History is filled with stories of giants, from Goliath in the Bible to the giants of Patagonia, which Magellan and other explorers reported finding in the 1500s. Most of these accounts are nothing more than myths and legends, but there have been verified cases of human gigantism that blur the line between fact and fantasy. Let’s take a look at giants throughout history.
Take a look at this map. This map was created in 1562, and its name, translated from Latin, is The Americas, or A New and Precise Description of the Fourth Part of the World. And it was, at its time, the most accurate map of the new world that existed.
It was created by a Spanish mapmaker named Diego Gutiérrez, and was engraved by a Dutch engraver named – and I’m not making this up – Hieronymous Cock
Just look at that Hieronymous Cock. Real stand-up guy.
And apparently an awesome engraver, look at the details in this thing.
You can see all the Caribbean Islands, the Appalachian Mountains, the winding Amazon river, and in South America… Uh… Giants.
Yeah… They thought giants lived there.
Now at first it might be easy to blow this off because there were lots of embellishments on this map. I mean just a few inches over from the giants there are Mermaids swimming in the ocean.
There’s also a swimming gorilla eating a person, cannibals in Brazil, a volcano in Mexico, King Philip the second riding a chariot being pulled by Poseidon, and… Whatever the hell this is.
Most people couldn’t read at the time this map was made so maps tended to have a lot of visual references, so say an area of rough seas might just be represented as a sea serpent. An area with good steady wind is a mermaid. That kind of thing.
But the giants were actually reported by Magellan and his crew when they went through Patagonia in 1520. And those reports were confirmed by other explorers that came later. In fact, the name “Patagonia” comes from Tierre de Patagones, Land of the Giants.
Chihuahuas and Wolfhounds
Have you ever thought about all the different dog breeds and how vastly different they are?
Take chihuahuas and Irish wolfhounds for example. These are the same species! The average wolfhound is twenty-five times heavier than the average chihuahua.
Now granted that was done on purpose over tens of thousands of years but still.
By the way, I looked up the tallest and shortest living people just to see if there is that much variation in humans, and (read info in toggle list)
- Shortest and tallest living people (A bit with the biggest and smallest living people here? Shortest person – Afshin Esmaeil Ghaderzadeh – 65.24cm (2’ 1.6”), 6.5kg (14.3 lb) https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2022/12/20-year-old-iranian-confirmed-as-worlds-shortest-man-730170 Tallest Person – Sultan Kösen – 251 cm (8 ft 2.8 in), 146 kg (322 lbs) https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records/hall-of-fame/sultan-kosen-tallest-living-man Sultan is roughly 23x heavier than Afshin – 3.8x taller)
Those are massive outliers, of course, and the result of genetic and physical abnormalities but it goes to show that the human body comes in vastly different sizes.
So is it really THAT crazy to think that there could have existed, somewhere in the vast expanse of human history, a race of exceptionally large humans? Because we’ve definitely gone the other direction.
In 2003, the first fossils were found of a new prehistoric species that was unlike any we’d seen before, because these barely over a meter in height, fully grown. (3.28 feet)
They were named Homo floresiensis, because they were found on the island of Flores in Indonesia. But because they were so short and apparently had big feet, they’re often referred to as hobbits.
So they were our smallest ancestor, who was the tallest prehistoric human species that we know of?
Leaving out Gigantopithicus, which was really more like a gorilla and not a direct ancestor of humans, most were shorter than the average height today.
One subgroup that does stick out is the Gravettian people who lived in modern day Bosnia and Croatia. They were a hunter-gatherer group that averaged 2 meters tall, that’s six and a half feet. (6.56ft)
Six and a half feet. That ain’t short. Especially if you consider that the average size – that means a lot of them were taller than that.
Comparatively, the average height of modern humans is 1.75 meters, or 5’9” tall.
But still, that’s just a taller than average person, the average human height has changed only about one foot, or 30 cm, over the past several thousand years.
A Long-Lived Story
Now there have been stories throughout history of individual giants. Goliath from the Bible comes to mind – we’ll get into more of those in a minute, but stories of entire races of giants seem to have been just that, stories.
Except for the Patagonian giants. There were multiple reports of their existence starting with Magellan in 1520.
The account credited to Magellan was actually written down by Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar who served Magellan as an assistant. Pigafetta wrote about meeting natives who were twice a man’s height.
Magellan himself is credited with giving the giants their name. He called them “Patagão”. “Pata” is paw in Portueguese, and gão evokes words meaning large, so the name may have meant “big foot”.
