I’m taking Sunday off, so today’s post is going up a few hours early. I have two topics: a surprising admission from the self-described hoaxer of the Narragansett Rune Stone and Dr. Greg Little’s unusual attack on me for attempting to investigate stories of giant skeletons.
Narragansett Rune Stone Hoax Claim
As many of you already know, a Rhode Island newspaper just reported that a Providence man named Everett Brown claims that he carved the infamous runic inscription on the Narragansett Rune Stone in 1964 using a chisel. Brown, who is now 63, told the Independent that he used a runic alphabet from a library book to fake the carving.
“I was trying to carve ‘Skraelings aft,’” Brown said. “Skraelings is what the Vikings used to call the Indians. […] If you’ve seen the picture, it’s pretty terrible as far as runes go.”
Brown said he had not come forward earlier because he does not read newspapers or watch television, so he had no idea that his graffiti had become famous. He told the paper that it was “mind-boggling” to him that the stone was not only the subject of so much speculation but that the H2 channel devoted an episode of America Unearthed to the rock.
In that episode show host Scott Wolter claimed that the Knights Templar had carved the inscription in the 1300s. “This stone is one of the very few artifacts that proves the Templars came to America,” Wolter claimed in the episode. If Brown’s story is proved true, it would be a major embarrassment to Wolter, who claims that his “new science” of archaeopetrography is able to accurately date stone inscriptions.
Greg Little Attacks Me
Dr. Greg Little is a psychologist and a familiar figure to listeners of Coast to Coast A.M. He’s an advocate of Edgar Cayce’s Atlantis prophecies and has tried looking for Atlantis where Cayce thought it would be, despite Cayce’s rather obvious borrowings from Theosophy and Dweller on Two Planets to construct his fantasy. That’s neither here nor there since Little has attempted to debunk me in an article attributed to AP Magazine (Alternative Press, not Associated Press) for doubting that there is a Smithsonian cover-up of Bible giants because he and Andrew Collins worked together on a new book about giant skeletons. My blog posts on the subject, made a year ago, must be threatening to his book sales.
One of the skeptics, Jason Colavito, related that the giant reports came from misidentified mastodon/mammoth bones to outright hoaxes. However, Colavito didn't cite a single example of a hoax or a giant skeleton found in America that turned out to be a mastodon or mammoth.
I know that’s not true. I mean, it may be true of any one given blog post, but over the last three years I’ve talked more than once of the bones of a “giant” found near my home in Albany (in Claverack in Columbia County) in 1705. Scientists later examined and determined them to be that of a mastodon—in fact, the very first mastodon remains ever uncovered. The governor of Massachusetts, Joseph Dudley, wrote to the Rev. Cotton Mather when he saw just one tooth from the assemblage of bones in 1706 that he was “perfectly of opinion that the tooth will agree only to a human body, for whom the flood only could prepare a funeral; and, without doubt, he waded as long as he could keep his head above the clouds, but must, at length, be confounded with all other creatures.” Cotton Mather in 1712 agreed that the bones had to be those of a pre-Flood giant.
Although not from the United States, I have also discussed the discovery of “giant” bones in the Canton of Lucerne in Switzerland in 1577 which were heralded as those of a Bible giant until an anatomist recognized them as those of an elephant in 1706.
We can add more: In 1613, the bones of a Germanic chief named Teutobocchus were discovered near Chaumont in France. These “giant” bones were determined by M. de Blainville in 1832 to be those of an elephant. St. Christopher’s tooth, on display for centuries in the city of Valence, is the tooth of a fossil elephant. (Oh, and St. Christopher never existed, either!) In 1789, the canons of St. Vincent declared an elephant femur the arm bone of Vincent. These stories and more can be found in my Library in the section on the Fossil Origins of Myths and Legends.
How can we not believe that American colonists and settlers weren’t just as liable to mistake mammoth bones for giant bones? Adrienne Mayor has collected reports from the continental United States of such “fossil legends” in her book Fossil Legends of the First Americans. Little, however, doesn’t address this but instead insists that skeptics (no longer just me but clearly meant to refer to me, the only one named) can’t stand that there used to be tall people—something I have never denied:
However, the fact is that a substantial proportion of the old reports of large or "giant" skeletons were written factually and are backed up by the archaeological evidence. At the same time, it became clear that modern archaeologists and some skeptical bloggers essentially loathe this fact so much that they go to great lengths to execrate those who take the topic seriously. (emphasis in original)
Regular readers will remember (and you can see below) that I have shared more than once Spanish reports about unusually tall Native Americans, as well as evidence that individuals (though not whole populations) occasionally reached seven or eight feet in height, just as tall people do today. Unless one wishes to deny the existence of the NBA, it would foolish to say otherwise. Native Americans were among the tallest ancient peoples because they had the best diets on earth at the time, full of nutrients that their stunted counterparts in Europe and Asia lacked due to the effects of overreliance on a limited range of crops.
