I have been clear that I am not proposing or assuming that historical/linguistic explanations involving the synonymy between “molar tooth” and “double tooth” apply to all the accounts. This is what I wrote in my post about the Deerfield skeleton:
“There may be some accounts for which one can make a good case that the presence of actual “extra” teeth was being described (there are many cases today of individuals with extra teeth - it is not difficult to find them online), but I guarantee there will be many more accounts for which the interpretation of “double rows of teeth” cannot be justified under closer scrutiny. I suggest that giantologists need to go through their "evidence" for double rows of teeth. Evaluate these accounts critically in their contexts, one by one, rather than simply saying there are hundreds or thousands of them. Many of these cases of "double rows of teeth" will disappear.”
In this post, I want to expand on my discussion of the phrase “double teeth all around.” This is a specific phrase that is fairly common in 19th and early 20th century accounts of large skeletons. I briefly discussed this phrase in my first post on how the historical/linguistic contexts of these accounts can help us understand them. Based on some discussions I've seen online, I'm not sure my first post on the subject was completely effective in explaining what this phrase means and clarifying why it is not equivalent to “double rows of teeth.” So I'm going to talk about it some more. Here’s what it means, when it was used, and who it was used to describe.
“Double Teeth All Around:” What the Phrase Means
The phrase "double teeth all around" is a colloquial phrase that was used to describe a pattern of heavy tooth wear that involved the front “single” teeth (the incisors, canines, and premolars) as well as the “grinding” or “double” teeth (the molars). The phrase was used to communicate the (mistaken) impression that a person had all "double teeth" (molars aka “grinders”) rather than a mixture of "double teeth" and "single teeth" (incisors, canines, and premolars) as in a normal human dentition.
But don’t take my word for it -- listen to what some turn-of-the-century dentists had to say (emphases added).
This passage from a 1900 paper by Alton Howard Thompson titled “Mechanical Abrasion of the Teeth” (printed in The Western Dental Journal, Vol. 43) (available here) describes exactly what is meant by the phrase “double teeth all around” and how the phrase has been used to describe the heavily worn teeth observed in skeletal remains:
“Among ancient and savage peoples the excessive wear of the teeth is almost universal, and is often quite remarkable. It is almost constant in adult skulls, as an examination of the specimens in museums will show. This is due to the hard, uncooked, or gritty nature of the food employed. The writer has recently examined nearly two thousand skulls in the museums of Philadelphia, and the destructive wear of the teeth in ancient savage races is almost universal. Only in young skulls could the cusp patterns be made out with any degree of certainty. The pulp usually recedes before the encroachment of abrasion, but frequently it is exposed, and its death and alveolar abscess ensue. This disease from this cause is quite common in ancient skulls where the teeth are much worn. Inexpert observers of ancient skulls are disposed to classify the much-abraded teeth as being different from the teeth of Europeans, and as having “double teeth all around.” Many old travelers thus describe the worn teeth of savage people, and even recently a newspaper archeologist writes of the teeth of the ancient Cliff-Dwellers of Colorado as being different from those of later man in being “double teeth all around.” Some of the early explorers in Egypt described the teeth of the ancient mummies as being “thick at the edge,” and different from those of living races. In the collections above referred to the writer found no ancient skulls with “double teeth all around,” but did find that destructive abrasion was almost universal, the anterior teeth being often worn to the base, and showing the round section of the tooth at that point which so often misleads inexpert observers and perpetuates the popular illusion. The mistake is pardonable in the laity, but is inexcusable in anthropologists who have a knowledge of human anatomy and are exact as to the anatomical variations of other parts of the human body” (pg. 252-253).
The following paragraph is from a paper entitled “The Significance of the Natural Form and Arrangement of the Dental Arches of Man, with a Consideration of the Changes which Occur as a Result of their Artificial Derangement by Filing or by the Extraction of Teeth,” by Isaac C. Davenport from the journal The Dental Cosmos (1887, Volume XXIX, No. 7) (available here):
“One appreciates the beauty of the general relation of the articulating surfaces as one notes the effects of wear upon the teeth. For example, as the cusps wear down the lower jaw moves forward, and the inner surfaces of the upper incisors become thinner and thinner. When the flat surfaces of the molars alone remain, the cutting edges of the incisors, which projected over the lower teeth, have also been worn away, and we have the characteristic grinding surface called “double teeth” all around” (pg. 420).
Davenport’s theory it that heavy wear on the molars naturally changes the way the teeth come together and causes the jaw to move forward, bringing the cusps of the incisors into opposition and causing them to be worn down as they are used for grinding rather than cutting.
The following passage from a 1907 paper entitled “Jumping the Bite in Senile Abrasion” in American Orthodontist (Volume 1) (available here), also by Alton H. Thompson, speaks volumes:
“ . . . The incisors of man when worn to the thick part of the neck, show the broad outlines of this portion of the crown. This broad and grooved appearance of the incisors gives rise to the popular saying of having “double teeth all around,” when such a condition is observed by the laity. Unfortunately, there is much misleading pseudo-science that assists in perpetuating this absurd error by magazine and newspaper writers when describing antique skulls. I have seen accounts of scientific men, archeologists, who have insisted upon a fundamental difference in the anatomy of the teeth of ancient Egyptians, Mexican and other antique races, which happened to have worn teeth in their skulls. Such ignorance and stupidity is exasperating” (pg. 29).
Amen, Dr. Thompson.
