The Giants Of Patagonia, Are They Real?

When we try to find really tall people in history, we get a lot of tall tales (pun intended) and legends. You can’t seem to go to any ethnic group without hearing some form of story of their relations and association with giants.

When Yao Ming first came to the public eye in more than a decade ago in 2002, there was a rumor gong around that he had a sister who even taller than him. Bouncer and occasional actor Calvin Lane who is also 7′ 6″ claims that he has two siblings who are even bigger than him. (Resource) Maybe he meant in age, but probably not over 7′ 6″ in height since if they were really that tall, they would already have been found out.

We get stories told by Native Americans about Red- Haired Giants from the Southwest US area (resource 1, resource 2, resource 3, resource 4). They were called Paiutes named the giants Si-Te-Cah they were supposed to be up to 12 feet tall and ate humans. Interesting enough, one of the resources show that a mummified body was unearthed where the bones measured out to be around 6′ 6″ which can actually validate these myths. Not 12 feet but at a height which in those days might have been true giants.

Hell, if we go to the first resource link the guy who wrote the article says that his mother claims his grandfather was much taller than him or his father, and that his great-grandfather was taller than his grandfather.

How is it that these stories about tall ancestors and distance relatives only get bigger and bigger like the classic fish stories about the size of “the one that got away”. As the years move on, that length of the lost fish gets bigger and bigger until we are left to wonder where to draw the line between reality and pure imagination.

Which brings us to quite possible the most well known stories of giant in human history, not counting the Biblical story of Goliath. Modern anthropologists and researchers seemed to have calculated out the height of Goliath to be more like 6′ 9″ instead of the 9 foot tall claim made by the religious writers (Resource). That would also seem very reasonable. The stories I am talking about are the legends claimed by Europeans explorers who went by Patagonia in the 16th and 17th century.

If we even go to the wikipedia article on Patagonia (located HERE) we find out the name Patagonia itself is a name the Spaniards used to describe the large size of the natives they saw. Magellan is probably the most famous explorer to land on Patagonia and he made some interesting observations.

It is now believed the Patagons were actually Tehuelches with an average height of 180 cm (~5′11″) compared to the 155 cm (~5′1″) average for Spaniards of the time.

The excerpt taken from Wikipedia

Patagonian giants: early European perceptions

The first European explorers of Patagonia observed that the indigenous people in the region were taller than the average Europeans of the time, prompting some of them to believe that Patagonians were giants.

According to Antonio Pigafetta, one of the Magellan expedition’s few survivors and its published chronicler, Magellan bestowed the name “Patagão” (or Patagón) on the inhabitants they encountered there, and the name “Patagonia” for the region. Although Pigafetta’s account does not describe how this name came about, subsequent popular interpretations gave credence to a derivation meaning ‘land of the big feet’. However, this etymology is questionable. The term is most likely derived from an actual character name, “Patagón“, a savage creature confronted by Primaleón of Greece, the hero in the homonymous Spanish chivalry novel (or knight-errantry tale) by Francisco Vázquez. This book, published in 1512, was the sequel of the romance “Palmerín de Oliva,” much in fashion at the time, and a favourite reading of Magellan. Magellan’s perception of the natives, dressed in skins, and eating raw meat, clearly recalled the uncivilized Patagón in Vázquez’s book. Novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin suggests etymological roots of both Patagon and Patagonia in his book, In Patagonia, noting the similarity between “Patagon” and the Greek word παταγος, which means “a roaring” or “gnashing of teeth” (in his chronicle, Pigafetta describes the Patagonians as “roaring like bulls”).

1840s illustration (somewhat idealised) of indigenous Patagonians from near the Straits of Magellan; from “Voyage au pole sud et dans l’Océanie …..” by French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville

The main interest in the region sparked by Pigafetta’s account came from his reports of their meeting with the local inhabitants, whom they claimed to measure some nine to twelve feet in height —“…so tall that we reached only to his waist”—, and hence the later idea that Patagonia meant “big feet”. This supposed race of Patagonian giants or Patagones entered into the common European perception of this little-known and distant area, to be further fuelled by subsequent reports of other expeditions and famous-name travellers like Sir Francis Drake, which seemed to confirm these accounts. Early charts of the New World sometimes added the legend regio gigantum (“region of the giants”) to the Patagonian area. By 1611 the Patagonian god Setebos (Settaboth in Pigafetta) was familiar to the hearers of The Tempest.