The bones of Native American “giants” would be more likely to survive because they were (a) larger and more likely to fossilize and (b) apparently treated as special by ancient populations and given more careful burial. Little, however, doesn’t believe that ancient people gave preferential treatment to some skeletons. He assumes that skeletons were buried and survive in proportion to their prevalence in life. Therefore, he runs a “statistical analysis” of Smithsonian excavation reports to conclude that “giant” skeletons—here defined as anyone over 6 foot 6 inches—are overrepresented to the point that there must have been a giant race. Using nineteenth century reports, Little determined that the 17 “giant” skeletons uncovered were a statistical anomaly that should represent all the natural-born giants of a population of 2.5 million humans using modern statistical height distribution curves.
Here’s where it gets confusing. Last year, I speculated (but did not insist) that one particular report about an oversized skeleton found in 1889 in a waterlogged mound called Mound 12 in Tennessee might be due to the effects of freezing and thawing of saturated bones, which can cause bones to expand in size as ice crystals push the lattice of bone apart. Eventually, this causes the bones to shatter, but before this, they appear longer than they did in life.
Little misunderstands this and attacks me in confused rage: “Modern paleopathology texts and sources relate that buried bones that freeze can shatter and most buried bones actually lose mass - they get smaller. In addition, not one report has surfaced where a mastodon/mammoth bone was found in an American mound and said to be human” (emphasis in original). Little confuses mass with length, as though the two different meanings of “size” are interchangeable. Note, too, that Little switches here to specifying “mound” burials—something I have never claimed contained mastodon or mammoth bones. The bait and switch is designed to confuse the issue, just like the gradual scaling down of “giant” skeletons from 30 feet or 10 feet in early reports to his preferred measurement of 6 foot 6 inches to 8 feet. (At one point he even claims archaeologists classify skeletons of 5 foot 10 as “giant”!) My grandfather, who met the 6’6” standard in his youth, would therefore have been a “giant” under Little’s definition.
We don’t seem to be talking about the same kinds of giants. Those six-foot-six “giants” are certainly not the specimens that Pausanias, Giovanni Boccaccio, Peter Martyr, Cotton Mather, and other authorities spoke of. It is the type described by the latter—the 10 to 30 foot tall “giants”—that I said were likely to be mistaken mammoth and mastodon bones, something first proposed by Georges Cuvier in 1806 and hardly unique to me. Adrienne Mayor is the most famous proponent of the idea.
As you can see from this excerpt from last year’s blog post, I addressed most of Little’s new concerns in the very post he criticizes, and I explained the limitations of my analysis of Mound 12 as well as its tentative nature. It is not, as Little implies, a wholesale dismissal of “giants”:
Sadly, there is not enough information to draw firm conclusions. The Victorians, for example, were not aware of modern paleopathology, which has studied how bones change in various environments. The Smithsonian researchers noted that the mounds in question, being on a low-lying island in a river, were heavily saturated with water. Standard texts on paleopathology state that the repeated freezing and thawing of the water “will produce expansion by ice crystal formation.” This can make the bones appear larger, until such time as the ice crystal formation process results in the bones shattering. The Smithsonian report that the bones were “very soft” implies that they were in the thawing phase (obviously, they were not frozen during the warm-weather excavation) and had already lost a great deal of their integrity due to the gradual expansion of the bone structure due to such ice crystal action.
What was Little saying about me denying the existence of seven foot tall people? It’s telling that he doesn’t bother to cite my specific blog post or to link to it. He doesn’t want his readers to see for themselves that I was much more careful in my analysis than his cartoon version implies.
Little then accuses skeptics, by which he means me since I am the only one discussed, of having “deep psychological issues”:
There are deep psychological issues at work in all of this, but I suspect that the skeptics are not seeking the truth. In short, it seems they don’t and won’t care about the truth. […] I also see that American archaeology resents all outsiders, resists all beliefs that go against their beliefs, and they utilize skeptics as a sort of police force to silence critics and others. From a psychological standpoint, they are doing battle with their own shadow. It is a battle that can't be won.
That truth? That a race of 8-foot-tall Atlanteans colonized America and worshiped the constellation Cygnus as the gate to the afterlife. You know, facts!
I’m not sure I quite understand, though, how my year-ago blog post is “silencing” Little, who in the interim has written a book on the subject and published this very article. I should be so lucky to be “silenced” that way.
Greg Little wants to intentionally confuse my work and conflate different explanations for different claims as some universal explanation for all giants, and he wants to collapse all the different definitions of “giant” into his own preferred version—humans between six and eight feet tall; i.e., basketball players. In fact, he explicitly denies the existence of larger giants, which is why he can therefore ridicule explanations for such giants that attribute them to mastodons and mammoths: Large giants simply don’t exist, and his preferred “giants” aren’t big enough for mastodons to be mistaken for them. It’s dishonest, almost ridiculously so.
The only justification I can see for this is that whatever I wrote must have been so reasonable and made so much sense that it threatened to undermine Little’s profitable line of speculation.
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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