the newspaper article—to which, no fooling; the cave has been explored many times in the past—but the men find nothing in the cave worthy of note. Jim Vieira was not able to make it down to the so-called “Dead House,” and it is interesting that in describing each part of the cave he claims to have seen off camera, Jim Vieira uses the exact wording of the newspaper article rather than offering an original description. Is this just lazy scripting?
“We’re leaving Tennessee without any physical evidence,” Jim Vieira said, and the teaser trailer for next week shows that L. A. Marzulli will show up, demonstrating that he got over his hurt feelings about the show when he realized appearing on it will help him sell his overpriced Nephilim DVD sets to a larger audience.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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