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Giants on Earth

Do the descendants of Gigantopithecus still walk among us?

True Giants - main

Illustration by Owen Richardson


We have all heard of giants. Today, the word is likely to bring to mind the few examples of human beings who have grown to extreme sizes, like Robert Wadlow, who reached a height of 8ft 11.1in (2.72m) and is regarded as “the tallest person in history”. Typically, such human giants reach heights of less than 9ft (2.74m) and claims of greater heights appear to have been exaggerations.

There have been stories of much bigger giants, of course. The storybook giants were enormous creatures, taller than houses. But could there have been a basis in the natural world for such beings?

We believe that there were – and perhaps still are – ‘True Giants’ and that they are the factual basis from which the storybook giants emerged. They are the reason that people in ancient times spoke about famous giants like Goliath. And they are the reason that people still see tree-tall giants in modern times.

Not many people get to see them; the giants spend most of their time in remote places. But they still bump into people now and then, leaving behind them appropriately large footprints.

There is a basis in modern science for discussing the existence of genuine giants of this size; but you may be wondering why – outside of storybooks – you haven’t heard much about them.

Well, firstly, the existence of True Giants is not a popular idea. Such things are not supposed to be real. So, when people have reported them in places like the Cairngorms of Scotland, in Southeast Asia, and in Canada, they have been regarded as mistaken or even dishonest.

Secondly, the fossils that have been found for this particular giant primate have been attributed not to a giant man but, erroneously, to a giant ape. There is no basis in the fossils themselves to support this determination. Rather, it has been merely a popular prejudice among the fossil specialists. Some people, though, have suggested that the fossils, known as Gigantopithecus, are gigantic men. We believe that view will one day be proven correct.

Gigantopithecus-sized bones have been found in many places around the globe in recent centuries, but were mostly lost before proper descriptions could be recorded. Some day, the finding of further gigantic bones in proper scientific digs will provide a full prehistoric record for True Giants.

We do know something of these giants today. They have been in the news in places like Southeast Asia for decades, and in late 2005 became a news sensation once again. The world was treated to news dispatches from the southern interior of the Malay Peninsula about the Orang Dalam (or “Interior Man”) of Johor. Gigantic footprints were found and hairy, man-like figures, 10ft (3m) tall and more, were reportedly seen.

It was in 1992 that we first conn­ected the specific characteristics of True Giants in modern records with the survival of Giganto­pithecus, and everything about extremely tall primates that has come to light since then has supported that association.

These True Giants are not “Bigfoot”, despite some efforts to make simple comparisons with creatures like the one seen in the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film. These are ‘Neo-Giants’, and they get no taller than 9ft high. They are of a different genus of primate, which doesn’t grow to the heights of the True Giants. They are different in physical particulars and behaviour; and they leave different footprints.

The tree-tall True Giants were familiar under many names to the original inhabitants of North America. A petroglyph-covered boulder in North Carolina is named the Jutaculla Rock after the legendary giants of the mountains. Table Rock in South Carolina was associated with a chief among the giants. In eastern Canada, Samuel de Champlain heard about feared giants said to be living in the forests. Other French explorers heard the same and noted how the Indians appeared to be frightened by these creatures. In Alaska, True Giants were legendary. One histor­ical record tells how an Indian chief disappeared right after his party saw signs of a True Giant they knew as Gilyuk.

Mountainous regions around the world seem to be populated with True Giant traditions. They suggest that even if these giants are no longer around, they were at one time a reality. Sightings of tall figures in mountain mists and thick forests, taken with the occasional record of enormous footprints, all point to the possible survival of True Giants even today.

We are focusing on those many beings that are the survivors of Gigantopithecus, a spec­ific genus of primate with its own lineage. When carefully examined, their physical description is like that of no other animal. They possess feet that leave enormous and unique impressions in the ground. They have their own cultural traits, perhaps achieved, in part, by borrowing from others; they have their own behaviour that is a consequence of their unique origins, size, and status among the primates.

All that we know of them now can be drawn from the human records of encounters in the wild, the tracks they have left behind, and the knowledge of ethnic groups around the planet who speak in their local histories about these “Big Men”. The last fieldwork conducted by Bernard Heuvelmans, the “father of cryptozoology”, conducted in the jungles of western Malaysia, was intended to verify all the accounts of these wild and hairy men of the region he had accumulated during an exchange of correspondence that had lasted two years. He felt there were gigantic anthropoids still unknown to zoology living in the area. He identified them as most probably Giganto­pithecus, the greatest known primate, which lived around half million years ago in southern China and supposedly became extinct 100,000 years ago.

