Were there races of giants in ancient America? The internet is cluttered with websites claiming to have found evidence of giant races in ancient America (A Google search at the time of this writing yielded over 13 million results). For example, Gaia.com reports that “Discoveries of the giant skeletons were found all over the northeast, from Martha’s Vineyard and Deerfield Valley Massachusetts, to Vermont and upstate New York. Other reports of the discovery of buried giants were also found in the south, midwest and west coast. . . . While stories of this nature sound fantastical, there are numerous reports of skeletons of the same size appearing in The New York Times and other reputable sources. The majority of these reports occur during the mid to late 19th century. . . .” Sounds impressive . . . until you think about the era in which these reports were generated.
Giants in America: Fake News—We’ve Been There Before
What websites like Gaia.com and “giant researchers” don’t tell readers is that the late 19th-early 20th centuries was the heyday of fake news. The reason was simple: newspapers fought for readers. The 19th century saw the transformation of what had been a solidly politically-oriented press in early American history to a commercial enterprise (Baldasty). Newspapers needed circulation to grow to survive in the journalistic space. Sensationalism sold (and still sells). A good P. T. Barnum-esque story would for sure garner readers. The abundance of stories about giant human skeletons (this author has collected nearly 200) were often entirely fictional. The fake news was picked up by papers across the country from its originating source, thereby inflating the number of reports. This was also the era of the Cardiff giant, a faked specimen that made the rounds of carnivals and sideshows, duping tens of thousands of people. The saga of the 10-foot hoax is chronicled by Scott Tribble in his book, A Colossal Hoax: The Giant from Cardiff that Fooled America (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008).
Scholars in journalism schools of today are well aware of the fake news boom in this period. Convincing reporters and editors to stop publishing phony stories became a critical concern for the industry. One strategy was the formation of publications (magazines, journals) specifically targeting the press industry. Press members who wrote for these trade publications and who sought reform of the industry openly advocated jail time for those who fabricated stories. Citing essays of the late 19th-early 20th century, Professor Mary Cronin explains how the press determined to reform itself and its practices:
. . . [C]riticism was directed at newspapers that gave up their editorial independence to promote friends or attack enemies (Unit, 1885) and journalists who faked or plagiarized stories (Crane, 1891; Williams, 1885). . . . One of [the] earliest crusades was aimed at stamping out fake news stories. The magazine encouraged newspapers to file criminal suits against reporters and news agencies that provided fake stories as one way of eliminating the practice (Cronin, 232-233)
People today take for granted that media (and especially print media) are supposed to take the high road and report stories with honesty and integrity. Our own recent fake news crisis has destroyed this confidence. But few realize that this presumed high standard had to be fought for. It was in no way a default goal of earlier print journalism. This standard was the result of decades of struggle within the industry. The idea that producing fake stories was wrong was not axiomatic in the late 19th-early 20th century. In fact the opposite was true. The growth of the fake sensationalistic news in American journalism in the centuries prior to reform is chronicled by Kevin Young in his important and entertaining book, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News.
It is precisely in this era of fake news, the seedbed of American journalistic chicanery, that the reports of giants in America are found. We simply cannot take these stories as factual without corroborating evidence that is found outside the newspaper industry. The truth is that, in nearly every instance, these stories failed to produce actual specimens that can be studied today to validate the accuracy of the reporting.
Were There Races of Giants in Ancient America? Unusually Tall People in Solid Sources
We need to circle back to the original question. The wording is important. Were there races of giants in ancient America? No—there is simply no physical evidence for that notion. But if we ask whether skeletons of unusually tall people were actually ever discovered in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, the answer is yes. Of the hundreds of reports generated during the fake news era, a handful did indeed correspond to a skeleton exceeding seven feet tall that was documented by credible research sources.
One of the foundational scientific publications of the late 19th century in regard to ancient American civilization was published in 1894 by J. W. Powell: The Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institution, 1890-1891. This hefty volume (over 800 pages) chronicled the field work of ethnologists, anthropologists, and archaeologists across the United States during 1890-1891. The report is famous for being the dagger in the heart to the idea that a lost race of giants from the Middle East or elsewhere was responsible for the building of mounds and earthworks in ancient America. It established, in painstaking detail, how the native population of quite normal-sized individuals was responsible for these earthworks.
