The belief in ancient North American giants is based in part on the numerous accounts of large skeletons being unearthed that can be found in newspapers and county histories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These accounts are "real" (in that they exist - they were written), and there are a lot of them. And, therefore, they deserve an explanation. I've spent some time looking at them, and I think they tell a really interesting story that has many parts to it: cultural, historical, archaeological, political, linguistic, etc. Interesting story, yes. But do I think that they actually tell the story of a "race" of ancient giants in North America? No.
But I don't think that all of those stories were fabricated, either (though some certainly were). I think the explanation is more complicated than that. In this post, I'm going to talk about one of the apparent peculiarities of those stories that I've now seen presented numerous times as evidence of a "race" of giants: "double rows of teeth." The Vieira brothers have talked about "double rows of teeth" on each episode of Search for the Lost Giants, and it is commonly mentioned in various books and websites on the subject. Generally, it is stated that descriptions of "double rows of teeth" appear frequently in the accounts of large skeletons because it was a dental condition peculiar to ancient giants:
"Another physical characteristic that is evident within this population is the physical abnormality of possessing a double row of teeth. While a large skeleton would appear to be rare, in combination with a double row of teeth would imply that a single people is being represented" (Zimmerman, Fritz, 2010:33, The Nephilim Chronicles: Fallen Angels in the Ohio Valley).
I remember being struck by the oddity of "double teeth" when I first came across accounts of large skeletons in some county histories from Indiana or Ohio. It was puzzling. I didn't know what it meant at the time, and I also had no idea how many other similar accounts existed. That was in the early 1990s, when it was much more difficult to get information. Now it is simpler to get access to old newspaper archives. This has made it easier to compile numerous accounts of large skeletons (which many people have done) and also try to critically analyze and understand the content of those accounts (which very few people have done).
Most of the information here is drawn from historical archives of American newspapers (including Chronicling America, freely available from the Library of Congress) and dictionaries. I'll give you my findings and some brief examples and then talk about what they mean in terms of giant skeletons. I'll save the quantitative data and more detailed analysis for a paper that I'm working on.
There were several different phrases/terms used to describe the dentitions of reportedly giant skeletons, including “double teeth,” “double rows of teeth,” “double teeth all around.” These are not equivalent (check your stories closely, giant believers - you'll see that it's true). These same terms/phrases are also applied in numerous cases to living individuals and non-giant skeletons.
First, the term “double tooth” was used in nineteenth and early twentieth century America as a synonym for a molar or premolar tooth. It was not a mysterious term, appearing in dictionaries and works of science and literature in Europe and the Americas from at least the 1500s until the early 1900s. A distinction between “single teeth” (incisors and canines) and “double teeth” (molars and premolars) seems to have been based on both function and morphology. In functional terms, “double teeth” are for grinding. The “double” of “double tooth” refers to the appearance of premolars and molars as being composed of multiple "single" teeth. "Double teeth" are larger than "single teeth" and have multiple roots.
These entries from an 1854 dictionary illustrate the synonymy between "molar," "grinder," and "double" teeth:
GRINDER, n. He or that which grinds; an instrument for grinding; one of the double or molar teeth.
MOLAR, a. . . . Having power to grind; used for grinding; as, the molar teeth, i.e. the double teeth.
MOLAR, n. A tooth, generally having a flattened, triturating surface, and situated behind the incisors; a molar tooth.
An 1898 story describing how potential military recruits were evaluated described how a certain number of “double teeth” were required for enlistment:
". . . a 32-year-old man who looked and was the ideal recruit with one exception. He had but one sound double tooth, although his front teeth were in fairly good condition. The regulations demand at least one sound double tooth on each side of the upper and lower jaws, four double teeth in all. Dr. Fulton disliked to reject him and the man’s looks showed his own disappointment, but he was “turned down,” as they say at the armory" (The Scranton Tribune, June 14, 1898).
Second, the phrase “double teeth all around” was used colloquially to refer to the dentition of living (and dead) individuals with a high degree of anterior tooth wear. Anterior “single teeth” (canines and incisors) looked like “double teeth” (molars) when the cusps were removed through wear. In other words, a mouth full of heavily worn teeth was a mouth in which all teeth were used for grinding and, therefore, in which all teeth had the wear characteristic of "double" teeth. This was a common phrase: nineteenth century newspapers contain numerous accounts of living individuals described as having "double teeth all around."
"James B. Paulding . . . says that the story . . . about the soldier at Camp Chase who ate glass is true, as hundreds know. He says the glass-eater’s name is John White . . . A peculiar feature of this man was the fact that he had a complete set of molars, or double teeth, all around, above and below. White was an old Mexican war soldier." (The National Tribune, May 19, 1887).
This article debunks the notion that it is possible to have a mouth full of molars:
"The lecturer alluded to the idea, held by some, that certain people or animals had double teeth all the way round the jaw. This is not correct, the appearance being due to the wearing down of the teeth till they present facets similar to those of small double teeth, but they are single teeth and there not on record a single instance where a jaw has been found filled with double teeth, each with two fangs or roots." (Burlington Weekly Free Press, March 30, 1877).
Third, the phrases "double rows of teeth" and "double row of teeth" were used to describe, simply, the presence of two rows of teeth (an upper and a lower). These phases were commonly applied to both living individuals and non-giant skeletons.
"Classification of Beauty -- The mode of describing beauty is now reduced to a system, and we do not see why rules should not be laid down as accurate as those of any other science. . . . 1. A pair of diamond eyes. 2. One thick and one thin ruby or coral lip. 3. A double row of pearl teeth. 4. A quantity of golden hair. . . . " (Edgefield Advertiser, August 20, 1840).
I can collect and present an immense amount of contextual/historical data that will demonstrate that, in the large majority of cases, the writers of nineteenth and twentieth century accounts of "giant" skeletons were not intending to imply that those skeletons had dental features unlike those of other humans, such as two sets of teeth arranged in concentric rows. They were simply describing characteristics of the teeth that were interesting or somewhat noteworthy: full sets of teeth (i.e., "double rows of teeth") would have been something to remark upon in the mid 1800s, as would a uniformly high degree of tooth wear (i.e., "double teeth all around").
The term "double tooth" and its associated phrases appear to have fallen out of common use early in the twentieth century (I'm still compiling dictionary data). I think that it was probably combined changes in diet, dental health, and dental medicine that caused the folk classification of "single" and "double" teeth to become less useful (more on that in the paper). For whatever reason, those "double" terms went away. When we see the phrase "double teeth all around" now, just 100 years later, it is foreign to us and seems to imply something bizarre. It did not when it was used. The peculiarity of "double teeth" can largely be explained as a mirage created by a linguistic change.
I challenge those who believe in the giant story to sift through your accounts of "double teeth" with the historic contexts of the terms/phrases I have discussed here in mind. And search for those terms outside of your giant skeleton accounts. Get a feel for how the terms were used in the common language of nineteenth century America and then do an honest evaluation and see if you really want to base a theory about an ancient "race" of giants on them. I don't think I would.