I'm happy to announce that Jim Vieira will be doing his second tour of duty as a guest in my Forbidden Archaeology class. He'll be with us for two class periods in mid-October. During the first class period he'll give his presentation; during the second the students will ask him questions. In between class periods he and I will discuss double rows of teeth, the secrets of the vast academic conspiracy of which I am an important part, and great moments in the history of stone masonry. I'll also make him walk through my art exhibit downtown.
My Forbidden Archaeology class wrapped up at the beginning of last week. Since going through the final projects and getting grades submitted, I've been occupied with prepping for my upcoming field school, finalizing a paper on the minimum size of demographically viable hunter-gatherer populations, and participating in a family-wide wave of coughing, aching, and vomiting. Good times.
Some of the student projects were pretty interesting, and I plan to put some of them up on the course website eventually. After that I'll weave the website content into the Argumentative Archaeologist site. It might be a while before any of that gets done (don't expect anything before the holidays are over).
In the meantime, I wanted to post a link to a short video that two of the students produced of their interview of Jim Vieira. I wrote a bit about Vieira's visit here. The students have possession of a lot more footage of Vieira in class, as well as he and discussing such compelling issues as "double rows of teeth." The students have told me that they'll still be working with that footage, and I hope that it happens (both are taking my field school, so I will be able to ask them about it weekly).
Here is the video they submitted as part of their final project:
Well, that was fun!
And because I know that it's sometimes hard to reliably detect the presence/absence of sarcasm in the written word, I'll clarify and say that I'm not being sarcastic: Jim Vieira's visit to my Forbidden Archaeology class was legitimately fun.
Those of you who followed this blog prior to the #Swordgate debacle know that I spent a lot of my writing energy in 2014 and 2015 discussing issues related to "giants." It's a topic that has interested me since I stumbled across accounts of "giant skeletons with a double row of teeth" in the nineteenth century county histories of Indiana while preparing CRM reports in the early 1990's. The story of my arrival to the topic is not that different from Vieira's (he came across the stories by accident, also). I had recently become aware of the online newspaper archives of the Library of Congress and was working on the "double rows of teeth" issue when Search for the Lost Giants aired. It was strange for me to watch that program, because I found myself hoping that I didn't get scooped on my linguistic solution to the strange dental descriptions but also wishing that their intense focus on the topic would help dispel some of the bizarre claims about "double rows of teeth" that have been around at least since Brad Steiger's 1978 book World's Before Our Own.
I went at the issue of "double rows of teeth" pretty hard in my blog after that original post, gathering documentary evidence (primarily in the form of newspaper accounts and dictionary entries) to demonstrate how changes in the popularity of a combination of linguistic idioms explains most of the cases of "double rows of teeth." I used specific examples to illustrate my case, including several that Vieira had discussed repeatedly. I admit to being frustrated that my ideas about "double rows of teeth," which I felt constituted a well-researched, relatively elegant, and original solution to an interesting riddle seemed to go unacknowledged by Vieira. That frustration came through in my last post on the subject.
Vieira and I talked about all that and a lot more during his visit to Columbia. Some of those conversations were private and some were in front of the class. We more-or-less beat to death numerous inter-connected issues related to the topic of "giants" over the course of three days. We talked about the nature of science, the nature of evidence, the many and varied motivations and psychologies of the "fringe" world, the relationships between the "fringe" and "mainstream," strategies for communication, human anatomy, the price of tea in China, etc. In my opinion, there really wasn't much of substance about which we had significant disagreement (including "double rows of teeth"). One sticking point was my contention, in which I remain firm, that the New England Patriots are, in fact, evil cheaters. That's part of my belief system and I'm not budging. I think we did tentatively agree, however, that all New York City professional sports teams suck, and also that the Dallas Cowboys suck, have always sucked, and will suck until the end of time. I may be embellishing that a little bit.
A couple of the students in Forbidden Archaeology collected video of Vieira (totalling about six hours, including both class sessions, a one-on-one interview with him, and Vieira and me discussing various issues related to giants) for their final project. They've got control of all that footage for now. It will be really interesting to see what they produce from it. Vieira and I agreed that we both need to give their project the green light before it will be made public. I'll keep you posted on that.
In the meantime, here's a short clip of Vieira in class yesterday. I don't remember the exact question to which he was responding, but his answer speaks for itself.
If you've been following the progress of Forbidden Archaeology this semester, you know that the next few classes we'll be bringing our focused discussion of giants to an end (I say "focused" because ideas about giants also play into the upcoming sections on Ice Age civilization and pre-Columbian transoceanic contact). We've talked about the ancient origins of giant mythologies, shreds of which are found in some of the world's earliest known written documents. We've talked about the giant mythologies of post-Roman Europe and the early engagement of science with the physical "evidence" for giants. We talked about how European ideas about giants were transplanted to the United States in the late 1700's and how those ideas apparently changed to fit the social, political, and archaeological circumstances that were present in the young United States. We discussed current ideas about giants connected to Young Earth Creationism, and we dipped our toes in the Nephilim Whirlpool just long enough to see that it is, frankly, ridiculous. On Friday, we circled back around to the question of an "ancient race of giants in North America."
