Did the Smithsonian Try to Cover Up Giant Skeletons in West Virginia? You'll Never Guess What the Facts Say
Today I want to point to an article running at Ancient Origins in which gigantologists Jason Jarrell and Sarah Farmer try to make the case that the Smithsonian engineered a cover-up of giants uncovered in a West Virginia mound. According to their research, Ernest Sutton of Salem College uncovered the skeletons of as many as four giants between 7.5 and 9 feet in height in mounds located on the property of Benjamin Zahn in Morgansville, West Virginia, in 1929. These “giants” were reported in local newspapers in 1930. The authors then tried to prove that the newspaper accounts were true by examining Sutton’s field report, filed 29 years later in 1958.
The field report matched the newspaper accounts in most details, but it lacked measurements of the skeletons. The authors speculate that Sutton purposely omitted the measurements after he was made aware of the official Smithsonian policy of censorship about “giants.”
As someone working outside of the establishment, Ernest Sutton may have been initially unaware of the policy of secrecy enacted under the authority of Ales Hrdlicka of the Smithsonian, regarding the reporting of gigantic skeletons. As a result of these circumstances, Sutton may have gone public with what he considered to be very important anthropological discoveries in June of 1930, and then avoided the mention of the size of the skeletons in his official report filed almost three decades later.
This is ridiculous, and there never was a policy designed to suppress knowledge of giants. Hrdlička, the head of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, was quite clear about what he thought “giants” were. As he told Science News Letter in 1934, the so-called “giants” were almost always the result of mismeasurement or mistaking Ice Age mammal bones for human ones. The evidence Jarrell and Farmer provide actually tells a very different story than the one they think it does, and one that conforms quite closely to Hrdlička’s 1934 observation.
In 1966, Sutton provided a report of some additional excavations he conducted in 1962 and 1963 to Martha Potter of the Ohio Historical Society, and the authors examined this letter in order to learn about Sutton’s methodology. There, Sutton, a professor of geography, explained that he estimated the height of the “giants” by multiplying from the length of the femur bone: “By examination and checking, I find that the length of the femur bone is approximately one-third of the total length.” Our authors miss the import of this piece of data and instead spin it as part of a conspiracy:
In the letter, Sutton also assures Potter that the “Johnson-Thompson Mound report has been revised in conformity with instructions and is now returned.” This is clear evidence that large “official” organizations were enforcing specific criteria in the publication of archeological data. In relation to this, the specific reference to the measurement of skeletal height in Sutton’s letter would indicate that this subject was among those bounded by these criteria.
The letter itself makes plain that Potter had requested revisions to the report to correct formatting issues and “errors and irregularities” in its presentation. Our authors omit that as well.
Anyway, the key issue is Sutton’s use of measurements suggest much less anthropological skill and knowledge than our authors attribute to Sutton. If he estimated the height of a living person by measurement of the femur, and used a 3:1 ratio, this would produce a significant error. The average male today is about 180 cm high, with a femur of about 48 cm in length, about 27% of the overall height, a ratio that holds across human populations. Obviously, 48 is not one-third of 180, and multiplying by three would underestimate the height. It would seem to me that Sutton has made an error, either in reporting his methodology or in measurement. Otherwise, his figures grow to ridiculous proportions.
One frequent formula for finding the height of an adult male is 2.32x + 65.53, where x is femur length in centimeters. If we take our 7.5-foot skeleton (228.6 cm) and divide it by three to get Sutton’s approximation of the original femur length (76 cm) and then plug it into our formula, we get 242 cm, or just about 8 feet in height!
That said, it is unlikely that Sutton was using that formula in 1929. According to the published accounts, he was measuring skeletons then by the length of the burial. Reporters claimed that Sutton made careful measurements of the whole body in situ. This has its own problems, as we shall see.
Now as for the Smithsonian, they did in fact take an interest in this most unusual report. Shortly after the newspaper account of “giants” was published on June 15, 1930, the Smithsonian Science Service sent anthropologist D. T. Stewart (possibly the author meant T. Dale Stewart, bone expert and later director of the Museum of Natural History) to West Virginia to meet with Sutton and view the giant bones. Science News Letter carried a story about the official investigation, in all its disappointing results. According to the unsigned piece “Archaeological No-Man’s Land” in the July 5, 1930 edition, Stewart arrived and asked to see the giant bones only to be told that they had completely disintegrated and could not be viewed!
