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The Search for the Lost Giants – Part 1

Some of you may have heard of the new History Channel program The Search for the Lost Giants. A Facebook friend gave me a tag while discussing his enthusiasm for the show, and it spurred me into updating my comments on the subject.

For the uninitiated, what’s often called “ancient mysteries” is a major component of the contemporary paranormal industry. The way it is, ancient mysteries overlap into other general paranormal areas of interest, including earth energies, occult conspiracy, and even the UFO/ET mythology. (The paranormal is a broad field. It’s also a morph.)

Ancient mysteries aren’t in themselves supernatural; they are just things and events that are out of the expected place or time. But most paranormal topics aren’t supernatural, either; they are merely unaccepted by the mainstream. This is pretty much what the word “paranormal” has traditionally meant: outside the accepted picture of the normal. (It’s used too often these days as a synonym for “ghostly.”) One of the most persistent ancient mysteries in the annals of North America involves the reported findings of the remains of oversized human beings.

Legends about giants exist in all world cultures. They are usually interpreted as no more than that, legends. In both story and site-tradition they tend to be associated with all manner of other supernatural actors, including wizards, fairies and dragons. Reports of actual finds – Giant Skeleton Reports (GSR from now on) – come from more historic times from all the inhabited continents. GSR were in no part of the world so common or so near to the present day as in the United States. They were especially common about Western New York. Quite a few finds were reported as fact in histories and old newspapers as recently as the early 1900s.

If you ask, “What size giant are we talking about?” reasonably credible finds have mentioned seven, eight and nine-foot specimens. (Bigger ones were reported, but those defy credulity.) Up front, those sizes doesn’t sound so radical, merely unusual. A look at a single ACC basketball roster will show you that seven-footers are not that rare today. Some eight- and nearly nine-footers have existed in recent centuries. But other factors complicate the picture.

In pre-Contact North America, the average height of an adult human male would have been around five feet. A seven-footer would have been a lot freakier then and there. And the fact that there seem to have been quite a number of them – else why all the reports in far- flung places? – suggests that there might have been a tribe of them, perhaps several.

Also, the human giants we’ve seen and studied in historic times were stretch-cases. Physical freaks born of normal-sized parents, their gigantism was attributed not to their genes but to a glandular malfunction, a growth-mechanism that didn’t shut off when it should have. They tended to be longer than the rest of us, but not broader. They were no athletes, either. None of them would have tried to clear Shaq out of the lane, at least, not the second time. Most were, in fact, so brittle and sluggish that they were just about disabled, and most died before middle age of their own complications. The bearers of these bones listed in the old reports sound like something different. They were not just tall; they were broad, and massively built – well different from the thyroid/pituitary cases that make most of today’s giants.

A number of strange features had been mentioned about the lost American giants by those who claimed to have dealt with the bones. For one, in some of the cases the bones virtually powdered upon handling. (These reports seem the most likely to be whoppers.) Sometimes the skulls were said to be shaped differently from the normal run of the living population. Among the most curious aspects of the GSR was this commonly reported feature called “double dentition”: two rows of teeth. You see that very rarely in living people. A caste, tribe or nation of natural seven-footers, especially with these odd traits, would be beyond the accepted range of Homo sapiens sapiens. You would be talking about a different human species.

I wrote about most of the GSR I came across in my books, Shadows of the Western Door (1997) and Spirits of the Great Hill (2001). Each book devoted two pages to the subject. I gave the matter a quick and lighthearted recap in The Paranormal Almanac of Western New York (2012). When I did my first few talks and radio programs after the publication of “Shadows” – a paranormal survey from the history of Western New York – I found that the subject of the giant skeletons absolutely haunted people. (FYI, the only other topic out of “Shadows” that caught anywhere near the reaction was an article on Jack the Ripper in Rochester.) It does not surprise me, then, that giant human skeletons would be a hook that could lead to a national TV program. The fact that The Search for the Lost Giants is a series does surprise me. I wouldn’t have thought there was that much to talk about unless you talk verrrrrry slowly. I would have thought that it would take a lot of manipulation to make the subject into a sort of adventure.

The stars and lead researchers of The Search for the Lost Giants are the Vieira brothers, Bill and Jim. I met Jim Vieira in the spring of 2013 at the New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA) conference in Danbury, CT. I was there to speak about Native American supernatural legends and site-traditions in upstate New York, and I arrived on the evening of April 26 in time to hear Jim’s presentation on giants. In the few words I exchanged with him, I found Jim to be congenial and unassuming, if strong-minded. From his accent, I formed the notion that he was a Boston native, and I think he said his occupation was that of stonemason. Jim made no mention of any co-researchers, so I am surprised to find older brother Bill so involved in the program.

