Fairy lore around the world is remarkable for its uniformity between countries, cultures and times. What are the reasons for this? Are these stories just that — stories? Are the tales passed down from generation to generation to explain the unknown or to persuade children to behave in certain ways? Or are they something else? "What is remarkable about fairy belief," wrote Marc Alexander, "is that it survived so vigorously for so long, especially as it had no organized structure to support it, unlike orthodox beliefs. It outlasted other aspects of folklore, and when witches ceased to be feared fairies were still respected."1
In 2004, a remarkable discovery was made which may shed light on this perplexing question. On the isolated Indonesian island of Flores a cave yielded the remains of half a dozen "little people" — described as Hobbit-sized (or, more accurately, only half the size of modern humans), that had existed on the island for some 95,000 years. It is possible that for 30,000 of those years they occupied the area alongside Homo sapiens — modern humans. Chief paleontologist Teuku Jacob, of the University of Gajah Mada, believes that these people are, in reality, a sub-species of modern man and that the small skull is suggestive of "mental defects"2 rather than an indication of a separate human species.
1. Alexander, Marc. A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited 2002, 91.
2. Santoso, Dewi and M. Taufiqurrahman. "Archaeologists divided over 'Homo flore-siensis" in The Jakarta Post, October 30, 2004.
Other research indicates that Jacob is incorrect and that a race, or species, of human beings with a sophisticated technology and social structure and complex mental abilities survived for thousands of years.3 Regardless of whose theory is correct the fact that these small people probably lived an autonomous existence alongside their bigger human brothers and sisters gives credence to the theory that they may be the basis for many of the fairy stories around the world — and their existence suggests that similar groups may have existed on other continents. Another scientist, Bert Roberts, said, "the new skeleton sounded remarkably similar to the Ebu Gogo, strange hairy little people that legend says lived on Flores".4 The cave also yielded skeletal remains of pygmy elephant and komodo dragons. These little people had amazingly small brains but they made fire, stone weapons and hunted in groups. Due to the fact that the island was not connected to the mainland, they evidently also mastered water travel in rafts or small boats.
Geological records indicate that this group of humans may have been eradicated around 11-12,000 years ago when a massive volcano erupted on the island. Evidently, other archaeological discoveries show that the next group of modern humans to arrive on the island showed up around that time, after the volcanic eruption. However, island folklore tells a different story. According to Bert Roberts, an anthropologist with the University of Wol-longong in New South Wales, Australia, "The stories suggest that there may be more than a grain of truth to the idea that they were still living on Flores up until the Dutch arrived in the 1500s. The stories suggest they lived in caves. The villagers would leave gourds with food out for them to eat, but legend has it these were the guests from hell — they'd eat everything, including the gourds!"5
Representatives of the Indonesian Archaeologists Association believe that the group of skeletal remains proves that ancient humans, in many forms, migrated around the world.6
Debate continues in the scientific community between those who believe the small statured people are a distinct species and those who feel that the skeletons are anomalous examples of Homo sapiens. According to Dr. Robert D. Martin, primatologist and Provost of the Chicago Field Museum, "a far more likely explanation is that the bones belonged to a modern human who suffered from microcephaly, a pathological condition that causes small brain size, often associated with short stature."7 This seems unlikely, however, as multiple skeletons have been found of such small size humans. According to Martin, the cranial size is too small to have been derived from Homo erectus
3. Morwood, Mike & et al. "The People Time Forgot" in National Geographic, April 2005, 12.
5. Onion, Amanda. "Scientists Find Ancient Hobbit-Sized People". ABC News October 27, 2004, www.abcnews.go.Technology.
7. "'Hobbit' claims lose ring of truth" in The Geological Society of London Geology News, http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/template.cfm?name=Flores 5/20/06
through "normal dwarfing." He also states that the stone tools found were too advanced to have been made by any other than Homo sapiens.
Other scientists believe that these small hominids did make advanced looking tools and that the size of the brain has little to do with innate intelligence. In fact, according to Adam Brumm of the Australian National University in Canberra, tools dating back more than 800,000 years on Flores indicates that the little people inherited tool making abilities from their ancient ancestors.8 The argument that the tools must have been made by modern humans is one commonly given when discussing any find that is out of the ordinary. The creature's origin may not have been from Homo erectus at all but was, in fact, a totally distinct evolutionary branch. And, as most traditional scientist would say, something that appears to be "advanced" in tool making cannot possibly have been created by anything less than modern man. The final chapter in this debate will not be written for sometime.