Two young giants were captured by Magellan’s men and put on a ship. They tried to capture two giant women as well, but failed. One of his sailors was reportedly shot with a Patagonian arrow and later died of poison.
As for the the two young giants, they later died at sea. So did Magellan himself. But Pigafetta survived, becoming one of the first 18 men to circumnavigate the globe.
Other Early Giant Accounts
Pigafetta wrote a book about the journey that was completed around 1525. In that same year, the Spanish explorer García Jofre de Loayza set sail on his own attempt at circumnavigation. A priest who sailed with him described seeing Patagonian natives who were “thirteen spans” or about 9 feet tall.
In 1579, Sir Francis Drake visited Patagonia. His chaplin reported natives seven and a half-feet tall.
That sounds like a downward trend, but later expeditions told of finding bones of men up to 11 feet tall. One Dutch sea captain claimed to have watched 10-to-11 foot giants tearing up trees by the roots.
Opinions differed on the behavior of the giants. Some explorers said they were belligerent, others friendly. One explorer mentioned multiple tribes of natives, including a tribe of giants who fought with everyone else.
Stories were still going around about giants 240 years later. In the 1760s, the British explorer John Byron traveled to Patagonia – his crew reported seeing giants 9 feet tall.
The Spanish Debunking
Finally, Sometime in 1780s, a Spanish Admiral named Don Antonio de Cordova decided to set the record straight. I mean, not exactly. De Cordova sailed to the strait of Magellan to see if it was safe to pass through.
Still, he knew about the legends. So while he was nearby, he took the time to measure some Patagonians. And he found they were taller than the average European.
But not crazy tall. The tallest Patagonian he met was “7 feet 1 1/4 inches” – but that was in the standard Spanish measurement system of the time, which is smaller than modern measurements. By modern measurements, that’s six feet, six inches — almost exactly two meters.
The “common size” of the Patagonians he measured was between 5’ 11” and 6’ 5” – or 180 to 195 cm.
And he claimed they were large in other ways, too. He said they were “full of flesh”, but had too much muscle to “properly be called fat.”
He found that most of the Patagonians were dressed in ponchos and breeches. But there were some who dressed in cloaks of llama or zorillo hide.
I had to look up zorillo. It’s a type of skunk. Point is, the hides may have made them look bigger than they actually were.
On the question of behavior, he wrote that they were “neither barbarous nor cruel”. And that previous explorers had done an injustice by accusing them of cannibalism, among other vices.
In fact, when they came aboard ship, the Patagonians left their horses and weapons behind, showing how trusting they could be.
The Spanish freely traded swords in exchange for furs – maybe some zorillo furs – but they didn’t trade their firearms.
All-in-all, de Cordova’s account paints the Patagonians as simple nomads leading an idyllic life. They were a tall people, but not twice-normal-height tall, and nothing like the savages other explorers described.
Why Did the Stories Persist?
Despite this debunking, later visitors to Patagonia still expected to find Goliath-sized men, even 100 years later.
One of them was the Scottish adventuress Lady Florence Dixie. She trekked across Patagonian territory in 1880. And was disappointed to find natives that were no more than an average of 6’ tall.
Kinda makes you wonder why did these legends persist for so long? What did those early explorers actually see?
Magellan and those that followed him probably encountered a taller-than-average group of people. Maybe the Tehuelche or Aónikenk, whose descendants live in the area today. The impressive stature and bulky furs may have convinced explorers they were seeing something they weren’t.
Maybe the natives marched out their tallest, toughest warriors to meet the strangers. Or maybe Magellan made up the whole giant thing as an excuse for kidnapping those two youths.
The explorers who said they found giant bones may actually have discovered fossils of extinct animals. Patagonia is one of the most abundant sources of fossils in the world. And many extinct animals have been mistaken for mythological creatures.
I’ve talked before about the Greeks mistaking dwarf elephant skulls for the skulls of cyclops. Ancient Scythians are thought to have made a similar mistake with protoceratops and griffin. The Patagonian explorers may have dug up early samples of patagosaurus bones.
If so, no wonder they thought they were dealing with a giant. Each of the four legs was taller than a man.
But what if some of the explorers weren’t mistaken? What if Magellan, de Loayza, Drake, and the rest really met a giant-sized people? Are 9 foot tall people even possible?
Of the genuine giants who have lived in the past hundred years, probably the most famous is André René Roussimoff, better known as Andre the Giant. Andre, though was only 7’4”. The tallest verified human in history, Robert Wadlow, was 8’ 11” tall. (272cm)
Wadlow was only 22 when he died, which is sadly true of most people with gigantism.