The Twelfth Annual Report contains five short accounts of the discovery of skeletons over seven feet tall. These were found individually among other skeletons or in isolation. In other words, these are not evidence of a “clan of giants” being buried or a race of such individuals. The five reports are as follows:
“On the spur of the ridge upon which the Welch mounds of Brown county, hereafter noticed, are situated, and about midway between them and Chambersburg, in Pike county, is a group of circular mounds, possibly the work of another people than those who built the effigies.
They are mainly on the farm of Mr. W. A. Hume, who assisted in opening eight of them, of which but two are specially noticed here. . . .
The earth of the main portion of this mound was a very fine yellowish sand which shoveled like ashes and was everywhere, to the depth of from 2 to 4 feet, as full of human skeletons as could well be stowed away in it, even to two and three tiers. Among these were a number of bones not together as skeletons, but mingled in confusion and probably from scaffolds or other localities. Excepting one, which was rathermore than 7 feet long, these skeletons appeared to be of medium size and many of them much decayed.”
“Underneath the layer of shells the earth was very dark and appeared to be mixed with vegetable mold to the depth of 1 foot. At the bottom of this, resting on the original surface of the ground, was a very large skeleton, lying horizon tally at full length. Although very soft, the bones were sufficiently distinct to allow of a careful measurement before attempting to remove them. The length from the base of the skull to the bones of the toes was found to be 7 feet 3 inches. It is probable, therefore, that this individual when living was fully 7 ½ feet high. At the head lay some small pieces of mica and a green substance, probably the oxide of cop per, though no ornament or article of copper was discovered. This was the only burial in the mound.”
“Near each gateway, inside, is a mound, Nos. 10 and 11. These were formerly of about the same shape and size, each being 8 or 9 feet high. No. 11 is now 35 by 40 feet at the base and 4 feet high. In the center, 3 feet below the surface, was a vault 8 feet long and 3 feet wide. In the bottom of this, among the decayed fragments of bark wrappings, lay a skeleton fully 7 feet long, extended at full length on the back, head west.”
Nineteen feet from the top the bottom of this debris was reached, where, in the remains of a bark coffin, a skeleton, measuring 7 ½ feet in length and 19 inches across the shoulders, was discovered. It lay on the bottom of the vault stretched horizontally on the back, head east, arms by the sides. Each wrist was encircled by six heavy copper bracelets. . . ." (Note: This same page includes this description: "At the depth of 14 feet a rather large human skeleton was found, which was in a partially upright position with the back against a hard clay wall." The posture indicates this was a separate specimen, but no dimensions are given. It is likely "rather large" does not mean over seven feet, as those skeletons do get measurements in the report. This "rather large" skeleton is mentioned after a skeleton of "medium size" on the prior page.)
“Just east of Col. Metham s residence, on a high point overlooking the valley for 3 or 4 miles, was a mound about 5 feet high, made of flat stones, in layers one over another, with the spaces between (where they did not fit up closely) filled with broken stone. This had been built up over a stone box-grave containing a skeleton 7 feet long and a few relics.”
Were There Races of Giants in Ancient America? Let’s Do The Math
Do these verified reports of five Native American skeletons over seven feet tall validate the notion that there were races of giants in North America? No. Statistically, the percentage of the population of Native Americans over seven feet tall is basically the same as it is today.
Let’s start by thinking about world population. Bear in mind that the specimens cited in The Twelfth Annual Report are all from the continental United States. Typically mathematical models (like this one) of people seven feet tall are based on world population. The model (written in 2012) at the link above determined there were 3,090 individuals in the world over seven feet tall. The number for only North America would of course be smaller. But for the sake of illustrating how our five individuals in The Twelfth Annual Report do not provide proof of a giant race, let’s just use the larger number—the seven footers in the entire world—as our number.
The entire world population in 2012 was estimated at just over 7.1 billion. One percent of 7.1 billion is 71 million. Obviously, 3,090 individuals is a lot less than 71 million, and so those 3,090 seven-footers are an infinitesimally small percentage of the world population. In fact, 7,100 individuals (a bit more than double our figure for world seven-footers in 2012) equals .000001 percent of the world population. The 3,090 figure is closer to .0000005 percent of the world population. This percentage has been pretty consistent for other years in modern times. It would likely have been worse in earlier centuries due to the lack of modern nutritional and medical advances.