The concept and general belief persisted for a further 250 years, and was to be sensationally re-ignited in 1767 when an “official” (but anonymous) account was published of Commodore John Byron’s recent voyage of global circumnavigation in HMS Dolphin. Byron and crew had spent some time along the coast, and the publication (Voyage Round the World in His Majesty’s Ship the Dolphin) seemed to give proof positive of their existence; the publication became an overnight best-seller, thousands of extra copies were to be sold to a willing public, and other prior accounts of the region were hastily re-published (even those in which giant-like folk were not mentioned at all).

However, the Patagonian giant frenzy was to die down substantially only a few years later, when some more sober and analytical accounts were published. In 1773 John Hawkesworth published on behalf of the Admiralty a compendium of noted English southern-hemisphere explorers’ journals, including that of James Cook and John Byron. In this publication, drawn from their official logs, it became clear that the people Byron’s expedition had encountered were no taller than 6-foot-6-inch (1.98 m), very high but by no means giants. Interest soon subsided, although awareness of and belief in the myth persisted in some quarters even up into the 20th century.

Me: From the Wikipedia article on Patagonian Giants or Patagones

The Patagones or Patagonian giants are a mythical race of people, who first began to appear in early European accounts of the then little-known region and coastline of Patagonia. They were supposed to have exceeded at least double normal human height, some accounts giving heights of 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 m) or more. Tales of these improbable people would take a hold over European concepts of the region for some 250 years, until they were substantially debunked at the end of the 18th century.

First mention of these people came from the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan and his crew, who claimed to have seen them while exploring the coastline of South America en route to their circumnavigation of the world in the 1520s. Antonio Pigafetta, one of the expedition’s few survivors and the chronicler of Magellan’s expedition, wrote in his account about their encounter with natives twice a normal person’s height:

“One day we suddenly saw a naked man of giant stature on the shore of the port, dancing, singing, and throwing dust on his head. The captain-general [i.e., Magellan] sent one of our men to the giant so that he might perform the same actions as a sign of peace. Having done that, the man led the giant to an islet where the captain-general was waiting. When the giant was in the captain-general’s and our presence he marveled greatly, and made signs with one finger raised upward, believing that we had come from the sky. He was so tall that we reached only to his waist, and he was well proportioned…”

Pigafetta also recorded that Magellan had bestowed on these people the name “Patagão” (i.e. “Patagon”, or Patagoni in Pigafetta’s Italian plural),[1] but did not further elaborate on his reasons for doing so. Since Pigafetta’s time the assumption that this derived from pata or foot took hold, and “Patagonia” was interpreted to mean “Land of the Bigfeet”. However, this etymology remains questionable, since amongst other things the meaning of the suffix -gon is unclear. Nevertheless, the name “Patagonia” stuck, as did the notion that the local inhabitants were giants. Early maps of the New World afterwards would sometimes attach the label regio gigantum (“region of giants”) to the area.

In 1579, Sir Francis Drake’s ship chaplain, Francis Fletcher, wrote about meeting very tall Patagonians.

In the 1590s, Anthonie Knivet claimed he had seen dead bodies 12 feet (3.7 m) long in Patagonia.

Also in the 1590s, William Adams, an Englishman aboard a Dutch ship rounding Tiera del Fuego reported a violent encounter between his ship’s crew and unnaturally tall natives.

In 1766, a rumour leaked out upon their return to Britain that the crew of HMS Dolphin, captained by Commodore John Byron, had seen a tribe of 9-foot-tall (2.7 m) natives in Patagonia when they passed by there on their circumnavigation of the globe. However, when a newly-edited revised account of the voyage came out in 1773, the Patagonians were recorded as being 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m); very tall, but by no means giants.

The people encountered by Byron were in all likelihood the Tehuelches, indigenous to the region. Later writers consider the Patagonian giants to have been a hoax, or at least an exaggeration and mis-telling of earlier European accounts of the region.

Me: I would say that the patagonian stories and legends are probably true, given the relative size that is now scientifically valided on the natives who were often over 1 feet taller than the explorers. One would be amazed at how badly and incorrectly some people can estimate the height of people who are substantially taller than them. A person who is really 7 feet tall can claim to be 7′ 4″ or even 7′ 6″ and most people would believe them because they are so much shorter and smaller in relative size. P.T. Barnum and Bailey were famous for exhibiting tall giants and exxegrating the giant’s height, often by over 1 feet or more. There was very few giants who went on tour with Barnum & Bailey who were really their listed height. Robert Wadlow had also gone on tour with the circus and if he was billed as 10 foot and I saw him, I would have believed it.

If we remember, the most famous quote that P.T. Barnum has ben attributed to say is “There is an sucker born every minute”. A well known idea is that if you can tell a lie big enough and long enough, eventually people will start believing in it. Perfect examples was the age old myth that humans only use 10% of their brain, or that 93% of all communication is nonverbal, which were both eventually proven to be false in recent studies done in the last few decades.


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