For those of you who keep track of such things, you will recall that one of the touchstones of the gigantologists’ claims for existence of giants is that the bones of these antediluvian monsters have disappeared as part of an intentional conspiracy by world governments, museums, and academics to sequester or destroy any evidence of the veracity of the Bible. (“The Smithsonian has been at the center of a vast cover-up of America’s true history since the 1880s,” Richard Dewhurst wrote in The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America.) To that end, where such information is available, gigantologists have pointed to cases where newspapers reported that “giant” bones were dispatched to the Smithsonian Institution or other museums and yet the same museums maintain that they have no record of the arrival or storage of any such remains of Nephilim.
I must confess that I did not consider the problem especially vexing and was quite happy to put the solution down to newspaper reporters’ penchant for making things up. Undoubtedly at least some of the reports are fabrications, as was common in nineteenth century newspapers. However, I read a piece of information that helped clear up the otherwise inexplicable belief that giants’ bones were “disappearing” from museums, and in fact it tells us something important: At least some of the “giant” bones are right where they are supposed to be, and never left the museums. Our testimony comes from an 1891 essay on giants by Andrew Wilson, F. R. S. E., a Scottish professor of science, in the Humboldt Library of Science:
Thus fossil sloths and elephants of large size had been doing duty for giants of the human race; and the teeth of human giants, which used to be so conspicuously displayed in museums, were relegated to their proper sphere under the description of the armature of elephants’ jaws.
Indeed, at the 1878 Inter-State Industrial Exhibition in Chicago, the editor writing for Henry A. Ward (probably actually Ward himself) said exactly the same thing in his notice on the wooly mammoth for the display of a replica of one at the exhibition: “Collections of them (mammoth bones) have been made in European Museums for more than two centuries past; at first considered to be the remains of giant men, and later recognized in their true character of bones of a great extinct Elephant.” A remnant of this slow changeover in European museums can be seen today in Paris, at the entrance to the paleontology wing the Museum of Natural History, where, according to Claudine Cohen, one of the dinotherium bones mistaken for those of the giant Teutobochus in the 1600s is still on display under a sign reading “Bone from the giant Teutobochus preserved at the Château of Langon.”
And then it clicked for me: Everyone might be telling the truth, more or less. The Victorian newspapermen may have been quite right that when the bones popularly ascribed to giants were dug up they were boxed and shipped back to the Smithsonian, but the Smithsonian may also be right that they received no bones from Nephilim-giants. Instead, on their end they received boxes that their experts would have immediately classified as mammoth, mastodon, or other megafauna bones and stored away in the natural history collections as those animals. Dr. Wilson’s testimony helps lend credence to that theory, since he testifies that European museums reclassified their “giant” bones as animal fossils after Cuvier had exposed the truth. Indeed, we have already seen that churches in Europe, which were filled with the same fossils posing as giants’ remains, as often as not boxed them up and sent them into storage when the truth came out.
Now the caveats: Obviously, this explanation is not universal and will not account for every last case of giant bones. In fact, as we shall see, many were more likely wrongly measured human bones, and still more reports may have been hoaxes. But of the residuum, at least some seem to have been reclassified.
We can add to this a few more cases from other museums that seem to suggest that this is what happened. In 1681, Dr. Nehemiah Grew reported that some travelers in Syria sent back “the Thigh-Bone of a Giant,” but upon its receipt at the Royal Society’s collections at Gresham College, careful measurements of its proportions determined that the item was in fact the femur of an elephant (probably an extinct one). The travelers thought they dispatched a giant’s bone, but on the other end, it was reclassified so that any visitor to the collection would only have seen an elephant’s femur.
According to the Illustrated London News for January 8, 1916, some men digging a trench around 1913 or 1914 found what they thought were ancient dice and took them to the British Museum, where they were reclassified as the fossilized wrist bones of an extinct elephant. Had we heard the story from the men rather than the museum, we’d instead have heard that they sent ancient dice to the British Museum and that no such dice could be found there.
It would be fascinating to try to correlate conspiracy theorists’ imagined cases of “giant” bones vanishing from the Smithsonian or other museums with accession records for megafauna bones to see if this suggestion holds up as well in America as it does for European giants. To this we can add that according to the Smithsonian’s 1911 annual report, in 1910, Dr. Aleš Hrdlička, the most important physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum—villain in many giant conspiracies—undertook a massive “reclassification and rearrangement” of the physical anthropology collections at the museum while moving them to a new building. If any mammoth bones lingered on as “human,” they were almost certainly sent to their correct department by then.
In fact, Hrdlička indicated that he was personally involved in making some of the alleged “giants” disappear—but through science. In 1934, Hrdlička told Science News Letter (syndicated to newspapers as well) that the Smithsonian received a steady stream of monthly letters from everyday Americans who swore up and down that they had discovered the bones of giants. Hrdlička said that, with the rare exception of someone suffering from agromegaly (the Smithsonian has a set of just such Native bones), these were always (and tiresomely) the result of the same three errors: (a) ignorant of anatomy, they measured the thighbone against their own bodies without accounting for the upper joint’s insertion into the pelvis; (b) ignorant of geometry, they failed to realize that jawbones are parabolas and therefore slip over one another without the need to be gigantic in size; and (c) ignorant of other species’ anatomy, they mistake mammoth bones for human. Hrdlička claimed that he had seen many Mexicans make that third mistake on his trips to collect bones for the museum. Obviously, if Hrdlička could identify the errors, he must have been involved in examining alleged “giant” bones in order to determine that they were no such thing, despite what their finders believed.
This seems to be pretty good evidence that at least some of the “giant” bodies sent to or examined by the Smithsonian were simply reclassified under their correct headings, and did not vanish at all. They are found among the “normal” bones and the animal bones, right where they should be. Nevertheless, the Science News Letter reporter said that the Smithsonian disabused all inquirers of the existence of giants. “It is a thankless task, and sometimes the people who so eagerly asked the Smithsonian’s opinion are downright annoyed to have their folktale allusions shattered.”
Some things never change, but from this we can glean that in a typical “giant” situation, a Smithsonian representative examines the bones, collects them for the museum (as was standard practice then), and delivers the fatal verdict before the finder rejects the conclusion and maintains that the bones were in fact gigantic. Much later, when fringe writers and creationists try to find evidence of the “giant” bones, they can’t because they never were giant and never entered the Smithsonian under such a title. Thus, the “lost” giants fell into a classification trap, suspended between two worldviews.
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.
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