But let’s try to be a bit more accurate in the use of data. Estimates of the pre-Columbian (i.e., before the arrival of Columbus in 1492) population of native North Americans varies widely. Dean Snow, a professional archaeologist who has devoted a good deal of research time into ancient demographics, writes the following:
The sizes of pre-Columbian populations in the Americas have been the subjects of scholarly debate in recent years. The debate has been prompted mainly by the hypothesis that unrecorded exogenous pandemics reduced American Indian populations by very large fractions during the 16th century. The hypothesis presumes that the earliest population estimates available from documentary sources for North American Indian populations are, more often than not, post-epidemic counts, and that numbers must have been higher prior to A.D. 1492. How much higher depends on the severity and ubiquity of the pandemics presumed to have occurred between A.D. 1492 and the earliest available counts. . . . North America alone, one scholar puts the estimate at 18 million for A.D. 1492, whereas several others argue for a figure about a tenth that size (Snow, 1601; citing Verano & Ubelaker, Dobyns, Milner, and Ubelaer; see research sources below).
After his own analysis, Snow concludes:
. . . [I]t is reasonable to argue that if there were as many as 18 million Indians in North America in A.D. 1492, archaeologists should be able to identify enough contemporary sites to accommodate at least a large fraction of them. Proponents of the higher estimates have not demonstrated that the sites exist to house that many people. It is reasonable to conclude that Ubelaker's estimate of just under 2 million is closer to the mark. (Snow, 1603)
To be generous to our “giant race” idea, we’ll take this lower overall population number (2 million) and double our 3,090 world number for seven-footers and do the math. If there were 6,180 seven footers just in North America at the time Columbus showed up (or at any time giant researchers propose for giants allegedly building the mounds in North America) and the total population was 2 million, that’s less than one percent of the population (one percent of 2 million would be 20,000). Six thousand seven footers and a population of 2 million is .003 percent of the population. Obviously, the figure gets much worse if the population as 18 million (.00035 percent). For sake of comparison, there are roughly 500,000 pygmies left in the world (i.e., in Central Africa). The total population of Central Africa (2019 figures) is 4.8 million, or .104 percent of that population—exponentially larger than the postulated giant population.
The facts are simple and straightforward. A population percentage of .003 is not a race. The known, verified (by quality sources) skeletons of ancient Americans over seven feet tall is nowhere near the sort of data required to be talking about a giant race.
Mary M. Cronin, “Trade press roles in promoting journalistic professionalism, 1884-1917,” Journal of Mass Media Ethics 8:4 (1993): 227-238.
M. Unit, “Truthful and Independent Journalism,” The Journalist, December 5, 1885, p. 1
T. Crane, “Faking in New Jersey,” The Journalist, April 11, 1891, p. 4
G. Williams, “Pernicious Reporters,” The Journalist, December 19, 1885, pp. 7-8
Hazel Dicken-Garcia, Journalistic Standards in Nineteenth Century America (University of Wisconsin Press, 1989)
Gerald J. Baldasty, The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century (University of Wisconsin Press, 1992)
Kevin Young, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News (Graywolf Press, 2017)
Scott Tribble, A Colossal Hoax: The Giant from Cardiff that Fooled America (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008).
J. W. Powell, The Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institution, 1890-1891 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1894)
Dean R. Snow, “Microchronology and Demographic Evidence Relating to the Size of Pre-Columbian North American Indian Populations ,” Science, New Series, Vol. 268, No. 5217 (Jun. 16, 1995), pp. 1601-1604.
H. F. Dobyns, Their Number Become Thinned (Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1983)
George R. Milner, “Epidemic Disease in the Post-contact Southeast: A Reappraisal,” Mid-continental Journal of Archaeology (1980): 39-56
J. W. Verano and D. H. Ubelaker, Disease and Demography in the Americas (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1992)
Douglas H. Ubelaker, “North American Indian population size, AD 1500 to 1985,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology77.3 (198