The Myth of the Smithsonian Archaeological Conspiracy

I’ve directed readers to Jason Colavito’s blog many times before, but I don’t believe I’ve included this specific essay: How David Childress Created the Myth of a Smithsonian Archaeological Conspiracy.

Jason makes a good case for the modern origin of this oft-repeated point of conspiracist dogma. I’m not claiming (and neither would Jason, I presume) that Childress is the explanation for every thread along these lines, but it seems pretty clear he’s a major fountainhead.

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Giant Skeleton Hoaxes and Mis-Identifications

I’ve blogged several times about the pictures of giant human skeletons on the web that aren’t what they seem to be. They fall into two categories: hoaxes and mis-identification of the remains of either dinosaurs or (more often) mastodons or mammoths.

I recently came across this site, which conveniently displays several of the most widely circulated phony giant photos. If you go there, please click on the link mentioned in the article that is the source of most of these hoaxed photos: Worth1000.com. The site runs contests for image fakery. Here is the archaeology archive where you’ll find most of the fake giant photos out there on the web.

I also recently came across a good scholarly article on the other category — mis-identification. It’s by James Howard and entitled, “Fossil Proboscidians and Myths of Giant Men.” It can be downloaded for free.

On the term “proboscidian” (in the context of this post, an animal with a large trunk), here is the entry from dictionary.com:

pro·bos·cid·e·an

1. pertaining to or resembling a proboscis.

2. having a proboscis.
3. belonging or pertaining to the mammals of the order Proboscidea, characterized by a flexible trunk formed of the nostrils and upper lip, large tusks, a massive body, and columnar legs, comprising the elephant and the now-extinct mammoth and mastodon.

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Discoveries of Giants and Giant Human Remains – Stretching the Truth or Just Tall Tales?

Jason Colavito has written some recent pieces on presumed discoveries of giant human specimens. Often such reports are simply not what they claim to be – evidence is misunderstood or even fabricated, or reports get garbled and transformed in transmission. Here are two illustrations courtesy of Jason’s work:

Did Diego de Ordaz Find the Body of a Giant in Mexico?

Did Alvarez de Pineda Find Giants in Texas in 1519?

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Another Giant Human Skeleton That Isn’t

I’ve blogged before about giant human skeletons that aren’t giant human skeletons. The first two examples I blogged about were hoaxes, created with image editing software (see here and here). The Remnant of the Giants blog recently had an interesting post about a presumed giant human skeleton discovered in Belgium in 1643. Turned out the giant was a mammoth. This is typical, both in the ancient world (as chronicled by Adrienne Mayor) and, as this article points out, in modern times as well.

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Giant Mistaken Identity

Hard to believe, but it’s been three years since I blogged about Adrienne Mayor’s book explaining references to giant skeletons and bones in ancient classical authors (The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times). It’s highly recommended. Tonight I came across a 24-page PDF that is the new introduction to the 2011 edition of the book. If you haven’t read the book (and you should), the intro will give you a very good idea of the sorts of things Mayor covers in her book.

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The Cardiff Giant Hoax

Many of you have no doubt heard of the Cardiff giant — supposedly a genuine fossilized human giant discovered in 1869. Despite the conclusive evidence for a hoax, one can still find pictures of the giant on obscure websites where it is assumed tobe evidence for biblical giants. There’s a new book out on the hoax (2010) that looks like a definitive work. It’s entitled, “A Colossal Hoax: The Giant from Cardiff that Fooled America.” You can check out the book’s website here. It just went on my wish list.

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Giant PaleoBabble

Yesterday I received an email containing some pictures of alleged giant skeletons. PaleoBabble readers know that I’ve posted before on this topic before, noting how Photoshop is certainly the solution to many of these pictures you see circulating on the web. Whenever I get photos like these (see below), I wish I had the time to comb the web for the originals that were used to create the hoaxes. Sometimes you find someone who’s already done that work (like my earlier post, linked above). But this sort of thing could take dozens of hours. Fortunately, among the two photos sent to me are two that are easily demonstrated to be fakes. Here’s the first of the two:

Now here’s the second:

Can you spot the problem?  Look at the skulls side by side below:

See it? What are the odds that two skulls, at two allegedly different archaeological digs, would be missing the exact same teeth?  A billion to one, I’d say. Take a closer look at the comparison picture. You can see that the fracture lines on the two photos at the bridge of the nose are also exactly the same. It’s the same skull, photo-shopped into two different pictures, with adjustments made in tinting.

You can find these pictures on several creationist websites. That’s a shame. Readers should know that I am no enemy of the idea of a divine creator. Frankly, I think creation is much more philosophically coherent than naturalistic materialism. But this is simply unethical.

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Polydactylism in the Ancient World

Cam across an interesting article today on this subject. The article in PDF is here. The article points out that polydactylism (having more than the normal number of fingers or toes) is associated with giants in the Bible. Actually, this is only said of Goliath’s family (one of the sons of Rapha); it is not said of other giant clans, so there is no necessary association.

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Biblical Giants and Dinosaur Bones

Aeneas asked a question in a comment to an earlier post about the faked giant human skeleton:

I’d like you to comment on the dinosaur bones angle as well. It is certainly not an unreasonable theory for all the stories of giants in the past, including the Bible. I lean towards believing your theories on Gen. 6, but I think this one should at least be considered.

Aeneas (and others) may not be familiar with all my views of Genesis 6, namely the giant issue, so I thought I’d answer this question with a post.

I don’t think for a minute that the biblical giants were 10-20-30 feet tall. I think they were (like today) 6-8 feet tall. The giants of the Bible were not unusually tall BY OUR STANDARDS. Based on human skeletal remains that have been recovered from the biblical period (and there aren’t many – they didn’t embalm, and less than 10% of the Holy Land has been excavated by any standard of thoroughness), the average male height was a few inches over five feet tall, with women shorter. This is typical around the world for ancient times. Great height was unusual. The average height in modern times on into today is greater because of better nutrition, longer life spans, medical advances, etc. I personally don’t believe that the biblical giants were much over seven feet tall, which would have been HUGE compared to the norm (imagine walking into a settlement where 6-7 feet was the norm when everyone you knew was a foot shorter!). According to the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, which has as a slightly different text than the one Jews have used since the first century AD) and Dead Sea Scroll readings for the Goliath story, Goliath was actually 6 feet 6 inches (and for those who wonder, it is Og of Bashan’s COFFIN that measures around 12 feet, not Og – read Deut 3:11 – so we really don’t know how tall he actually was — I’d guess he’s within my proposed range). That is the best reading for the original text based on the cumulative text-critical issues in 1 Sam 17-18 and the broader book of Samuel itself (i.e., textual critics have long known that the Masoretic text of 1 Samuel is in poor shape in many places, compared to the Septuagint, which is frequently agreed to by the Dead Sea scroll text of Samuel). If yo u know Hebrew and might enjoy reading about the textual mess of 1 Samuel, I’d recommend P. Kyle McCarter’s 1 Samuel commentary in the Anchor Bible series. There are more thorough and technical discussions of the text of 1 Samuel, but this one is more readable (still, it won’t be easy for those uninitiated in academic biblical studies and textual criticism).

Consequently, there is no need to appeal to dinosaur bones for the biblical giants. Dinosaur bones as the explanation for purported giants in non-biblical writings like Josephus are a good explanation. That issue was the subject of Adrienne Mayor’s Princeton dissertation (or maybe it was a thesis – can’t recall just now) which was published:

The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times.

Mayor now has a second volume, devoted to the same issue in Native American legends:

Fossil Legends of the First Americans

Good question, Aeneas!

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