Greater Ancestors

World Museum

San Diego Giant 8′ 4″

Washington, Jan. 9 – Dr. Thomas Wilson, curator of the Department of Prehistoric Anthropology of the Smithsonian Institution, has completed an interesting investigation of the causes that produce giants and is writing a paper on the subject of giants, ancient and modern. This study was brought about by the continual inquiries of people in different parts of the country regarding giants. There is very little precise scientific information on the subject, and not until the last few years has it been looked into by ethnologists or physiologists. Prof. Wilson says that giants of nursery tales excite the admiration and fear of the infantile population, for they are described as strong, bold, cruel and voracious. As a matter of fact, giants are generally weak physically, good-natured personally, and not over intelligent. They are often inactive and feeble but rarely evil-minded.

There has long been a belief in many quarters, fostered chiefly by the tales of Sir Walter Scott and other writers about the times of the Crusaders, that the men of the tenth and eleventh centuries were gigantic in stature and must have been so to carry their heavy armor and accoutrements. This idea has also been held regarding prehistoric man, chiefly because of early myths. Nevertheless, the notion that prehistoric man was taller or larger than modern man has now been entirely exploded. The bronze swords of prehistoric times have handles smaller than those of today; in fact, the grip is too small for the hand of our average man.

The Bible uses the word “giant” many times but Prof. Wilson says that upon an investigation of the use of the word, it is found that it has been used ambiguously. The Greek word which has come to signify giant originally meant the races of men who were earthborn, in distinction from those born of God, who had the divine nature. This statement of modern scientists disagrees with various investigations of the subject. Thus, in 1718, Henriot, a member of the French Academy, published a work on the great decrease in stature and physical contortion of the human race between the creation and the Christian era. According to his calculations at that time, various personages of the Bible were of the following height: Adam 123 feet 9 inches; Eve, 118 feet 9 inches 9 lines; Noah, 127 feet; Abraham, 20 feet, and Moses. 13 feet.

It was not until the investigations of Dr. A. Brinton of Philadelphia and Dr. Charles L. F. Dana of New York that any precise knowledge was had regarding the cause of gigantism, which was stated by Dr. Dana to be a disease, a nervous disorder having its seat in the pituitary gland. The gland appears to furnish material necessary to the proper growth and action of the nerve tissues and separates from the blood some substance having an important use in the human economy. In healthy persons, when the pituitary gland is not considered, there is one rate which seems to be borne out by experience, and that is a tendency toward mediocrity or average stature. Tall parents have children shorter than themselves, and short parents have children taller than themselves. This rule does not, perhaps, extend in its application to the entire human race, but it appears to apply to each race, tribe, or group. The average stature in Patagonia will tend toward 1.85 meters; in England, to 5 feet 8 1/2; in France, to 1.65 meters; among the Bushmen and the Papuans, as races, 4 feet 1 inch and 4 feet 5.

Prof. Wilson speaks of the mythical giants of the golden age and the accounts of them given by Homer and Hesiod

Man; at 5 feet, the Lapps; at 5 feet 5, the average height of the human species; at 5 feet 8, the average Englishman; at 5 feet 10 1-2 inches, the Patagonian. Prof. Wilson says it is an extremely difficult thing to give the correct average height of the various peoples. Certain scientists divide the human race into different classes and endeavor to arrange the races of men in groups. According to one scale, the taller people are as follows: Queen Charlotte Island, 1.82 meters; Comanches and Pimas (Bancroft), 1.80; the Scotch of High Galloway, 1.79; the Polynesians, 1.76; Martiesans, 1.75; Scandinavians, 1.71; Finns, 1.71; Zulus, Eskimos, Chippewas, Omahas, 1.70. The French at 1.65 are the average height of the human race.

Prof. Wilson relates an experience he had in Louisville with a giant that shows the common tendency toward exaggeration. Along in the ’50s a Nova Scotia giant was exhibited there. He was brought upon the stage before an audience, of which Prof. Wilson was a member, by the manager, who gave an eloquent description of him, dilating upon his great size and strength, and intimating that his stature was not less than 7 feet 8 inches. But the giant was not received with very high favor, for the crowd adhered to their local favorite, Jim Porter, known as the Kentucky giant. Porter, who had evidently been advised of the opposition, was present. He was called upon and stood up by the side of the Nova Scotia giant. Cheers went up from the audience when it was seen that he was the taller of the two, and the stage was soon filled with people clamoring for a measurement.

Prof. Wilson had a small ivory pocket rule with him. He brought out this rule and was mounted upon the table, and he pronounced Porter to be three inches and a half taller than the Nova Scotlan. Porter was very proud, and in proportion as he manifested his satisfaction so was the contrary sentiment shown on the face of the Nova Scotian, who finally slunk away out of a back door. The Nova Scotian was 7 feet 4 inches tall, but Jim Porter was 7 feet 7 1/2. Jim’s rifle, which he was proud of showing, was as long as an average man is tall. His walking stick came to the armpit of an ordinary man, and his chair was as high as a table.

Another case of interest was investigated by Prof. Wilson more recently and proved, like many others, to be a fake. This was a giant mummy which was being exhibited for gain. It was laid upon its back in a box intended to represent a coffin, though it had a greater resemblance to the large watering troughs common at roadsides in the country. The coffin was about ten feet long, two and one-half feet wide and two feet deep, and was covered with glass. Prof. Wilson laid his rule outside the glass and found the body to be eight feet four inches in length. It had every appearance of being genuine, and the skeleton had the appearance of a well-formed man with members in not unusual proportions. The mummy was at the bottom of the coffin, under glass, and no one was allowed to touch, feel or weigh it. Although there was no opportunity to test the bones, skin, hair, nails or other parts by the microscope or other method, the belief was general that it was genuine. Later it was  found thatthe thing was a fake, and had been manufactured with many others for exhibition for money. -Buffalo Times.

  1. The morning times., January 17, 1897, PART 2, Page 16, Image 16
  2. About The morning times. (Washington, D.C.) 1895-1897