Forbidden History is a British fringe history series modeled more or less explicitly on America Unearthed and now airing on the American Heroes Channel. I reviewed one of the episodes from the British run of the series on the Yesterday channel back in February.
The episode represented as new when AHC aired it on Sunday night is the first American broadcast of “The Mystery of the Giants,” a first season outing that aired in Britain in October 2013. I therefore have taken this opportunity to review the episode and its coverage of the myth of giants. The episode differs from its British original in that AHC has replaced the original narration from show host and onetime Top of the Pops presenter Jamie Theakston with an American-accented narrator. This leads to a very strange show in which all of Theakston’s first person involvement is drained away, and he serves as nothing more than an occasional mouthpiece for questions directed by an unseen American who seems to be speaking Theakston’s thoughts as a third person omniscient narrator. I prefer the British version, frankly, which, in using the first person point of view, was more personal and engaging.
I did not have an opportunity to compare the British and American airings to see if any of the narration has changed in substance and not just accent. But if we can go by Andy White’s analysis of the British version of the episode on his blog (which you should all read), it seems that some editing occurred, probably for time (the original is about 4 minutes longer than the American version). I don’t recall seeing a couple of the fossil teeth White discusses in the American broadcast. This review is therefore of the American episode, as it aired on AHC on Sunday. Please read White’s analysis for a discussion of the anthropology of teeth. My focus will be on the cultural context of “giant” mythology on Sardinia—an odd story all its own.
We open with the narrator discussing Genesis 6:4 and Zecharia Sitchin’s ancient astronaut theory as the baseline for how the show intends to treat the reality of giants, which it has chosen to identify as Nephilim and Anunnaki. Heretic magazine editor and professional fringe history advocate Andrew Gough, who also cites the Bible as “validating” the existence of giants, claims that Mesopotamians colonized Sardinia, built step pyramids, and left behind skeletal remains more than eight feet tall. I had never heard that claim, but it appears to derive from a comparison made by Philip Coppens between a step-pyramid in Sardinia and the mud-brick temples of Mesopotamia, though it is unclear to me if he originated the claim or if he was misunderstanding archaeologists’ comparison of the two, as shows up in some books on Sardinia, which also likened the form to Aztec step pyramids. I found, however, that the claim of a Near Eastern origin for Sardinian people is an old one, and that around 1850 the Jesuit scholar Father Antonio Bresciani, in an attempt to find a Biblical origin for all peoples, went so far as to claim that the Canaanites brought the gigantic Anakim—identified with the Nephilim—with them to Sardinia! He, and the people whose work he drew upon, based this on the assumption that megaliths were remnants of Canaanite pillars, like Jacob’s Stone at Beth-El. Bresciani’s speculations, which ennobled Sardinia from its historic status as an island of hicks, found widespread acceptance among Sardinians, who incorporated the claim into their popular folklore. Modern attempts to link Sardinia to Mesopotamia seem to take the old Canaanite claim and elide the Anakim into the Anunnaki and thus the Canaanites into the Mesopotamians.
Some ancient stone tombs with headstones are alleged to be those of the giants, but if I understand the literature on these tombs correctly, they are actually the collapsed remnants or visible uppermost sections of burial vaults which were marked with a standing stele. Such vaults have been labeled Giants’ Graves since the Middle Ages. Some of the bones we see on screen—for which no accounting is given—are quite obviously those of megafauna, but according to Marcello Pollastri, described as a journalist, farmers claim that the giant bones they’ve dug out of their fields have disappeared into government archives. Subsequent photographs of the bones, at least those that are not obviously fake, seem to again to be those of megafauna, mistaken on the Mediterranean islands for those of giants for thousands of years. One particular skull claimed by a farmer to be that of a giant is illustrated with footage of a normal-sized skull before the narrator reveals that the actual skull was destroyed when the farmer was a child and may have been an animal skull. So what was the footage? This show plays fast and loose with its illustrations, giving spurious support where facts fail.
Next, we view a megalithic tomb built (obviously) of large stones, from Sardinia’s Stone Age megalithic Nuragic culture. The locals attribute the tomb to the work of the Giants (something, again, that people have done since Greco-Roman times), but the tomb itself is quite small to accommodate Giants, whom one of the locals identifies as the heroes of old, the men of renown from the Bible. The normal sized men can barely stand up in it. Where would the giants fit?
Theakston is amazed the ancient people built with heavy rocks and suggests that big rocks might have been moved by Giants, but the narrator will have none of it and notes this is not evidence of giants. Pollastri, revealing himself as an idiot, claims that 80 farmers found giant bones, so Giants must be real. He seems unable to understand that other creatures had bones, too.