Let’s be clear from the outset that, despite the tendency of local ethnic groups to call these tall primates “men”, they are most certainly not men (in the sense that they are not Homo sapiens). Gigantopithecus, while they may be perceived as “gigantic men” as opposed to “giant apes”, are nevertheless not to be defined as “human”. The true picture of primate evol­ution includes many branches with sophisticated capabil­ities. The recent discovery of Homo floresiensis in Indonesia is a good example of what we will be finding in the next decades. These Little People of Indonesia are at the other end of the spectrum of primate diversity. They are dwarfish “hobbits” that are now known to have co-existed with humans as recently as 12,000 years ago. The native people of Indonesia still speak of seeing them alive. The discovery of H.floresiensis is becoming a paradigm-busting experience for palæoanthropologists. They are finding this primate had unexpected capabilities, and may have survived into recent times.

When first writing about True Giants nearly 20 years ago, Mark Hall referred to them as “the universal giant”. One of the surprising things to come to light about True Giants is just how universal they have turned out to be. They are known on small island groups like the Comoros in the Indian Ocean. They have been reported as rafting about the Pacific Ocean. The Eskimos of Greenland say they dwell on the edge of that island’s great icecap. The waste areas of Iceland appear to have been inhabited by them in the past.

No one can say precisely where they might still be present today. But we can say – when traditions of such creatures exist even in the Hawaiian Islands – that they have spread around the globe. They have used rafts to travel and their antiquity means that they might well have moved from landmass to landmass long ago, using ancient land bridges and continental configurations. Their level of success might have varied over time depending upon the competition they encountered and the development of their own technological skills. More importantly, perhaps, they might have borrowed from others, such as human beings, who came along later in prehistory.

We have hints of what they were like, handed down from older traditions among tribes of humans, but we also have specific knowledge of them in fossil finds. Those are limited at present to some areas of Asia. Other finds have suffered the fate of being lost and destroyed from lack of any interest or understanding of what they signified. If we can exercise more discretion when future bones of giants turn up in odd places, we will be able to study them and add to our knowledge about how these giants spread through the last several million years to end up where we see them today.

True Giants appear to be present still in many places on the planet. They have been seen in places not so far from where many people are living, quite unaware of them. How do we explain this lack of awareness?

Firstly, the giants have learned to be secretive, for their history is one of being killed ever since humans began to use firearms and other weapons to defend themselves against competitors.

Secondly, this topic has been an unwelcome one in modern times. Our social memory of these creatures has faded rapidly and has been manipulated, psychologically, as well as sociologically. In Giants in Those Days, class­ics professor Walter Stephens of John Hopkins University argued that the modern view of jovial giants has obscured earlier records that presumed the historical reality of giants and the perception of them as aggressive co-inhabitants of Earth.[1]

Four categories of evidence support the presence of giants as living beings around the world, beings which have survived into the modern day, despite their limitations in intellect and the enmity of humankind.

The many giant traditions are one body of evidence to consider. Another is the consistent accounts given by people who have seen giants and given us descriptions of what they observed. A third category of evidence can be found in the tracks left by giants in places where they have been reported.

And, finally, there are fossil remains that show the origin of True Giants. The first description of these fossils attributed them to Gigantopithecus, meaning “Giant Ape.” A later opinion suggested they belonged to Gigantanthropus, or “Giant Man”. We think the latter designation will one day be proven to be the more accurate one.

Between 16 and 10 million years ago, a group of primates, the Eurasian Drypo­pithecines, had evolved. Among them was a man-sized, ape-like creature designated Dryopithecus. It appears to have survived to give rise to the Yeti legend of the Hima­layas. It had a much larger relative, known as Gigantopithecus, known only from jawbones and teeth.[2] Remains of other parts of the body have not, so far as records tell us, survived.

The fossils are rare. They have been identified in China, India, and Vietnam. The first bones of Gigantopithecus to be recognised were obtained by Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald (1902–1982), a German scientist who cultivated the habit of examining the contents of apothecary shops in Java and China. In this way, he was able to spot fossilised bones that had been collected and turned over to druggists, who would grind up these “dragon bones” to create potions. Based only upon his earliest finds of giant teeth, Von Koenigswald suggested that they came from a large ape.[3]

Von Koenigswald’s colleague Franz Weidenreich (1873–1948) re-examined the giant teeth and subsequent finds, arriving at a different conclusion. He thought they were evidence of a giant man and should be called Gigantanthropus.[4] The earlier view has prevailed among most scientists to the present day, so the name used in all discussions has remained Gigantopithecus.