This week we'll be talking more about the question of "giants" in prehistoric North America. It's going to be a fun week: the first blog posts are due, we're going to have a debate on Friday, and we're going to have Jim Vieira as our guest in class on Monday and Wednesday.
I'll be going to the airport in a few hours to get Vieira, feed him, and take him to his hotel. He'll be talking to the class tomorrow morning -- I'll have a little bit of housekeeping to discuss with the students, but after that Vieira will have the floor. We're going to use Wednesday's class with him for questions and discussion.
On Monday after class I'll give Vieira a walking tour of campus and downtown, lunch included. Two of my students are going to interview him on Monday afternoon for part of a project they're working on. Those same students are going to tape a co-interview with me and Vieira on Wednesday afternoon. I'm not yet sure what we'll be doing on Tuesday, which I have kept open to remain flexible. He'll be coming to my house for dinner tomorrow night. Vieira will return to Vieira Land on Thursday afternoon.
I'm really curious to see where Vieira is on issues related to giants and other things he's been working on for a long time. My opinion is that after you throw out the obvious hoaxes, fabrications, and gross misrepresentations, disregard the "double rows of teeth" (which I think I have demonstrated pretty conclusively is just a linguistic mirage), and adjust for some patterned over-estimates of height, you're still left with the possibility that relatively tall individuals are over-represented in the earthen mounds of eastern North America. In other words, I think there's a legitimate question buried in all of this. That's what I'd like to talk about, and I hope we can get there.
Yesterday I wrote this post about a large tooth that was represented as a "replica" of a human tooth from Denisova Cave on the program Search for the Lost Giants. The tooth in question was clearly neither human nor a replica of the Denisovan tooth. Based on comments from some of my friends that do zooarchaeology, it is most likely a premolar from some cow-sized ungulate.
In the program, Terje Dahl is the one who makes the claim that the tooth is a replica of the Denisovan tooth. I emailed him to ask him why he made that claim, and pointed him to my blog post. He emailed me back with his explanation (which he has also posted within the discussion thread of Jason Colavito's review of the episode). Here it is:
Thank you for your e-mail.
I was given the tooth by the producer of the show at the time of the filming and was told that it was a replica of the Denisova tooth. Lying in a hospital bed and with cameras rolling I had no chance to check. I remember I was thinking that it did not look exactly like the Denisova tooth from the cave that I had seen on the internet but I also new that picture was from one side only. And that it was found two teeth in the cave, this might be a replica of the other one?
Was it a replica of an animal tooth I was given? I do not know, I am not a vet or a doctor. But the archaeologists that found the first Denisova tooth thought it was that of en extinct cave bear since it was so large. They should know the difference between an animal tooth and a human but the Denisovans was not exactly like us Homo sapiens sapiens, they were another variety of archaic humans, like the Neanderthals! Nobody knows yet what they looked like. But: They seems to have had a more advanced technology than archaic homo sapiens, it was also found a stone bracelet with sigh of high-speed drilling in the cave at the same layer.
I have read the article you link to and it is of course true that a large tooth not necessary mean that the individual is very tall. But it must be allowed to ask. And asking is what I am doing. I did not really want to travel to the US to be part of the show because I was afraid that they would dramatise to much and make me look a fool. It turned out that I was right. But I went anyway. I was hoping that the show could get the publics attention to what seems to be a not very known part of human history, and that I could be able to get the Denisovans into the picture. Native Americans have around 0.2% Denisovan ancestry and it seems that in modern humans the frequency of Denisova DNA is the highest among North American Indians followed by Europeans. What I am hoping is that descendants of the first settlers to the USA after seeing the show will come forwards with old large bone that was found in Indian mounds, so that they can be sequenced for DNA before they are repatriated. So many legends of the Americas tell about the tall, white people that came from over the sea. For me it is not important if these seafaring travellers were white, brown, green or pink but I believe that we need to find out who they where and why they had left their home country. Was it because of a world wide catastrophe as legends and scriptures all over the world say? Were they Denisovans, Neanderthal or might be a hybrid mixture of archaic humans? Or just kurgans?
I have not been able to see the show yet, I am living in Australia. So I do not know how the filming went but I can assure you that the producer had his own clear ideas of what should be filmed and said. And I fear that so much of the little I was allowed to say has been edited so it is totally out of context. I also feel sorry for Jim Vieira. As me he really wants to know the truth about what we call giants, but I am afraid that the shows will try to do the opposite - just create a general opinion that giants never have existed. But we do know that we have had very tall humans in pre-history, we do have fossil bones after them! But they were not always called giants - just tall human species. And the theory is that they went extinct before Homo sapiens sapiens existed; might be that we were the cause that they died out. Again: I am not so sure that this is the case - and we need to know the truth: Without knowing the past it can be very difficult to say something about the future.
