The newspaper stories relate that the skeletons ranged in size from 7 feet to well over 18 feet in length. Vieira began issuing the reports, one at a time, every day on a popular Facebook page called Your Daily Giant. Vieira was subsequently attacked by skeptical bloggers. 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. Colavito also wrote that modern paleopathology textbooks could explain other reports because repeated freezing and thawing of buried bones would expand bones “enough to turn a slightly average body into a gigantic one.” Both of Colavito’s assertions are astonishing claims evaluated below.
In February 2014 Andrew Collins and I began a detailed investigation into many of the giant reports as well as the assertions by the skeptics. We visited a host of mound sites, spoke with several archaeologists, and ran many of the giant skeleton reports down to their source. What we found was intriguing to the extent that I wrote a book on the topic and Andrew wrote the Foreword and an extensive Afterword to it. The book is entitled Path of Souls: The Native American Death Journey; Cygnus, Orion, the Milky Way, Giant Skeletons in Mounds, & the Smithsonian.
The main title reflects our original intent, which was to detail new information about the mysterious symbols found on artifacts excavated from mounds and what they mean with respect to Native American beliefs about death. We were essentially sidetracked by the “giant skeleton” issue and spent a great deal of time finding original sources of the stories. This article focuses only on the skeleton findings.
Unlike the skeptics, we did find some hoaxes in the reports and detailed a few important ones in the book. Most notable of these was the “Tampa, Florida Giants” reported in newspapers in 1922-1927. It was a very intriguing hoax involving a land speculator, the Smithsonian, and newspapers. We also found that many other reports seemed to simply vanish as they were followed. This means that they were typically second or third hand stories where someone told someone that someone told them that some men digging somewhere found some large skeletons. The trail of this type of story essentially ended at the initial publication, which was often in a local history book compiled from various residents’ recollections.
We also found that many internet sites and some books touting the giant skeletons apparently added sentences and “facts” to the original source. Many “giant” skeleton pictures reported on the internet and in some books are not correctly cited. For example, pictures of a supposed giant skeleton excavated at Serpent Mound wasn’t excavated at Serpent Mound and the “giant” was a picture from a normal-sized skeleton excavated at Chillicothe. Many other stories were intriguing and had paths to multiple sources, but they were not sufficient in terms of what we might call proof. 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.
One intriguing set of giant skeleton reports we found factual was the Chickasawba Mound (Arkansas) reports of many large skeletons found at the site. We visited the site and met with archaeologists at the nearby state Archaeology Field Station. An archaeological publication we found before going to the site (and one they also handed us as we arrived at the station – the same report) related that many skeletons ranging from 8 to 9 feet in length had been found there. As late as 1976 a 7-foot-tall skeleton was found at the site.
We then decided to do a careful review of the Smithsonian’s two major reports that detailed their mound investigations (the 1887 and 1894 Bureau of Ethnology Annual Reports). We used original publications for our search and went through them page-by-page. The 1894 report contained 742-pages detailing the mound investigations and the 1887 report had 100 pages. We found that the Smithsonian’s field agents found 17 skeletons in mounds that were close to 7 feet or taller. The largest they reported was just under 8-feet in length. The main concentration of these was in West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley, which I then visited along with Brent and Joan Raynes.
I performed two statistical analyses on the “giant” skeletons found in West Virginia to determine the probability that the large skeletons excavated there could simply be due to chance. The first analysis assumed that the skeletons were measured correctly and it showed that the statistical probability of finding so many tall skeletons in the West Virginia mounds was well beyond chance: the actual results were as close to zero as it gets statistically. The second analysis assumed that all of the skeletons were measured incorrectly because of “spreading,” which can occur to skeletons as falling stone and ground cause pressure to push apart skeletons. This analysis essentially reduced the height of all the skeletons by about 7.5%. The resulting statistical analysis also showed that the probability of finding so many tall skeletons in West Virginia mounds were far below what might be found by chance (p > .01). I also found that American archaeologists have actually termed skeletons about 5 feet 10 inches tall in Moche pyramids as “giants.” This is important because the skeptics have derided others for calling skeletal remains 7 to 8 feet tall “giants.”