Yes, it wasn’t the Smithsonian who made the bones disappear! In fact, Sutton reported that he didn’t consider the bones interesting or important enough to keep, and he threw them away! Stewart searched for any remains of the bones in order to glean information from them. “Fragments of arm bones which had been preserved were shown to Mr. Stewart, who said they appear to be of average size.” To try to confirm this, Stewart re-excavated the mounds with the help of a “squad” of volunteers from Salem College. He found no additional burials but uncovered a number of artifacts, the same artifacts that Jarrell and Farmer note with puzzlement were added to the Smithsonian collection on July 9, 1930. They were brought back to Washington by Stewart, the only fruit of the excavation.
Stewart told Science News that he believed that Sutton overestimated the height of the skeletons by not accounting for the disarticulation and separation that occurred as the body decayed. He failed “to allow for shrinkage” in imagining how the bones would have fit back together. To this I would add that the allegedly rapid decay of the bones upon exposure to air would suggest that they might have been waterlogged and exposed to numerous freeze-thaw cycles, which can add extra length over time as ice expands and weakens bones by pushing the bone matrix apart, particularly in long bones like femurs.
Contrary to Jarrell and Farmer’s conspiracy theory, we find that the Smithsonian not only took an active and public interest in the giants but conducted its investigation in the open, in the presence of dozens of witnesses, and with results shared with the news media within days. When Sutton later wrote up an account of his original 1929 excavation, he most likely omitted the size of the skeletons not due to pressure from the Smithsonian but due to the fact that the geographer’s conversations with a forensic anthropologist and bone expert had convinced him he had made a mistake in measuring the bones. Since they had fallen into decay and could not be re-measured, there was nothing to report.
The whole flap about “giants” lasted about three weeks in the summer of 1930 but has been rehearsed in gigantology circles ever since. The original news stories have appeared in books like Richard Dewhurst’s The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America but the real story of how the Smithsonian investigated the claim somehow never makes it into the gigantologists’ accounts.
3/17/2016 03:08:49 pm
I always cringe when I read the term "gigantologist" (or "giantologist" per Andy White). "Ancient alien theorist" does the same thing to me.
3/17/2016 09:20:26 pm
"Conventional religious fundamentalism" - -- how do those words grab you, tm.
3/17/2016 10:06:25 pm
What it would sound like if a chihuahua could talk. :D
3/18/2016 07:25:36 am
Yo quero Taco Bell!
4/20/2017 01:19:50 pm
3/17/2016 04:00:54 pm
One thing bothers me about all these tantalising reports of mound excavations- where are the photographs and measured drawings?
3/17/2016 04:03:42 pm
Archived at the Smithsonian with the bones resulting from the vast academic conspiracy to hide the truth from the American people.
3/17/2016 05:55:37 pm
We have top men working on it right now.
3/18/2016 08:22:36 am
That is one of those classic government official lines answering a question without actually answering the question.
2/24/2017 11:14:24 am
Exactly. Even back inthe early 1900s Archaeologists and anthropologists took notes and drawings to record a site. Not as well as today with accuracy but still....
3/17/2016 04:02:41 pm
The real story of how the Smithsonian or any other museum/university/etc. did or does any real investigations into old bones/burial mounds does not make for excess profits for fringe 'authors'.
3/17/2016 05:01:46 pm
Or as Giorgio says"I'n not saying it was aliens....but it was aliens!"
3/17/2016 05:51:33 pm
Has Jason decided that clickbait headings are the way to go or is it tongue-in-cheek?
The troll Krampus
3/17/2016 07:04:48 pm
Whatever the obvious is, that is the answer.
3/17/2016 09:42:04 pm
For some reason I used a clickbait style headline as a joke the first time I talked about these two gigantologists, and I just sort of went with it each time their names come up.
3/17/2016 08:05:50 pm
As I have passed on facts about this issue here before, and have had those facts ignored, I will simply state that IMO none of you know what you are speaking about in this particular case.
3/17/2016 08:14:22 pm
Correction. That should read "Mars IS not "Earth-like".