Jim Vieira had turned up quite a few newspaper and magazine reports from all over the United States. He also presented a flurry of sketches of giant bones and photos of sites at which they had been reported. If that kind of evidence impresses you by sheer number, Jim made a case. I was surprised to find that he had overlooked some of the stronger reports in Western New York. When I consider the ease of access to the Western New York material – I published books that included articles on GSR in 1997 and 2001 – I figure that there must be many more reports from all over the country that even Jim hasn’t spotted. It seems as though 90% of them come from the middle 1800s.

Still, Jim’s information was overwhelmingly anecdotal: people saying they saw something or records thereof. This is assertion, not proof. You need a lot more than that to prove anything, especially something on the edge that ought to have left at least traces behind. (At least with a ghost, you expect it to vanish. With a UFO… Well, it just flew home. Fast.) With the giants, you need evidence in layers to build a case.

The 200 or so NEARA members and friends who attended Jim’s talk seemed to have formed the above conclusion. They listened with courtesy and attention but not, I would say, enthusiasm.

As an organization, NEARA are not paranormalists. They are antiquarians devoted to what you might call “fringe” archaeology: ancient mysteries, generally historic ones that aren’t as far out as giants. NEARA’s main focus is upon the evidence that historic populations from other continents – Asia, Europe and Africa – had visited and even settled in New England and other parts of the American continents well before Columbus.

Individual NEARA members have a wide range of interests and belief-levels in related topics, and their conference is a forum for ideas. Its lecturers run a gamut. At one end of the curve would be a headliner like archaeologist Dennis Stanford, an impressive mainstream authority who is Director of the Paleoindian/Paleoecology Program at the Smithsonian Institution. At the other, you might find an amateur insider trying to rally troops around a pet theory about the ancient Northeast. In the middle are freelance researchers or out-of- discipline scholars, like a physicist with a passion for ancient stone writing. They all still like hard evidence. Most of them would look at you like you were crazy if you claimed you had spoken to a ghost or hitched a ride on a UFO. Not foreseeing that Jim would be a TV star in eighteen months, they probably considered him just one of the more telegenic newcomers with an especially catchy subject. I recall noticing three or four of the old hands pulling Jim aside after his talk, and not all of them seemed to think his work was persuasive. He looked like he was sticking to his guns, which seems his nature, but I think he was getting discreetly grilled.

If you enjoy The Search for the Lost Giants, watch it. But for me, it would be irresponsible to say to people, “Yes, there were giants,” or even imply it by dramatizing the subject. There just isn’t any good evidence. There could be some kind of artifact or body part out there to be found, and one real good one might make the case; but I think the best place to find it now would be by plowing into an unexcavated old earthwork monument that no one would let you touch anymore, or perhaps by visiting the back rooms of the Smithsonian. It would not be by digging into some highly public tunnel or temple. So far, The Search for the Lost Giants looks like a ghost hunt program – a lot of stalling and interpreting – just with a different aspect of the paranormal involved.

I do think the fact that the Vieira brothers – or the producers of the program – have decided to refer to the giants as “Denisovans” and settled upon the concept that there could have been a lost civilization run by them is so silly that it isn’t worth debating. The Denisovans are a recently discovered hominin (humanlike) species probably similar to the Neanderthals. The Denisovans are known from nothing more than DNA and, perhaps, a single non-giant finger bone. (Oh, right. It was a baby Denisovan. My bad.) There are many aspects of history that have been hidden and then found again, but I can’t think of a shred of support for something that spectacular. It looks like people are just latching onto terms and manufacturing them into themes for episodes.

If I had ever seen a single big human bone that I considered authentic, I might be able to tell you that there once were human giants. I can only tell you that there is written testimony that lends mystery to the subject, including quite a number of GSR in the old histories of Western New York. The next update will contain my top ten favorite GSR in Seneca country, nicknamed by the Longhouse people, “The Western Door.”

©2015 Mason Winfield

Mason Winfield is the author of eleven books on supernatural-paranormal subjects.

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Written by Mason Winfield

Mason Winfield

The founder of New York’s original “supernatural tourism” company Haunted History Ghost Walks, Inc., Mason Winfield studied English and Classics at Denison University and earned a master’s degree at Boston College. In his 13 years as a teacher/department chair at The Gow School (South Wales, N.Y.), he won a 50K cross-country ski marathon and was ranked among the Buffalo area’s top ten tennis players. A specialist in upstate supernatural folklore and an award-winning fiction writer, Mason has written or edited 11 books, including the regional sensation Shadows of the Western Door (1997) and Iroquois Supernatural (Inner Traditions International/Bear & Company, 2011). A lecturer whose talks have been sponsored by Poets & Writers, New York Council for the Humanities, “The Big Read,” and the National Endowment for the Arts, Mason is also a spoken word artist who has appeared at City of Night, Buffalo; Rochester Fringe Festival; and Piccolo Spoletto Festival (Charleston, S.C.).

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