I hope you will read my articles about giants (and six fingers). And please come back to me with more thoughts!
I reproduced the entire email here not to give Dahl's ideas about giants a platform, but to give him a fair opportunity to express his thoughts about the program and his role in it as a direct response to my post. So there you have it in his words, not mine.
Just about everything I know about the law I learned from watching Judge Judy and taking a single criminal justice class as an undergraduate at Indiana University. Somewhere along the way (probably from Judge Judy) I learned the maxim "Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus," which translates as "He who speaks falsely on one point will speak falsely upon all." In other words, if you can catch a witness in one lie, you can reasonably reduce the weight of all of the rest of his testimony. Lies hurt credibility.
On the most recent episode of Search for the Lost Giants ("The Giant Curse;" S1 E4), a visitor named Terje Dahl explains his theory that giant humans from Asia sailed across the Pacific and inter-bred with Native Americans, giving rise to the prehistoric giants of the New World that the Vieira brothers are searching for. His theory involves the Denisovans, a recently-discovered population of hominids that lived in Siberia about 41,000 years ago. The Denisovans are known only from a few bone fragments found in Denisova Cave: a finger bone, a toe bone, and two teeth.
Dahl produces a tooth that he says is a "replica" of the tooth from Denisova Cave. It is a large tooth, and the brothers Vieira are suitably impressed by its size. Dahl says: "They thought at first it was a cave bear tooth, but it’s not a cave bear tooth. It’s a human tooth. It’s a replica of that tooth that was found inside a Denisova cave in Siberia."
Actually, it's neither. It's neither a human tooth nor a replica of the Denisovan molar. It's not even close. The figure to the left shows the tooth from Denisova Cave (top; image taken from the 2010 Nature paper by Reich et al.) and some screen captures of the tooth that Dahl presents (bottom). The tooth from Denisova Cave is clearly a human molar. Dahl's tooth is clearly not. (It has been many years since I've done any faunal osteology, but my guess is that Dahl's tooth is a deciduous premolar or molar from a horse or something similar - anyone know?).
The purpose of Dahl presenting this "replica" tooth is to make a point about the physical size of the Denisovans: a very large tooth must have belonged to a very large individual, right? Well, not really. While it seems to make logical sense, it's not necessarily true. Though not as large as Dahl's animal tooth, the actual tooth from Denisova is remarkable for its size, falling outside the known size range of second and third molars of contemporary Homo sapiens and Neanderthal populations. That does not necessarily mean that the tooth's owner was an enormous person, however.
As shown in the figure to the right (also taken from the 2010 Nature paper) the Denisovan tooth falls within the size range of third molars from gracile australopithecines and early Homo. Lucy, the most famous australopithecine, stood about 3'7" tall. Homo habilis was not much taller, standing perhaps 4'3" or so. The large molar teeth of these hominids (especially in relation to their body size) was an adaptation for a diet that required a lot of chewing. Larger still were the molars of the robust australopithecines. If tooth size was only related to body size, the robust australopithecines would have been large enough to eat the Denisovans for breakfast. But they weren't. Their massive molars were part of a specialized adaptation for a diet that required heavy duty chewing, but their bodies were about the same size as Lucy's. Great to have on your team if you're masticating bark, less great for basketball.
The transparent misrepresentation of the animal tooth as a "replica" of the tooth from Denisova Cave should trouble anyone who wants to claim that Search for the Lost Giants is a program built on legitimate inquiry. Do the producers of the show take any steps to check facts and vet guests before they send the CGI team to work? Did no-one notice that the "replica" tooth probably used to belong to a horse?
Misrepresentation and fabrication are career killers for professional scientists: Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. A scientist who is willing to manufacture or willfully distort evidence lacks credibility. Search for the Lost Giants is just one of many television programs that purports to be setting the prehistoric record straight and doing the public the great service of exploring topics that our governments, schools, and scientific establishments are either ignoring or actively conspiring to conceal from us. This show, Ancient Aliens, and America Unearthed are united by the complaint that mainstream science doesn't take them seriously. NEWS FLASH: until you begin to play by the rules of science, you will never be taken seriously by science. Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.
It is not difficult to find evidence for the current popularity of the notion that an ancient "race" of giants once populated prehistoric North America. Internet sites making that claim are numerous, as are books on the topic. And there is a new program on H2 (Search for the Lost Giants) that follows Jim and Bill Vieira on their "quest" to investigate whether giants really existed. Giants are a "thing" now.
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.
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