Bigfoot, Nessie, Ogopogo, the atmospheric jellyfish — (most of) these cryptids are household names. But did you know that there's a subfield of cryptozoology that deals with massive hominids, sequestered on our planet's hidden places? Let's take a look at some curious cases of Brobdingnagians amongst us.
Living dinosaurs and skunk apes have leapfrogged giants on the cryptid taxonomy, but this wasn't always the case. In the 19th century, facsimiles of giants and petrified humans captured the public imagination at sideshows. The most famous of these fakes was the Cardiff Giant, a 10-foot-long, 3,000 pound block of gypsum that was sculpted to look like a fossilized man and was exhibited in upstate New York in late 1869. The Cardiff Giant was the brainchild of tobacconist George Hull, who was inspired by the Nephilim of the Book of Genesis to create his oversized hoax.
Hull staged an excavation and subsequently profited off his giant...until P.T. Barnum covertly built his own replica of the Cardiff giant and displayed his fake (of Hull's fake) as the real deal. Hull attempted to sue Barnum, but in order to do so, he would have to swear on the veracity of his own giant. Hull instead revealed to press that his giant was made of 100% Balonium. Similar "petrified" specimens were unearthed at the tail end of the 1800s, such as the Solid Muldoon, another petrified man, which too was built by Hull.
As the world's various mythologies can attest, giants had a following way before the age of traveling hucksters. In a fascinating article in Archaeology, Mark Rose recounts how an interest in cryptids went hand-in-hand with nascent American life. After all, this was a continent where Southern farmers dug up Basilosaurus fossils to build their homes:
The Massachusetts Puritan Cotton Mather believed that mastodon fossils found near Albany, New York, in 1705 were those of giants who had perished in Noah's flood. "The Giants that once groaned under the waters," he wrote, "are now under the Earth, and their Dead Bones are lively Proofs of the Mosaic history." Nearly a century later, when Connecticut farmer Pliny Moody discovered foot-long three-toed tracks in a sandstone ridge on his land, his pastor identified them as from Noah's raven, which had "rested on that ledge and probably slept there before resuming the dangerous journey back to the Ark." The same cleric later deduced that dinosaur bones found to the south were "probably the remains of giant humans."
Thomas Jefferson had his own interest in fossils, and in 1804 he even set aside a room in the White House for his collection of extinct elephant, giant ground sloth, and bison bones, teeth, and tusks. Earlier, he had convinced Yale College president Ezra Stiles that such remains were of animals rather than giants. Fascinated by an immense claw of a ground sloth, Jefferson wrote to a friend, "I cannot...help believing that this animal, as well as the mammoth, are still existing."
But what about more recent interest in giants? Cryptozoologist (and Cryptomundo blogmaster Loren Coleman) is an expert in the extremely rarified study of "true giants" and details present-day encounters with massive hominids in his book True Giants: Is Gigantopithecus Still Alive? According to Coleman's studies, most modern accounts of giants are of hairy creatures that could be descendants of the 10-foot-tall prehistoric ape Gigantopithecus rather than loincloth-clad chaps of the Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, Jolly Green, or Samuel Beckett variety.
Barring some four-toed footprints, much of this evidence is anecdotal. As fringe as an undiscovered hominid that eclipses Bigfoot sounds, crazier ape-like beings have been spotted — for example, gangs of what appeared to be giant orangutans were observed during the Vietnam War.
[Illustration of Konga from Kill All Monsters]