This discovery has all of the elements of traditional Fairy lore. These people are exceptionally small (and not related to contemporary pygmy tribes of Africa), lived in caves, hunted and fought with dragons and received propitiations from the local residents who regarded them with fear and attributed to them supernatural characteristics. They also co-existed with "modern man" perhaps as recently as 200-500 years ago. Such co-existence would certainly have inspired much folklore. The enigma of other types of humans, large or small (and other creatures, for that matter), infrequently encountered and mysterious, would surely have left a lasting impression. If indeed such remnant peoples did co-exist with modern man, and if they had preserved rituals and skills that modern man lacked, that would add fuel to the tales and be a convenient explanation for the odd fact that so much Fairy-lore describes similar creatures with the same characteristics.
It has been theorized that the human race originally had one language. That would have fostered the spread of customs and customary explanations for the world (including what we now call myths). As writer Mike Mor-wood with the National Geographic said, "It's breathtaking to think that modern humans may still have a folk memory of sharing the planet with another species of human, like us but unfathomably different."9 Such a possibility, though the scientific evidence for it is lacking, remains highly attractive to the human imagination.
Another Indonesian mystery involves a creature called the orangpendek, or "little person." Described as a species of "tiny, bipedal primate" that may live in the mountains of Indonesia around the Seblat National Park in Sumatra, the orang pendek is reportedly the size of a small child, covered in brown, grey or black fur, with a hairless face and large teeth. Said by the locals to run upright, no one has been able to photograph it, despite numerous attempts with camera traps. Plaster casts have been presented, purporting to represent its
8. "Scientists link tools to ancient 'hobbits'", Reuters http://www.msnbc.msn.com/ id/13065961 May 31, 2006
foot and hand prints, however. Even as expeditions are being launched to verify the tale, it is feared that the extensive logging in the Indonesian forests will destroy its habitat and thereby the creatures chances of survival.10
Native American lore in itself is specific about the existence of such a population that pre-dated the arrival of the Indian. The Mohegan Indians, who lived between the Thames and the Connecticut Rivers in what is now Connecticut, spoke of a race of "little men" that had originally occupied the territory that the Mohegan came to know as home. According to legend, this race of men had pretty much become extinct by the time the Pequot tribe worked their way down from the Hudson River area to the Sound area of Connecticut.
"Little was seen of them by the Indians," according to historian Terri Hardin, "and less was known, until after the disruption of a fractious band under Uncas, prior to 1630 These are the tribal accounts. It seems then that before long the newcomers, the Mohegans, discovered that another people, a smaller and lighter people, were the rightful tenants of their adopted home. And from this period date the original memoirs relating to the mysterious originals."11
Those few that were seen by the Mohegans were probably the last of the race, "leaving nothing but weird reminders in the shape of a few relics and memories among the Mohegans."12 Those "relics" include groups of dwarf sized bones that have been washed or plowed up, some exhibiting "inscriptions claimed by the Indians to have been carved not by themselves, but by some 'other people'."13
Like the Little People of Flores, this group of people may have also survived in the world until approximately 300 years ago.
Nineteenth-century antiquarian Caleb Atwater wrote that excavators of the various mound structures near the Coneaught River in Ohio found evidence of a smaller race of people:
"My informant says, within this work are sometimes found skeletons of a people of small stature, which, if true, sufficiently identifies it to have belonged to that race of men who erected our tumuli."14 Atwater goes on to say:
"The skeletons found in our mounds never belonged to a people like our Indians. The latter are a tall, rather slender, strait limbed people; the former were short and thick. They were rarely over five feet high.."15
10. "Expeditions" in National Geographic, March 2006, Vol. 209, No. 3, 26
11. Hardin, Terri, ed. Legends & Lore of the American Indians. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc. 1993, 80.
14. Atwater, Caleb. Description oftheAntiquities Discovered in the State ofOhio and Other Western States. Ohio: American Antiquarian Society 1820, 125.
Atwater, of course, was unaware of the large diversity of Native populations and ethnic groups that later anthropologists and archaeologists have documented.
Stories similar to other legends of Little People around the world speak of them as running along the banks of rivers or through the forests. They reportedly had the ability to become invisible so that they could take what they wanted from their larger neighbors, unseen.
Similar legends exist among the Iroquois as well that tell of Little Men who act as protectors of deer and other game animals and who have the ability to appear or disappear at will.