After this, the narrator explains some of the Bronze Age history of Sardinia, and he tells us that the ancient Nuragic people left tablets describing the existence of giants. Prof. Luigi Sanna, who studies the Nuragic people, claims that two tiny tablets the size of human thumbs show pictures of a king and a bull. Sanna claims two tablets have the word for “giant” inscribed on them, giganalloi, though in what language I cannot fathom since that doesn’t seem to be a standard word for giants, and I am unaware of a Nuragic script from 1000 BCE. Sanna claims that these giants are “the Biblical Nephilim” and that the Nuragic people wrote in Canaanite of the coming of the Nephilim from the Middle East! You can see how he is following Bresciani. Oh my God this show is terrible! So much Nephilim nonsense… Did no one recognize that “the Bible said so” is an argument from authority and a logical fallacy?
At the local archaeological museum, Theakston asks (“confronts” as the narrator said) museum director Giorgio Murru about giants. Murru denies that there is evidence of giant bones, but Murru tells Theakston that the tradition of giants is alive and well on the island, but based on megalithic remains misattributed to giants due to the ignorance of non-specialists. The bodies found in such tombs are of normal size. Theakston won’t take no for an answer, so he collects more stories from frankly ignorant Sardinian peasants (and I can say that as the descendant of a long line of ignorant Italian peasants) who couldn’t tell the difference between a mammoth and a giant if they tried. Pollastri declares that there is a conspiracy to cover up the “Giants,” but Theakston asks an archaeologist what’s going on. Alfonso Stiglitz tells Theakston that “the mystery is better than reality,” and people feel happier thinking that our ancestors were larger, stronger, and happier. Theakston says that it is “frustrating” to investigate giants, and he confesses that he can find no proof of giant human bones despite the claims of various witnesses that such bones once existed.
In a hilarious scene, Pollastri presents a tooth authenticated by a dentist, Enrico Manca, as the tooth of a Giant, many times larger than normal human size, which he also claims is three molars. When we finally get a shot of the tooth, it is actually a fragment of jaw containing three teeth, but we never see the teeth clearly enough to identify them, for the video is purposely overexposed to bleach out the details. At some points, apparently unrelated pictures of a tooth that looked like it belonged to a fossil elephant were spliced in as well. The dentist identifies the teeth as belonging to a man “two meters and a half” (8 feet) in height, or, in other words, about the upper limit for known human height. Dentists are not necessarily trained in non-human species, so their testimony is not as conclusive as the show would like us to think. (Andy White thinks these may be fossil pig teeth.) Pollastri said that the tooth (or teeth—they don’t settle on a descriptor) was lost when he tried to have a university examine it, and he attributes this to a cover-up. Pollastri blames “academics” for refusing to accept the testimony of laymen.
In this segment Theakston uses a hidden camera to look at a suitcase full of what seems to be illegal artifacts and bones an apparent tomb raider was trying to sell, if I understood the somewhat unclear narration correctly. Nothing was actually gigantic, despite claims made for the bones. Pollastri—now described as spelunker—takes Theakston to a new underground site beneath a Nuragic ruin, but Pollastri seems to see nothing odd about going into a tunnel he describes as exceedingly narrow to find the hiding place of giants’ bones. How did the giants get into these tiny little basements in the first place? They must have been masochists to build all their buildings for people five feet tall.
Theakston, standing 6’5” tall, can’t fit into the “giant’s” tomb, so the smaller Italians had to enter on his behalf. They find nothing. Pollastri speaks in rapt terms about the emotions he feels in entering Nuragic tombs and communing with ancient Sardinians, and it seems that for him the Giants are a kind of supernatural personification of the grander ancient past that contrasts so markedly with the backwater status of Sardinia has historically had in Italy. Since before the time of Cicero and Livy, the Sardinians were seen as proverbial bumpkins (both authors said as much), and no less a luminary than Pope Gregory the Great wrote a letter (Epistles 4.23) against the animalistic barbarism of the Sardinians. No wonder they were so eager to imagine a mighty race of giants who once ran roughshod over the arrogant continentals who look down on the island.
We draw to a close with Gough telling us that the “scriptures” speak of the Nephilim as coming from “another planet” and that it is so exciting to look for Giants because their bones will destroy the theory of evolution and overturn religion in favor of the ancient astronaut theory. I can’t fathom how that would be true; evolution can yield bigger or smaller sizes, so this would hardly serve as proof of aliens. The show concludes that despite scripture and eyewitness accounts, there is no evidence giants ever existed on Sardinia.
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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