In essence, for the Smithsonian to have found 17 skeletons that were 7 feet tall by chance alone, they would have had to excavate 2.5 million skeletons. (That statistic utilizes modern height statistics, not the smaller heights known to have existed in ancient Native American populations.) In sum, there is a genuine mystery here. The height of many of the individuals entombed in ancient American mounds was far taller than the general populace – far beyond what could be explained by simple chance.
Skeptics have related that the disorder gigantism probably was the cause of many reports, but they actually cite no evidence for this assertion. It is a weak attempt to explain away and dismiss the issue. Gigantism is exceedingly rare, so rare that there is no actual incidence statistic for it. America has less than 100 cases of gigantism recoded in its history. In fact, the overwhelmingly vast majority of tall people today, those reaching or approaching 7 feet, do not have the disorder of gigantism. The actual percentage of modern humans who reach 7 feet in height is 0.000007%. In the ancient world of America’s Mound Builders, the percentage of the population that reached 7 feet in height would have been even lower.
Returning to another skeptics claim, that freezing and thawing makes skeletons so big they might look like a giant, it was found to be completely wrong and baseless. 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. In an 1884 issue of Science, Cyrus Thomas of the Smithsonian’s Mound Survey detailed the excavation and recovery of a 7.5-foot-tall skeleton found in the Kanawha Valley. A host of other newspaper articles we found to be accurate summaries of archaeological field reports of large skeletons. Thus, the skeptics’ outright dismissal of all of the old giant skeleton reports is simply false. I see the denial of all such reports as stemming from deep-seated psychological processes.
There are also a host of Native American legends that were reported to ethnologists detailing a race of giants who invaded the regions where mounds are found. These giants became the leaders and priests of the tribes. Over time these ruling people, chosen through heredity, became corrupted and the masses rose against them and exterminated them. It is a rather intriguing aspect to this topic. In an extensive, two-part Afterword, Andrew Collins speculates on the origin of these rulers.
Because it became apparent that some of the skeptics seemed to present sweeping generalizations that were not based on fact, a closer examination of their claims was made. For example, Colavito claimed that all the alternative historians learned about the amazing site of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey after the Smithsonian published a 2008 article about it. Oddly, he had reviewed Andrew Collins book, The Cygnus Mystery (2006) a year before and he mentioned the dvd with the same title. The Cygnus Mystery book and dvd both begin with Collins relating his 2004 trip to Göbekli Tepe and the articles he issued after his 2004 visit. It was that 2006 book and the dvd (with over 1 million views) that made alternative researchers aware of the site in Turkey. Even Graham Hancock credits Collins with this. Still another skeptical blog is run by a graduate student at the University of Victoria named Edwin Hodge (the site is called the Skeptical Cube Farm). In 2011 Hodge wrote that Andrew Collins had never been to Göbekli Tepe nor spoken with the archaeologists working there. It is simply a completely false assertion made to deride Collins. Hodge also claimed that Collins had asserted that aliens (Watchers) came from the heavens and impregnated women. That statement is also completely false. One can wonder why the skeptics will go to such lengths to dismiss and ridicule others by using false and misleading “facts.”
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. In essence, what is shown in the book is that there were a lot of skeletons found that reached nearly 8 feet in height, but there was nothing found that clearly showed any skeletons over that height. It’s possible of course, but the evidence is lacking. Nevertheless, there were a lot of really tall people in the Mound Builder populations and these people were important enough to be buried in major tombs. They were the elite who had knowledge of something so important that the general populace would go to great lengths in the construction of mounds and geometric earthworks. This knowledge concerned the death journey – the real topic in which we were primarily interested. It explains why the constellations of Orion and Cygnus seem to emerge as important over and over at ancient sites.
Two more details bears mentioning here. Few people know how extensive and well built the stone chambers were that served as tombs inside the earthen mounds. They were incredibly well constructed and seem to have been made under both large and small mounds. We obtained quite a few photos of these (after the earthen mound material was removed) and even I, after visiting literally thousands of American mounds, find it hard to believe I wasn’t aware of how many of these stone chambers existed.
The second issue concerns the Smithsonian and the alleged conspiracy. As detailed in the book, I don’t see the Smithsonian as being in a conspiracy in the true definition of the word. I see it as a sort of stupidity in the sense that they have ignored an aspect of their own findings that the public sees as intriguing. Instead of engaging the public, they alienate it. 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.