There are several historical accounts of the discovery of “giants” that were much taller: 10’ . . . 12’ . . . up to 38’ tall. I’m not sure how different giantologists interpret these remains and fit them into their various stories, but I’m guessing there is probably a spectrum of opinion. Real? Not real? I'll let them tell you what they think. I'll tell you what I think.
The remains of "giants" in this very large size class are mostly like the remains of fossil animals. This idea is neither new nor particularly controversial. As Jason Colavito touched in this blog post, this pattern of mistaken identity was evident even at the time the bones were being discovered.
For those who doubt that the bones of large animals were interpreted (or intentionally misinterpreted) as those of giant humans, I offer the following three accounts. The first two are 1845 newspaper accounts of the discovery of purported giant human remains. The third, published in the American Journal of Science in 1846, provides a professional evaluation of one set of those remains based on firsthand observation. Spoiler alert: they were mastodon bones.
First, from the Cleveland Herald (September 10, 1845) [number 135 in my database]:
A GIANT EXHUMED.—We are informed on the most reliable authority that a person in Franklin county, Tennessee, while digging a well, a few weeks since, found a human skeleton, at the depth of fifty feet, which measures eighteen feet in length. The immense frame was entire with an unimportant exception in one of the extremities. It has been visited by several of the principal members of the medical faculty in Nashville, and pronounced unequivocally, by all, the skeleton of a huge man. The bone of the thigh measured five feet; and it was computed that the height of the living man, making the proper allowance for muscles, must have been at least twenty feet. The finder had been offered eight thousand dollars for it, but had determined not to sell it any price until first exhibiting it for twelve months. He is now having the different parts wired together for this purpose. These unwritten records of the men and animals of other ages, that are from time to time dug out of the bowels of the earth, put conjecture to confusion, and almost surpass imagination itself.—Madison Banner.
Second, from the New York Herald (December 12, 1845) [number 136 in my database]:
THE GIANT SKELETON.—The skeleton discovered in Williamson county in this State, and supposed to be that of a human being, has frequently been referred to, within a few days past, in the House of Representatives. Notwithstanding the description given of it, as Wouter Van Twiller would say, “we have our doubts about the matter.” This skeleton was found about sixty feet beneath the surface of the earth, embedded in a stratum of the hardest kind of clay. The bones are said to be in a perfect state of preservation, and weigh in the aggregate fifteen hundred pounds. All the large and characteristic bones are entire, and the skull, arms, and thigh bones, knee pans, shoulder sockets and collar bones remove all doubts, and the animal to whom they belonged has been decided “to belong to the genus homo.” This gentleman, when he walked the earth, was about eighteen feet high, and when clothed in flesh must have weighed not less than 3000 pounds. “The bones of the thigh and leg measure six feet six inches; his skull is said to be about two-thirds the size of a flour barrel, and capable of holding in its cavities near two bushels. (He must have had a goodly quantity of brains, and if intellect be in proportion to the size of the brain, he must have possessed extraordinary intellectual powers). The description further states, that “a coffee cup of good size could be put in the eye-sockets.” The jaw teeth weight from 8 ½ to 6 pounds. It is stated that an eminent physician and anatomist is engaged in putting the skeleton together, and that is will shortly be ready for public exhibition.—Nashville Orthopolitan.
These two accounts from 1845 appear to describe different discoveries of similar remains, both from Tennessee (but different counties). The measurements of the femur differ, but the estimated height (18’) is the same. In the first account, we see the same “rule of thumb” for the relationship between femur length and height that was applied to the Ellensburg skeleton (height = 4x femur length).
The next piece is from a paper by William M. Carpenter published in the March 1846 (Volume 1, page 244) issue of the American Journal of Science (available here).
ART. XII.—Remarks on some Fossil Bones recently brought to New Orleans from Tennessee and from Texas ; by William M. Carpenter, M.D., Prof. in the Med. Coll. of Louisiana.