The indigenous occupants of Japan, the Ainu, have similar tales of an ancient race of tiny men. An interesting tale recorded in an old book on primitive man sums up the Ainu legend. The Ainu "have a tradition...of a race of dwarfs who used to live in their country, whom their ancestors finally drove out. These dwarfs, they say, belonged in the Stone Age and occupied the pits which archaeologists have investigated all over northern Japan. These people were so small, the Ainu claim, that as many as ten of them could be sheltered under one burdock leaf [approximately four feet across] during a shower."16
Another legend concerning "little people" in unusual circumstances also comes from Asia. According to Michael Bradley the story originated in 1938 when Professor Chi Pu Tei of Beijing University discovered the first of 716 grooved stone discs while surveying a network of caves in mountains on the border of China and Tibet. The remainder of the discs was found in a return expedition made in 1965. The discs are nine inches in diameter and each one has a continuous spiral groove "of almost microscopic hieroglyphs."17 The caves in which the discs were found were reportedly man-made and appeared as if they had been constructed with extreme heat. Inside the caves were a series of burials. The skeletons that were unearthed were of "tiny bodies less than four feet long with oversized heads." The discs, and burials have been dated by other Chinese scholars as being over 12,000 years old. According to local lore, "small men with thin yellow faces and bright blue eyes" came down from the clouds and were met by local tribes that hunted them down. "The area around the caves," according to Bradley, "is still occupied by two tribes. . Anthropologically they are neither Chinese nor Tibetan." "Both tribes," Bradley continues, "measure between three-feet six-inches and four-feet seven-inches and are yellow skinned, with thin bodies, disproportionately large heads, and bright blue eyes."18 Supposedly, according to Bradley, in 1995 China claimed that yet another tribe of "little people" had been located in the same mountains of Baian-Kara-Ula. The smallest adult reportedly was only two-feet one-inch in height.
16. Cole, Mabel Cook and Fay-Cooper Cole. The Story of Primitive Man: His Earliest Appearance and Development. Chicago: University of Knowledge, Inc. 1938, 339.
17. Bradley, Michael. Guide to the World's Greatest Treasures. New York: Barnes & Noble 2005, 69.
This "legend" is presented by Bradley with no ethnographic or physical evidence; most of the information is credited to the "Ancient Astronaut Society." The Dropa story is told and retold on UFO and alien conspiracy web pages without any collaborative evidence and it has taken its place in the world's urban mythology.
Of course, even today there are "pygmies" that fit many of these stories. Pygmies live today in the Congo, the Andaman Islands, the Malay Peninsula, New Guinea and the Philippines. And, while all of these groups have been living apart from each other for thousands of years, they share many physical and social customs that suggest, perhaps, that pygmies were much more common around the world in the distant past. Perhaps the people of Flores and these other groups gave rise to the vast amount of fairy lore that is still a matter of wonder around the world.
As noted in Chapter 4, stories of gigantic beings are common around the world — found in most every remote corner and among most all cultures. Are giants simply an easy explanation for the creation of the magnificent natural features of the world? Nigel Pennick wrote that the primal giant "makes the fabric of the world: his bones become the rocks, his blood the rivers and seas, his hair the plants and his skull the firmament. The giant demonstrates the relationship between the parts of our body and the structure of the world. It is an image of our oneness with the world."19
Giants were written of in the Old Testament, which many people accepted in lieu of history before the development of archeology and other scientific methods of inquiry. The first mention of giants occurs in Genesis 6:4:
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old.
This particular passage would seem to indicate that the giants were the "sons of god" which is similar to other tales of giants from the Old World that equate them to a deity-like status.
The next passage pertaining to giants is Numbers 13:33. In this one, Hebrew spies sent to Canaan reported, "And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight."
Joshua reports that one of the ancient kings who ruled over the vast fertile plains east of the Sea of Galilee, by the name of Og, "was of the remnant of the giants, that dwelt at Ashtaroth..." Og's bed was reportedly "nine cubits" in length (one cubit is 18-22 inches, so the bed was from 13.5 to 16.5 feet long). Og's capital city was Ashtaroth which was named for the god
19. Pennick, Nigel. Celtic Sacred Landscapes. London: Thames and Hudson 1996, 20.
dess of the same name. Joshua refers to the lands of Og as the "valley of the ™ 20 giants".20
Throughout the Old Testament the giants are pursued and engaged in battle by the Hebrews and usually slain, although the New Compact Bible Dictionary claims "Giants terrorized the Israelites from their entry into Canaan until the time of David."21
While much of the Bible is religious propaganda and reworked mythology from other peoples, much of it also reflects historical accounts of events that took place thousands of years ago. How much is fact-based and how much is added by the story tellers remains a mystery.