3/18/2016 12:20:09 am
I am familiar with claims made about the Holocene impact events, and don't feel that the evidence is nearly as hard as you think it is, nor that the dating is as accurate as that. In other words, it's evidence, NOT proof. As for the Andaste, uh, they were a Delawarean-family tribe, and so far as I've been able to discover, not particularly greater in stature than the other tribes around them. I'm not interested in any kind of cults, but I am interested to note that people who actually have proof rarely accuse others of "believing what they want" as a FIRST post. And really, I don't recall seeing you OR your purported proof before.
3/21/2016 10:01:56 pm
3/18/2016 03:59:25 am
There does not seem to be hard data that the Andaste were over 7 feet tall, only that they were significantly taller than the average of the Europeans who first encountered them.
3/21/2016 10:14:23 pm
Read Dragoo and Neuman'a "Mounds for the Dead",
3/17/2016 10:34:37 pm
Just saw a bizarro SW dodge truck commercial that involved the KRS during a Vikings on history channel. He talked about how the Vikings traveled farther west then anyone ever knew...
3/18/2016 04:04:02 am
See the commercial here. Wooden Wolter strikes again:
3/18/2016 01:47:10 pm
False corollary, making a point about another point using a completely made up series of opinions as though they were facts.
3/1/2018 04:51:14 pm
I can say, without any doubt that my Grandfather did NOT throw away human remains. One of the skeletons was removed by a 'local assistant' and never seen again, one was stolen from another of the excavator's garage. Ernest Sutton attempted to locate these missing burial remains, with no luck, in his later years.
10/18/2019 01:34:15 pm
I believe in the Adena mound giants. I met and visited with a Seneca Indian tribe member in New York and had the opportunity to hold an very ancient hammerstone and it weighed about 30 lbs. (The hammerstone was found in a burial) An average man at 6 ft would not be using a tool with a head ax or hamerstone of 30 lbs..., not logical. A Giant from the Adena Culture used easily use these tools. The archeologists don't want to hear it..., it doesn't fit their paradigm. Sad to say, some will come up with excuses.
9/3/2019 01:56:26 am
Wow, that's really cool that you know all that stuff about your grandfather. Did your grandfather ever speak any more stories about the Giant's to you? Or who might have the skeletons today?
9/3/2019 01:59:31 am
I also wonder, what could make bones crumble to dust, once they were exposed to the air, like that? That isn't the first time that I've read or heard other people from miles away tell the same story. It almost makes me wonder if the Giant's bones were made of a different type of mineral or their body chemistry itself, could have been entirely different. Please, let me know what else you might remember or know. I'd really like to hear your thoughts and opinions on it, thank you. _Ray.
11/11/2019 08:11:17 am
When I was a little kid I lived a quarter mile walk from Hill Comorah in Central Ny. We used to walk there to sled down it. Its a Mormon facility. The caretaker used to invite us in and give us cocoa. He was an elderly man. Eventually he started showing us his scrap books full of old newspaper articles about people finding giant human remains. As a youth he was on some team that went around the country trying to race to towns where these articles appeared and talk to the people who found them. He mentioned the Smithsonian would constantly show up, take ownership of the remains, promise to investigate them. They had far larger resources and constantly beat them to the place. But every once in a while, they'd beat them! The Mormons had an interest in this because they believe The Americas had a civilization that came here from Isreal. This would include Giants. His scrap books were loaded with such articles, and this was 50 years ago! He told me he was very disapointed because when they did get evidence and send it back to Utah, they did the same thing the Smithsonian did! Keep it under wraps. Why? He said he personally Witnessed an 11 foot tall Skeleton and tools too big for a normal man to use. We know there were tiny people, why wouldn't there be large people when everything grew large 50,000- 20,000 years ago? We're doing it right now...look at the NBA! quick evolution. Look what humans did with Dog Breeds in a short time period. I think the dismissiveness is because people brought religion into what might just be nature. And all those ice age large Animals died out and are extinct. Why would it be so unfathomable that the large humans did too?
8/2/2020 09:20:47 am
To say giants are a result of mis-measurement seems odd to me. To be off by an inch or two seems plausible, but to be off by over a foot or more? Not likely.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.