The fact is there are only 24 verified people in human history who grew taller than 8 feet, and they all had a pathological condition of some kind. When you look through the list of tallest people, it’s actually kinda sad, they all had spinal deformities and joint problems, most of them couldn’t walk, and they all died extremely young.
The tallest known person without a pathological condition was Angus MacAskill, a Scottish-Canadian giant who stood 7’ 9”. (236cm)
I want to mention the first verified person to reach 8’ tall. His name was Anton de Franckenpoint, known as Long Anton. He died in 1596, but his skeleton was measured and verified to have been 8 feet tall.
Maybe my favorite historical giant is a guy from Roman times with the most MCU name I’ve ever heard: Maximinus Thrax.
He was the son of an accountant who grew up to be an army commander and finally emperor of Rome. An ancient history book puts his height at “8 feet, one finger” or about 2.4 meters, which is probably an exaggeration, but busts and coins depicting him shows signs he may have had a form of gigantism, possibly acromegaly.
And then there’s the giants from the Bible. We all know Goliath, he was said to be “six cubits and a span” or 9 1/2 feet tall. (298cm)
Goliath had a lesser-known brother in the Bible, who was also a giant. In Deuteronomy they talk about a whole race of giants called the Rephaim.
As the story goes, the last Rephaite was King Og of Bashan, and he supposedly had a sarcophagus that measured 13 1/2 feet long by 6 feet wide. (411 x 182cm)
Then there are the Nephilim. They’re mentioned in Genesis, and are said to have lived before the Flood.
Now we’re talking about the Bible, and like any religious text there’s a lot of myth mixed in with the history, but there are non-Biblical sources that reference the Nephilim as well. And those sources put their height as anywhere from 44 to 450 feet.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that’s an exaggeration? Or a conversion error?
The Bible itself says little about their size. Early Greek translations used the term gigantes, which is where we get the English word giants. But in ancient Greek the term meant mighty, not necessarily big.
But back into the realm of science, there are definitely verified groups of people in various locations that have grown unusually tall – I talked about the Gravettian people in Europe thousands of years ago, maybe a good modern equivalent are the Tutsi and Dinka tribes of Rwanda and South Sudan.
Reports in the 1800s showed them averaging around six foot four, though modern measurements put them around six feet. It’s thought that decades of drought and civil war in the area have had an effect on that.
And there are cases in nature of certain populations of animal species exploding in size. You often hear about island gigantism.
This is where animals grow bigger over time due to lack of predators or less competition for food on islands. This is usually best seen in reptiles like the Galapagos turtle.
But we’ve also seen island gigantism in many mammals, even some primates, though these are now extinct. And it doesn’t have to happen only on islands.
Atlas Pro has done a few videos on “islands that aren’t islands” where the geography of certain landlocked places creates the same evolutionary pressures that we see on islands, it’s known as island biogeography.
Could it be the case that a tribe of people, maybe cut off from the rest of South America by the Andes mountains, found such a place? A land devoid of major predators, with an abundance of food, that allowed them to grow to an extraordinary size?
One thing that de Cordova observed that the people he met survived without seafood, so there must have been plenty to eat on land. It’s possible.
Bigfoot V Horses
So that leaves us with one more final, big question – what happened to them?
The Gravettian people left behind genes for tallness that you can still see in local populations today. But there’s not really a population of especially tall people in Argentina today.
One clue might be found in the writings of Ramón Lista, the second governor of Santa Cruz, Argentina.
He took a special interest in the Tehuelche people. And he documented their stories and myths, including their battles with other native people, some of whom may have lived in caves along the Gallegos River.
How would a war between the poison-arrow shooting giants and their mounted foe have ended? Ramón Lista, the second governor of Santa Cruz, Argentina, became sympathetic to the plight of the Tehuelches. He wrote about their tales of defeating other native peoples, some of whom may have lived in caves along the Gallegos River.
These caves are among the places giant bones were supposedly found. An Argentinian soldier named Carlos Moyano wrote about seeing bones in a cave and being told, in effect, that the site was a battleground. Maybe this was the final resting place of Magellan’s Patagão.
Yet another case of Goliaths being slain by Davids.
One last theory, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention… um… (picture of patagonian mountains) Patagonia looks like this. Lots of tall, skinny mountains. Maybe Magellan saw those and that’s why he called it the Land of the Giants. And everything else was just embellishments and stories.
What’s more likely? That that’s the case and all the other accounts of giants were completely fabricated, or that there was a tribe of especially tall indigenous people in South America that have been lost to time? Talk it up down below.