Yesterday I wrote about the Syfy channel’s admission that paranormal reality programming has passed its peak and viewers are looking for something new. Apparently, for too many channels the hot new thing is programming modeled on America Unearthed. Not only is there a casting call for an ancient artifacts show, as I mentioned the other day, but the Travel Channel just announced that the former host of Syfy’s paranormal Destination Truth, Josh Gates, has been given a new show called Expedition Unknown, which will investigate archaeological mysteries: “Armed with a degree in archaeology, a quick wit and a hunger for adventure, Gates investigates the latest developments in each unsolved legend before embarking on a fully immersive exploration.”
Since this will air in January on the network that brought you Ghost Adventures, I can’t express anything more than cautious optimism that the program will err more on the side of fact than fantasy. I am encouraged that Gates seems to recognize that unsolved mysteries are, in his words, connected “so uniquely to different cultures.” This is already a step above the History-H2 programs’ reductionist view of history as the story of one universal lost culture (giants, aliens, Templars, etc.) that overrides human diversity.
The growth of these programs comes just after the New York State Board of Regents voted to no longer require students to pass history tests to graduate, and will no longer require students to learn about events prior to 1750, guaranteeing that the History Channel and the Bible will be the most important sources educating future generations about ancient history.
I hadn’t planned to review more episodes of Search for the Lost Giants, but I ran out of ideas for today’s blog post, so I thought I’d give it a shot. However, since I could not possibly care less about show stars Jim and Bill Vieira and their brotherly bond, I’m going to be watching the show only for content—not drama—which, I believe, will make it go much faster, and give me time to look up which felonies the men pretend to commit in the name of gigantology.
S01E02 “A Photo, a Tooth, the Truth?” opens with a quote from Homer’s Odyssey (9.296) about the Cyclops eating human flesh, after which we go to the Ozarks to listen to the Vieiras yip and howl, and the narration tells us that the brothers are “dipping into their savings” to fund their journey. This is a crock, since they are being paid by the production company, Prometheus Entertainment, in some fashion, and someone is funding the camera crew shadowing them. They are looking for the lost race of cannibal giants that the Vieiras feel are part of Native American lore, citing Paiute myth. As we know, the Paiute story had nothing to do with giants, and the cannibals were normal human size. They became conflated with myths of giants due to the Lovelock Cave sideshow, whereby hucksters displayed mammoth bones from a nearby fossil bed as the remains of the bodies found in the cave, even though the actual bodies were normal human size.
The foundation for this hour is a June 11, 1933, newspaper report of the discovery of a giant skeleton in a cave near Steelville, Missouri, which at the time was quickly conflated with the remains of a cannibal feast that were found in the same cave in the Ozarks. The bones, when uncovered by the Smithsonian in 1920, were smashed open and the marrow extracted. The men visit the cave and find nothing but speculate that the giant—which isn’t there—might have been killed in a manner similar to Goliath because: Bible.
Because the 1933 newspaper report is covered by copyright, I can’t reproduce it in full, but I can link to someone who did. Here are the key details from the article:
The skeleton itself is seven and a half feet long without the cartilage layers that once separated the vertebrae, and with some of the bones of the feet missing, Dr. Parker believes the man must have been close to eight feet tall in life, but was apparently of slender build, for the bones are not of extraordinary size except as to length. His slenderness, too, must have been accentuated in appearance, at least, by the extremely small size of his head. With all his magnificent stature, this primitive chief, if chief he was, really was something of a pinhead. The skull measures only 20 inches in circumference—a pretty small skull, even for a man of normal height. The heads of most average sized men measure from 22 to 28 inches in circumference. A 20 inch dome perched on the shoulders of a giant eight feet tall must have looked tiny indeed.
The reporter notes that there was no way to know how long the body had been buried.
The Vieiras left out most of these details as they go looking for the giant, and the description sounds to me like a person suffering from a genetic disorder, as the disconnect between the size of the leg bones and the size of the head suggests. The Vieiras hope to use metal detectors to find copper artifacts because they believe, based on newspaper accounts, that giants used oversized copper weapons. They find nothing, but at the library they uncover a June 15, 1933, Steelville Ledger photograph of the oversized skeleton beside a man claimed to be six feet tall. Another article states that the Smithsonian requested that the body be shipped to them, “as they feel it may be a giant of prehistoric times.” The bones were then shipped to Washington.
I’ll stop here to note that this show is wearing its Biblical prejudice on its sleeve. Apropos of nothing, the show stops to inform us that while scholars dismissed Noah’s Flood as fiction, it is now believed that the Flood really happened, when the Black Sea filled. This is a claim made in 1998 and not generally accepted as the origin of the Flood myth. Nevertheless, the show asks us to consider that the reality of Noah’s Flood makes the account of the giants of Genesis 6:4 that much more credible.
Jim Vieira blames Dr. Aleš Hrdlička, the director of anthropology for the U.S. National Museum at the time, for suppressing the truth about the giants. Hrdlička, he says, was the ultimate arbiter of what facts could be considered truth, though Vieira fails too note that he didn’t do a very good job since he thought humans evolved in central Europe, near his homeland of Bohemia, rather than in Africa. Somehow, despite his massive influence, we do not follow this dogma today.
Bill Vieira discovers a tooth in the cave, and they declare it to be a human incisor of massive size. However, this would directly contradict the newspaper account, which emphasized the disproportionate smallness of the skull. An expert tells the men that he can’t identify the tooth. I’m not sure by what right they have removed the tooth if they genuinely believed it was an ancient part of a human burial site. As a presumed piece of human remains, it would seem to directly violate Mo. Rev. Stat. ß 194.410 (2009): “Any person, corporation, partnership, proprietorship, or organization who knowingly disturbs, destroys, vandalizes, or damages a marked or unmarked human burial site commits a class D felony.”
Did they have a permit to remove human remains not just from the cave but from the state to keep for their collection and conduct invasive testing upon? The same law stipulates that keeping said remains is a felony, too: “Any person who knowingly appropriates for profit, uses for profit, sells, purchases or transports for sale or profit any human remains without the right of possession to those remains as provided in sections 194.400 to 194.410 commits a class A misdemeanor and, in the case of a second or subsequent violation, commits a class D felony.” I’d imagine that a TV documentary, selling ad time on the basis of this tooth (as History’s Twitter feed promotions confirm), would meet the requirement of profiting from appropriating said remains. But as becomes evident, this does not apply because they are only pretending the tooth is human for television purposes.
After this, the brothers travel to Arkansas to look for evidence of a cave, now beneath a reservoir, that might have contained a giant skeleton. They send a camera down below the water to probe a sunken rock shelter. They think they see a carving of a face and a wolf on the wall of the cave, but I can’t make out what they say they see. They find nothing.
They conclude the show with a visit to anthropologist Todd Disotell at New York University and admit that they did no actual research to confirm the veracity of the 1933 Missouri articles, not even a cursory call to the Smithsonian to inquire into the supposed shipment. They give Disotell the tooth, and we discover that they could remove it from the cave because, as Disotell tells us, it isn’t human. (It looks something like a deer incisor, but I am not familiar enough with animal dentition to identify it.) Disotell allows that there is a small possibility that it might be, so he agrees to test the tooth. Again: If it were human, all involved would apparently be committing felonies if we read the Missouri law literally.
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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