The best way to appreciate the tremendous size of these creatures might be to compare the fossil jawbone with a modern human jawbone. Reconstructions of this animal have depicted it as an oversized gorilla. One model depicted an upright Gigantopithecus as reaching a height of 10ft (3m), although we think that is too short.[5] This creature walked upright most of the time and was unlike a gorilla in most respects. We think it reached the heights attributed to the True Giants, exceeding 10ft. A dead True Giant was once measured to be 13ft (4m) tall; heights of 15 and 20ft (4.6 and 6m) have been reported after more recent sightings.

What makes these soaring attributes seem plausible is that the reported sizes of footprints have also increased accordingly. As reports have told of bigger giants, so have the measurements of the footprints grown.

We would allow that once we get to heights of 20ft we might have reached a size so great that humans would have diffi­culty making an accurate estimate; also, unintended exaggeration might enter the picture and account for these more spectacular reports. However, we wouldn’t want to preclude the poss­ibility of these giants reaching even greater heights. Perhaps there are cases of long-lived True Giants who have exceeded the more common heights of 10 to 20ft among their kind.

People have reported True Giants in North America. This raises object­ions that no fossil remains have been found in the Americas, and that a poss­ible migration into the New World is unlikely. However, there are accounts of gigantic bones having been found in the New World – they were simply poorly handled and lost. Scientists weren’t looking for such evidence and took no interest in the finds when they had a chance to examine them. The history of palæoanthropology in North America has been one of looking for fossil finds within limited parameters of time and species. To stray from those parameters was not “acceptable”, and thus reports of “giant bones” were often excluded from consideration. With an increased vigilance, we can hope that fossil remains will one day be recognised and preserved.

As for the migration issue, there have been major geological changes on the planet such as those in the Pleistocene now recognised. True Giants could have walked from the Old World to the New when a land bridge permitted it. Or they might have rafted their way, as one Latin American tradition has described. As human beings made the journey from the Old World to the New, these other primates probably did the same, and we can speculate that they might have done so even before humans made the move.

Observations of True Giants in modern times have not been frequent, but we can’t really be sure how often they might have been sighted. If, in your headlights one night, you saw a 20ft (6m)-high figure cross the road in front of you, how many people would you tell?

There is plenty of American Indian lore concerning True Giants; they have left their mark in the names given to places in North America. And there are modern reports for them as well, from all over the world. To survive at all, they remain shy of human beings. It is no accident that the detailed observations of these giants are so often made from a distance and that the best records generally come from mountainous areas, just as they do in North America. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, these surviving giants no longer confront human beings if it can be avoided. In rare instances of prolonged visual contact, they have kept their distance from observers. Secondly, in the New World’s Pacific Northwest there has been an unparalleled effort to collect accounts of hairy beings of all kinds. If comparable efforts were made elsewhere, we would be likely to hear of similar matter-of-fact and detailed sightings of True Giants.

Before unwarranted assumptions about the body and the mass of True Giants are made, the many unknowns should be stressed. We don’t know how much of the impressive size of True Giants is only the hairy exterior and what the body beneath the hair is like. We don’t know how efficient this body is, how graceful or awkward it is, what ills it is prone to, and how active or inactive it must be in any one day. The unanswered questions about True Giants are legion, such as the extent of their culture, their speech and language, if any, and even the specifics of their diet. (Their folkloric reputation as “cannibals” should not cloud our perceptions of their diet. To support their size, the giants are probably omni­vorous, eating both plants and animals.)

The teeth of Gigantopithecus are considered to have been adapted to gramini­vorous feeding, such as grinding roots and grass stems.6 The suggestion here is that they also added meat to their diet, if not at an early date, then certainly in recent centuries.

The modern appearances of True Giants are distinguished most often by the unique tracks they leave. Those tracks are enormous and show only four prominent toes. There is sometimes the trace of a fifth toe on the inside of the foot. These giants almost certainly have mammalian limbs, so the bones for five digits are accounted for in some way in the course of their evolution.

The feet of True Giants support a great height and it may be that the hallux (normally a big toe) provides added assistance in balancing their upright stance; it appears to be a smaller toe than the rest and to serve in some auxiliary capacity.