I.Fossils from Tennessee—the “gigantic Fossil Man,” (being the skeleton of a young mastodon.) Much interest has been recently excited by the announcement of the discovery in Tennessee of the remains of a man eighteen feet high. The papers teemed with accounts of the prodigy, and public confidence was secured by the assertion that the distinguished physicians of the west had testified that they were human remains. About the last of December these remains reached this city; and on the first of January I was requested by a distinguished surgeon here to go with him on the invitation of the proprietor to examine them, and give an opinion. They had been erected in a high room; the skeleton was sustained in its erect position by a large upright beam of timber. At a glance it was apparent that it was nothing more than the skeleton of a young mastodon, (one of Godman’s Tetracaulodons, with sockets for four tusks.) The bones of the leg and ankle were complete, the metatarsal bones wanting. Most of the vertebrae were present; the ribs mostly of wood. The pelvic arrangement was entirely of wood; the scapulae were present, but somewhat broken, and were rigged on with a most human-like elevation; pieces of ribs supplying the want of clavicles. The osseous parts of the head were portions, nearly complete, of the upper and lower jaws. Some of the molars were quite complete; of the tusks, only one little stump remained, but the four alveoli of the upper jaw had large incisive looking wooden teeth fitted into them, and the lower jaw supplied to correspond. The cranium was entirely wanting from the lower margin of the orbits, back; but a raw-hide cranium was fitted o, which was much more becoming to the animal in his new capacity than the old one would have been.
The artificial construction was principally in the pelvis and head; and take it as thus built up, with its half human, half beast-like look, and its great hooked incisive teeth, it certainly must have conveyed to the ignorant spectator a most horrible idea of a hideous, diabolical giant, of which he no doubt dreamed for months. To one informed in such matters it really presented a most ludicrous figure.
The person who had it for exhibition was honest, I believe, in his convictions as to its being the remains of a man, having been confirmed in them by numerous physicians, whose certificates he had in his possession; and having asked and received my opinion, he determined to box it up, never to be exhibited again as the remains of a human being.
The “giant” that was examined by Carpenter could have been the one from Franklin County, the one from Williamson County, or perhaps even a completely different one. Regardless, what we have here is a fascinating first person account of one of the “giants” that was traveling around the county being exhibited (for money) in the mid-1800s: it was a wired-together composition of wood, leather, and fossil elephant bones.
Who should we believe? The newspapers or Carpenter? That's an easy one.
William M. Carpenter was a physician and naturalist, educated at West Point. He was not a lightweight, and was clearly conversant in the anatomy of fossil mammals (the remainder of his 1846 paper contains technical descriptions of fossil ox and tapir bones from Texas, among other things). Not every physician in 1845 would have had his training, interest, and experience. And keep in mind that this was a time when information about the natural world was rapidly expanding. American mastodon (Mammut americanum, into which Tetracaulodon is now folded) was only formally named in 1792, and On the Origin of Species was not published until 1859. I do not think that it is wise to assume that everyone with medical training at the time could reliably identify the skeletal remains of extinct animals, or reliably discriminate them from "giant" human remains. Weighing the 1845 newspaper accounts against Carpenter’s 1846 paper, I think it is clear which is the more credible interpretation.
It would be pretty sweet if someone could find the box containing the contrivance described by Carpenter: the “gigantic Fossil Man” belongs in a history museum and would be a wonderful thing to include in a display about the emergence of a scientific understanding of the past that was ongoing in the mid-1800s. If you find it and donate it somewhere where it can be displayed for what it is, I'll give you fifty bucks and a Major Award that is not a leg lamp. Look for a box with the words "Skeleton of Giant" crossed out.
Brilliant! Just minutes after finishing this post I found this 2013 paper by Kevin Smith entitled "The Williamson County Giant (aka A Pleistocene Mega-Human)." It contains much more detail that I've assembled here. Bravo!