The post has been corrected.
You’ll remember Micah Hanks, the self-described “Mouth of the South” who has pursued claims that giants once roamed the earth. He was at it again last week, and he complained about me while doing it! As part of an article for Mysterious Universe, Hanks cites a Russian report found only in the Spanish language edition of RT, the Russian government's propaganda channel. He gives a Google Translate version, which is somewhat rough. I have taken the liberty of translating the complete article manually:
Russian archaeologists found in the Krasnodar region (northern Caucasus) the skeletal remains of ancient “giants,” an employee of the Archaeological Society in the region, Vasili Matáyev, said, as quoted by the Interfax news agency.
Obviously, a height of 6.6 feet is not beyond the known heights of ancient people, and if the bones were really found in a Bronze Age burial, it is quite possible that (as elsewhere) people who achieved particular status in life due to their height were given special burial.
However, as Hanks notes, there is no indication that the story is true, nor does the archaeologist’s name return any results outside of Hanks’s article and Spanish language websites repeating the original RT piece. Since I do not speak Russian, I can’t speak to Cyrillic sources, which may have more information on Matáyev but would not show up in a Google search using Roman transliteration. No outside news organization or agency independently confirms the story, though as EP notes in the comments below, it was carried in Russian media.
The RT report, however, take a similar tabloid approach to earlier claims that Georgia and the Caucasus had been home to “giants.” None of these reports produced verifiable results, and when the Science Channel sent a self-described psychic time traveler to track down the bones, he found nothing.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about here. Hanks took the opportunity afforded by this news report to engage in his continued campaign of bashing me for a blog post I wrote a year and a half ago and a more recent piece from August, which apparently still stick in his craw. Here Hanks avoids using my name, all the better to help prevent me from finding his piece, but the use of specific language (such as the word downgrade) and reference to specific claims from my blog posts makes the reference quite clear. Here’s what he said:
I have read at least one skeptical blog about past observations I’ve made on this subject, which interpreted these corroborations with Smithsonian data as my personal attempts to “downgrade giant skeleton stories” so they’ll seem more plausible, while offering evidence of height measurements which, despite being connected with a scientific organization, still don’t lend merit to the “giant” claims. To focus on the question over validity of the Smithsonian’s measurements is missing the point entirely. Again, the fact that some articles can be corroborated with the institute’s own data shows that skeptics who have dismissed all nineteenth and early twentieth-century newspaper reports is bad logic, as well as a fundamental lack of research on their part. […]
Apparently I am a psychological case of such extreme obstinacy that I require special study! But we already knew that: Hanks’s fellow gigantologist Greg Little previously accused me of having “deep psychological issues” for attempting to verify claims about giant skeletons.
My crime is in asking “gigantologists” to define what they mean by giants. When you ask the average person what he or she thinks of when thinking of a “giant,” I doubt that your average NBA player comes to mind. In fact, the average NBA player is 6.6 feet high (6 feet 7 inches), the exact height of the alleged “giants” that form Hanks’s putative subject. Such heights are not unknown from ancient times: In 2012, the remains of a Roman man who stood 6 foot 8 were discovered—and somehow not suppressed! I have no doubt that some Native Americans achieved similar heights (whether due to gigantism or other genetic factors) and were thus given special burial, making their bones more likely to survive in burial mounds for the Victorians to dig them up. But are they really what we mean by “giants”?
Rather, the average person most likely takes giants to mean really, really tall people, on the order of Paul Bunyan or the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk. And the field of gigantology is riddled with these massive, titanic figures—whose heights Hanks says are “highly unlikely.”
Here’s one of the most problematic of cases: In the 1300s, the Italian humanist Giovanni Boccaccio reported on the discovery of the skeleton of a giant human found in a cave in Sicily. This skeleton, he said, fell apart on being touched, but the teeth, a leg bone, and the skull remained: “those who can determine the total height of a man from the size of even the smallest of his bones calculated from this remnant that his size was two hundred cubits or more” (Genealogia deorum gentilium 4.68, my trans.). Yes, the giant was 300 feet tall! These bones remained on display in Drepana for centuries, and Athanasius Kircher, the Jesuit polymath and scholar, viewed them in the 1600s. His conclusion was that Boccaccio’s report was off by a factor of ten. He gave the height of the “giant” as about 30 feet. Now, if we take these reports literally (and we shouldn’t—it was probably a fossil elephant skeleton), then we have a 30 foot tall giant!
Yet the more serious “gigantologists” don’t want to do that. They want to pick and choose which reports of giants to believe and which to dismiss based on (a) personal preference, (b) plausibility, and (c) a fetishized deference to Victorian science—since it’s mostly nineteenth century reports they cite. All I wanted to know is what system they are using to evaluate such claims, and that makes the gigantologists angry because they don’t have one.
So let’s use Hanks’s own categories of proof and find us another giant. First we need a Victorian. Let’s use Samuel Hubbard, an upstanding citizen and later a director of the Oakland Museum. Like many of his peers cited by Hanks, he was not a scientist by training (one Smithsonian agent was a prospector, for example) but had the same experience as those who conducted comparable Smithsonian expeditions with little formal training in anthropology. He found the remains of a “giant” in the Grand Canyon and reported in a reputable newspaper in 1896 that it was 18 to 20 feet tall! Shall we accept this claim?
I’d like to know the criteria for dismissing some giants but not others. Oh, right; Hanks doesn’t believe newspaper accounts are appropriate sources—though he’s happy to discuss them all the same. This leaves him with Smithsonian records, of which there are so few as to produce no generalizable data.
So what is the point of looking for 6-foot-something (or even 7-foot-something) skeletons that no one would deny belonged to actual ancient people who occasionally, like today, fell on one end of the height bell curve? And why aren’t there dwarfologists looking at the other end of the curve? We don’t see a prehistoric dwarfism research community forming around claims, for example, that 100,000 dwarf skeletons 3 feet tall were found in a field in Tennessee in 1876, though the claim is a staple of fringe history and anomaly research.
The answer seems to be that the Bible says giants existed and were a separate race. The Bible also talks of dwarves and little people (Leviticus 21:20; Luke 19:3), but it ascribes to them no world-historical role nor any distinctive race; therefore, they are irrelevant. The logic, if we can call it that, seems to be that for the Bible to be inerrant, then giants must exist to confirm Genesis 6:4; therefore, if giants can be shown to exist the Bible must be true and Jesus will come back to save us all. Strictly speaking, the existence of giants, if true, would prove nothing about the truth of the Bible (its other claims, logically, could still be false).
If you don’t come to the question of giants with a pre-conceived notion that there once existed separate and distinct tribes of giants, then you would look at the evidence for “giant” skeletons that fall within the observed range of human height (6.5-8.5 feet) for what they are: occasional genetic anomalies who lived among ancient cultures as integrated members of those cultures. It is only if your views are shaped by the Bible that you will try to force the lack of any archaeological evidence for a separate tribe of giants (where, for example, are their giant houses and oversized tools?) into a framework that turns individuals into members of a lost race of giants. Hanks, to his credit, attempts to have it both ways and denies that any lost race existed even while using giants as mystery fodder. For his efforts, Coast to Coast AM listeners accused him of being part of a conspiracy to hide the truth.
But for most gigantologists, it is essential that giants exist not just as occasional genetic anomalies but as a tribe apart, one which can conform to the Biblical (or Qur’anic) account of creation. Even when fringe researchers think they are simply examining giants objectively, they use frameworks derived from Biblical programs of research, and this twists their interpretations, regardless of what the facts might actually say. Such is the power of ideology to shape conclusions.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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