People convinced that they know what “genuine Bigfoot tracks” look like have dismissed such prints. Large, five-toed tracks also exist that can be attributed to creatures known as Neo-Giants, which grow no taller than 9ft in height. True Giants are something different and their tracks typically show only four prominent toes.

An old saying has it that the map is not the same thing as the land it shows. We should also bear in mind that “the track is not the foot”. An impression left in a medium of sand, soil or snow does not show us the structure of the foot; it is merely a disturbance made by the motion of the foot. Impressions can be incomplete, as when running or walking on tiptoes. Four-toed tracks are another case altogether. The impression shows us the result of the evolution of the primate foot to carry a creature the size of the True Giants. The foot is flat and broad, and sometimes has only four apparent toes of similar size. Its width is one-half of the total length of the foot. The fifth toe has become vestigial, or might even be absent in some tracks.

The same tendency toward a broad foot with fewer digits is apparent in the Yeti track. The Yeti is a squat and bulky creature that can be associated with Dryopithecine origins. It has a broad track that has nearly evolved to the point of appearing to have only three toes. This is because three of the toes have become so small and bunched that they appear to be almost one toe. There was early confusion about the number of toes on this type of track when it was first described in Asia.

The best records of True Giant tracks have been preserved in North America. Examples have been reported at Cold Lake, Alberta (10x21in / 25x53cm), in June 1976; Snoqualmie, Washington (8x17in / 20x43cm), in January 1976; and outside Astoria, Oregon (7½ x 17in / 18x43cm), in December 1977. A graph of the widths and the lengths of these tracks show a consistent average slope line running from a point of 3½ x 9in (8.9x23cm) to the point of 12x24in (30x61cm).

There has been no direct evidence to link Gigantopithecus with the four-toed tracks and the True Giants of folklore. The large imprints with four big toes and one toe on the side have been found and associated with the Orang Dalam, which looks like a living embodiment of Gigantopithecus.

If we have more contemporary evidence of True Giants from North America than elsewhere, that’s because more effort has been made to gather the records of encounters there. But now that record could be eclipsed by close studies of giants in Southeast Asia. The surviving descendants of Gigantopithecus have been identified in Europe, Asia, and North America as upright and lean near-men of spectacular height. Those who wish to see proof of the existence of giants need only examine the jawbones and teeth of this fossil type. Many other alleged bones and skulls of giants could be mentioned, but they were found centuries before the advent of the physical anthropologist and were not preserved.

Giants have been interpreted as personifications of natural phenomena, as older gods in conflict with newer ones, and as demons from a realm of the dead. Regarding another view of giants, that they were some kind of giant man, mythologist John A MacCulloch has this to say: “They have been regarded as an earlier and wilder race of men, with stone weapons, opposed to the more cultured race which uses the plough… The wilder traits of giants suggest a savage race, but the theory does not explain the universal belief in giants nor the great stature ascribed to them.”[7]

The stature of giants is explained by their identity as a different genus of primate (i.e., Gigantopithecus). The “universal” nature of giants could be explained by the following hypothesis: that the distribution of “giant men” is nearly coincident with the dispersal of human beings around the globe, and the success of True Giants was based on their skill in mimicking the cultures of human beings. In clothing, language, and subsistence patterns they may have done well by copying the models they observed in neighbouring humans.

The brains of these giants combined with their physical skills gave them the capacity to live like human beings, communicate with humans, and adapt to the world’s varied climates, from the frigid north to the equatorial regions. The giants were success­ful in ways that human beings demon­strated first. What we know about True Giants suggests to us three phases of their interaction with human beings. The first phase tells us of ancient times when giants lived like humans and shared the language and culture of the smaller and weaker men and women. The giants’ abilities allowed them to spread across the globe, just like their smaller relatives. The extent of giant penetration into Africa and South America is still problematic, although this situation may only reflect our collective inattention to the subject in those regions.

The next phase is that of a schism between the species. True Giants may have been too successful at the art of mimicry. With their superior size, they would have been perceived, after all, as somewhat menacing. They had great appetites and were competing with humans for the same food and living space. They were notorious for resorting to cannibalism. This particular “cannibalism” always involved the eating of humans as opposed to eating other giants. Many humans regarded them as ugly and stupid. Perhaps the giants’ numbers increased to a point that alarmed and threatened their smaller neighbours.

