The Question of Giants

By Alton Higgins

“There were giants in the earth in those days…”

Many people are intrigued by the Genesis 6:4 "giants" verse in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament.  While there are various interpretations as to the nature of the referenced beings, the passage serves as a good introduction to an issue that has fascinated mankind for thousands of years.  Although the scientific community at large may give little credence to the possible existence of large undocumented primates, unqualified dismissal should not be based on the perspective that such creatures could not possibly exist.

Researchers have not yet definitively verified the legitimate foundation underlying the wood ape phenomenon; however, members of the NAWAC are convinced there is a biological explanation. This confidence is founded, in part, upon the fact that giant hominoids (the primate group that includes humans, their fossil ancestors, and the great apes) existed in the past.  Certainly the Gigantopithecus theory, as expounded by Washington State University physical anthropologist Dr. Grover Krantz and others, is popular and widespread among those who place credence in the possible continued existence of a large undocumented primate species.  Krantz argued that the manner in which the lower jaw of Gigantopithecus widened toward the back was a strong indicator for bipedalism, but the issue is still subject to debate and provides, for some enthusiasts, at least one reason to question a possible association with the presumably bipedal wood ape.

One interpretation of Gigantopithecus.

Another example of a very large-bodied hominoid is provided by a species named Homo heidelbergensis.  Estimates indicate the species survived hundreds of thousands of years.  Whether or not this species was a progenitor of modern humans is still a subject of debate; the point here is merely to establish its physical characteristics.  [As a recognized species, H. heidelbergensis has only become accepted since the end of the twentieth century (Dorey, 2009). Thus, Krantz did not consider it in his “The Fossil Record” chapter (1992).]

H. heidelbergensis had very large thick brow ridges and a sloping forehead, as contrasted with the more vertical forehead of modern humans; however, brain capacity overlapped that of modern humans.  The jaws were extremely large and heavy boned (Dorey, 2009).

One interpretation of H. heidelbergensis.

Fossils found across Africa and Europe and as far to the east as India indicate H. heidelbergensis was a widespread species.  Possibly as a response to diverse environmental pressures, populations of H. heidelbergensis appear to have been quite variable.  A robust build with thick bones and powerful muscles characterized the species, but some populations, according to University of the Witwatersrand paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, such as those in southern Africa, were also giants, routinely standing over 7 feet tall (Smith, 2007).

Actual fossil skull of H. heidelbergensis.

In spite of these intriguing superficial parallelisms of physical attributes, anthropologists tend to dismiss H. heidelbergensis as a candidate to explain wildman reports from around the world because of evidence found in association with fossil remains of the species.  Such evidence, including manufactured stone and bone tools, fire use, sophisticated weapons, and skilled butchering of large animals, indicates a highly developed cooperative group culture.  This stands in contrast to what appears to be the case with the wood ape, a species for which there are virtually no reports of association with fire, or stone tools usage.

Ecological factors should also be taken into consideration with regard to which hominoid, Gigantopithicus or H. heidelbergensis, represents a better fit for wood ape observations, if indeed we are to ascribe contemporary observations to relic populations of species known from the fossil record.  Based on butchered remains of targeted prey species found in association with H. heidelbergensis, including hippopotamus, horses, and rhinos, H. heidelbergensis inhabited open country or savanna type environments.  This contrasts with Gigantopithicus, a creature of the forest.  Research based on evaluations of percentages of tooth enamel carbon isotopes (obtained via specific photosynthetic pathways) determined that Gigantopithicus derived all its sustenance from within densely forested environments (Zhao, Zhang, Zhang, Zhang, & Wu, 2011).  This evidence of habitat preference compares favorably to distributions of wood ape sightings, which correlate strongly with heavily forested ecosystems.

Jawbone of H. heidelbergensis.

Contemporary reports of extremely large bipedal primates should not be categorically dismissed on the basis of biological absurdity.  Certainly it is debatable whether biblical references to giants have anything to do with non-human hominoids or ancestors of Homo sapiens, but the fossil record is less ambiguous.  While the classification of the wood ape, or any other large hominoid proposed to exist in various remote regions of the planet, remains to be officially determined, the recognition of such a species would not represent a novelty in primate history.

References

Dorey, F. (2009). Homo heidelbergensis. Australian Museum. Retrieved from http://australianmuseum.net.au/Homo-heidelbergensis

Krantz, G. (1992). Big footprints: A scientific inquiry into the reality of sasquatch. Boulder, CO: Johnson Printing Company.

Smith, C. (2007). Our story: Human ancestor fossils. The Naked Scientist: Interview of Dr. Lee Rogers Burger, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. [Transcript]. Retrieved from http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/content/interviews/interview/833/

Zhao, L., Zhang, L., Zhang, L., Zhang, F., & Wu, X. (2011). Enamel carbon isotope evidence of diet and habitat of Gigantopithecus blacki and associated mammalian megafauna in the Early Pleistocene of South China [Electronic version]. Chinese Science Bulletin, 56(33), 3590-3595.

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