“Double Teeth All Around:” When the Phrase Was Used
The phrase “double teeth all around” appears to have been used in North America between about 1820 and 1920, with a peak in usage between about 1880 and 1905. I am basing this conclusion on two sources: newspapers and books.
The bottom portion of the figure shows a Google Ngram of the phrase “double teeth all around.” As with the newspaper data above, the post-1920s occurrences are re-tellings of 19th century stories.
“Double Teeth All Around:” Who the Phrase Was Used to Describe
Who had “double teeth all around”? Was this phrase only used to describe the teeth of giant skeletons?
No. Not even close.
While the phrase “double teeth all around” surely was used sometimes to describe the teeth of skeletons, it certainly was not limited to that use. I have provided some examples of where the phrase was used to describe the teeth of living individuals. Here are a few more:
“There is a boy named Kimmery in Riley township, Vigo county, who is eleven years old, weighs but ten pounds, has long hair and eyebrows, and a set of double teeth all around. He is dumb, but not deaf” (Indianapolis News, January 20, 1872).
“The Hartford Times tells of a man near Pomfret, Conn., thirty years old, who was born deaf and blind . . . He is well developed physically, is of ordinary height, has a stout, thick neck, and looks strong and robust. . . . This man had a full set of strong double teeth all around, and every one of them had to be pulled out, as he tore his clothes to pieces with them” (Oskaloosa Independent, February 8, 1873).
“ . . . Little Crow was one of the most savage of savages, and when he was killed his head was cut off, a stake or pole was run through the rear part of the skull, and the head was then paraded through the streets of Hutchison. He had double teeth all around in both jaws—not wholly a novelty in an Indian’s mouth” (The Valley Republican, December 14, 1878).
“ . . . Hawkins, who was sixty-five at the time of his death, had been known to sleep out doors without covering on the coldest nights; he had double teeth all around. On frequent occasions he would, on a wager, eat up, masticate, and swallow an ordinary seven by nine pane of glass in the presence of a dozen spectators; . . .” (The Intelligencer, September 30, 1880).
“ . . . In 1827 an inquest was held on a drowned body recovered from Lake Ontario. The description agreed with that of the missing exposer of Freemasonry’s harmless mummeries, and Mr. Weed’s committee decided on another inquest. Before it was held he obtained from Mrs. Morgan an account of what was most striking in her husband’s personality. She said he had double teeth all around, and a dentist confirmed this peculiarity” (The New York Times, November 29, 1882).
“Old Polka Dot was a firm man, with double teeth all around, and his prowess got into the personal columns of the papers every little while. He had a daughter named Utsayantha, which means “a messenger sent hastily for treasure,” so I am told, or possibly old Polka Dot meant to imply “one sent off for cash” (The Salt Lake Herald, September 7, 1890).
“—John McDarby, of Salmon Falls, Mass., has double teeth all around, and a stomach which doesn’t rebel when he chews and swallows glass, stones and other indigestibles” (Pittsburgh Dispatch, August 1, 1892).
The alert reader will have noticed that none of these stories is about a giant skeleton. It seems to me that if “double teeth all around” was some kind of trait that was associated exclusively with giants, it wouldn’t have been present in this wide assortment of living individuals of various ages, heights, ethnicities, and capacities to eat glass. Am I missing something?
What the Giantologists Got Wrong
The phrase “double teeth all around” has nothing whatsoever to do with "double rows of teeth." In previous posts I have discussed several cases where the phrase was misinterpreted. There are many, many more examples out there. I'll get to some of them in the coming days, but it should be pretty obvious by now that a skeleton with "double teeth all around" is nothing anomalous, at least in regards to the dentition. My impression is that the misinterpretation of “double teeth all around” goes back to the beginnings of modern giantology: perhaps just a generation or two after the phrase fell out of use.
Whatever the origins of the first errors misinterpreting this phrase, it is clear that “double rows of teeth” has become an integral part of the modern mythology of giants. As part of that modern mythology, the phrase “double teeth all around” is automatically and uncritically interpreted as “double rows of teeth.” It shouldn’t be. That’s not what it means. That should be obvious by now.
Perhaps this misinterpretation was initially an honest mistake. “Double teeth all around” is, after all, an archaic phrase that was falling out of common usage (along with the term “double tooth” as a synonym for molar) a century ago and today sounds pretty strange. I would buy that explanation in the 1980s or 1990s, but not today. I have a hard time understanding how giantologists, having the same ability as me to quickly search old books and newspapers online, didn’t crack the code of “double teeth all around.” Almost everything I quoted here shows up in basic internet searches. I got the histogram of newspaper occurrences by paying a whopping $7.95 for a one month subscription to Newspaper.com. On Search for the Lost Giants they fly around in helicopters, crisscross the country, go caving, hire a sketch artist, and consult with a dental anthropologist, but nobody thinks to type the phrase into Google?
I’m one guy. With a full time job. Doing some basic internet searches between preparing lectures, washing dishes, and changing diapers. Honestly, I have to say, it wasn’t that tough to figure out.
That makes me question whether the giantologists really wanted to figure this out, whether they really want to figure anything out. I wonder if they’d rather have the warmth of a tall tale instead of a solid explanation that could be used to reduce some of the “noise” that permeates these accounts. I’m a little surprised by how quiet they’ve been in response to what I’ve been posting. I appreciate the few responses that I’ve gotten, but I really thought there would be more. I’ve begun engaging their claims by having a new look at the evidence. I’ve come to different conclusions –conclusions that I can strongly support. And I’ve heard almost nothing. To me, that’s what is really strange.