A second cause comes to mind for such a schism in this phase. True Giants may have lacked the capacity to advance culturally along with human beings. In ancient times, the lives of our ancestors were harsh and crude in comparison to our modern existence. But while our ancestors shared a harsh and primitive world with True Giants, cultural change may have exaggerated the primitive and unattractive traits of the giants as viewed by humans. The advances made by humans would have increased the differences between the two groups. The consequence of this ‘falling out’ in phase two was the deaths of many giants at the hands of human giant-killers.

The third phase of relations is the removal of True Giants to a reclusive life in remote locations. Today’s giants may be regarded as primitive in contrast to their own ancestors. They might be said to have degenerated, because the cultural borrowing they once relied on is now denied them. However, they might, arguably, be smarter than their ancestors, because they have learned to avoid confronting human beings.

The giants we believe are surviving today are all remote dwellers in mountains and other areas unfrequented by humans.

It is possible – even likely – that the three phases described above were acted out all over the globe. Our knowledge of the European experience – familiarity, conflict, and finally estrangement between humans and giants – may simply reflect the better record-keeping and the accessibility of these records in European languages. Civilis­ations that rose and fell in many parts of the world may have had similar interactions with the giants.

Today, the last phase is universal. Giants survive as remote occupants of the least hospitable terrain on the major continents. Holding out against extinction, they are perhaps the fittest of their species and not necessarily the ‘stupid’ creatures defeated by our ancestors.

It is time to venture behind the “ridicule curtain” that has protected True Giants from scrutiny in modern times and try to learn more about these creatures still reported to roam the world’s remote woods and mountains.

Edited and adapted from the book True Giants: Is Gigantopithecus Still Alive? by Mark A Hall and Loren Coleman, published by Anomalist Books (www.anomalistbooks.com).

1 He writes: “A relatively quick experiment in the cultural history of the Giant can be made by observing the evolution since 1878 of the entry ‘Giant’ in the Encyclopædia Britannica. Even well-read people of today may be perplexed to see the foremost general encyclopædia indulging in discussions of ‘the conception of giants as special races distinct from mankind’… The same information may be found as late as 1911, except that the Britannica then included inform­ation on a pioneering study published in 1904 by two French researchers, who had demonstrated the scientific impossibility that Giants ever existed. In fact, Pierre-Emile Launois and Pierre Roy’s Etudes biologiques sur les géants can be said to have accomplished the scientific demythification of the Giant.”
2 Franz Weidenreich: Apes, Giants and Man, University of Chicago Press, 1946, pp57–61; Michael Day: Guide to Fossil Man, 1st ed., World, New York, 1965, pp262–7; Elwyn Simons & Peter Ettel: “Gigantopithecus”, Scient­ific American 222(l), pp76–85; and Robert Eckhardt: “Population Genetics and Human Origins”, Scientific American 226 (1), pp94–103. Summary treatments of Gigantopithecus appear in such books as David Pilbeam: The Ascent of Man, Macmillan, New York, 1972, pp86–89 and Frank E Poirier: Fossil Man: An Evolutionary Journey, Mosby, St. Louis, 1973, pp46–48.
3 GH Ralph von Koenigswald: Meeting Prehistoric Man, Harper, New York, 1956, p59.
4 Franz Weidenreich, op. cit.
5 Russell L Ciochon: “The Ape That Was”, Natural History 160, 11/91, pp54–63.
6 Simons & Ettel, op.cit., pp81–82.
7 John A MacCulloch: “Eddic Myth­ology” in Vol. II of LH Gray, ed: Myth­ology of All Races, Boston: 1916, pp275–84.

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True Giants - mundus

Illustration from Mundus Subterraneus, 1678.

  True Giants - statue

A lifesize statue based on Gigantopithecus fossils, Germany.

  True Giants - loh sketch

Peter Loh's sketch from an eyewitness's drawing of the Orang Dalam.

True Giants - william munns

William Munns with his model of Gigantopithecus blacki.

  True Giants - jawbones comparison

Comparison of jawbones from Gigantopithecus fossils and Homo sapiens.

True Giants - replica

Replica of Gigantopithecus fossil mandible.
Courtesy Lehigh Valley Museum of Natural History

  True Giants - footprints

Footprints, Mississippi, 1976
Lee Ann Taylor

Author Biography
Mark A Hall and Loren Coleman have both been active researchers and authors in cryptozoology and other fortean fields for decades now. They were first introduced by Ivan T Sanderson in 1969 and have remained friends and colleagues ever since. Hall’s books include 'Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds' and Coleman’s books include 'Mysterious America, Curious Encounters', and 'Field Guide To Bigfoot, Yeti and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide'.


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