Ethnologist James Mooney wrote of a story related by an aged Cherokee woman: ".a party of giants had come once to visit the Cherokee. They were nearly twice as tall as common men, and their eyes set slanting in their heads, so that the Cherokee called them. 'The Slant-eyed people,'...They said that these giants lived very far away in the direction in which the sun goes down. The Cherokee received them as friends, and they stayed some time, and then returned to their home in the west."22
Harvey Nettleton, an early settler of Ohio, wrote the following account of burials excavated in some of the mounds located near Conneaut, Ohio in 1844. This account was featured in the weekly Geneva Times during the late 1860s:
The mounds that were situated in the eastern part of what is now the village of Conneaut and the extensive burying ground near the Presbyterian Church, appear to have had no connection with the burying places of the Indians. They doubtless refer to a more remote period and are the relics of an extinct race, of whom the Indians had no knowledge.
These mounds were of comparatively small size, and of the same general character of those that are widely scattered over the country. What is most remarkable concerning them is that among the quantity of human bones they contain, there are found specimens belonging to men of large stature, and who must have been nearly allied to a race of giants.
Skulls were taken from these mounds, the cavities of which were of sufficient capacity to admit the head of an ordinary man, and jaw-bones that might be fitted on over the face with equal facility. The bones of the arms and lower limbs were of the same proportions, exhibiting ocular proof of the degeneracy of the human race since the period in which these men occupied the soil which we now inhabit."
While many stories of giant skeletons may be attributed to excavated dinosaur and mammoth bones, there are those few that give credence to the
21. Bryant, T. Alton. Ed. The New Compact Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House 1967, 198
22. Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1995, 391. A reprint of the 1900 publication "Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1897-98.
possibilities of a race of giants in the ancient past through modern times. Rupert T. Gould relates one of the original reports in his book, Enigmas:
"A True Report of Hugh Hodson, of Thorneway, in Cumberland, to Sr. Robert Cewell, of a gyant found at S. Bees, in Cumb'land. Gould reportedly took this quote from Jefferson's History and Antiquities of Allerdale above Derwent.
"The said gyant was buried 4 yards deep in the ground, weh is now a corn feild (sic). He was 4 yards and a half long, and was in complete armour, his sword and battle-axe lying by him. His sword was two spans broad, and more than 2 yards long. The head of his battle-axe a yard long, and the shaft of it all of iron, as thick as a man's thigh, and more than 2 yards long.
"His teeth were six inches long, and 2 inches broad; his forehead was more than 2 spans and a half broad. His chine bone could contain 3 pecks of oatmeal. His armour, sword, and battle-axe are at Mr. Sand's, of Redington, and at Mr. Wyber's, at St. Bees."23
Tales of giants living in Patagonia were generated by Magellan's expedition in 1520. According to one of Magellan's companions, a giant sized man was seen on the beach in June of 1520: "This man," reported the sailor, "was so tall that our heads scarcely came up to his waist, and his voice was like that of a bull."24
Other explorers such as Sir Frances Drake, Harrington, Carmen, and Commodore Byron also reported encountering gigantic men in the same area. Some of these men were said to be from 9 to 10 feet in height.
There were serious discussions and disagreements about these giants as well as a great deal of confusion. Early 20th century ethnologist John M. Cooper noted that "A 'River of the Giants' is marked on some of the maps posterior to 1641 as situated well south of Taitao Peninsula. [There seems to be enough evidence] to establish a good presumption that the 1641 expedition encountered the Indians mentioned above in the Gulf of Peñas region. These natives were reported to be of gigantic stature and to have fought with clubs and stones. They were nicknamed 'Gabiotas,' that is, 'gulls,' by the members of the expedition, on account of a fancied resemblance of their strange speech to the call of this bird."25 In fact, their language was not understood by the expeditionary members and it was noted at the time that it was different from the speech of other Indian groups.
Cooper, however, wrote, "No concrete measurements were taken Moreover, reports of giants are too common a feature of early Magellanic literature to be taken very seriously."26 Cooper continues to write of the contradictory
23. Gould, Rupert T. Enigmas: Another Book of Unexplained Facts. New Hyde Park: University Books 1965, 16. A reprint of the 1945 edition.
25. Cooper, John M. Analytical and Critical Bibliography of the Tribes of Tierra Del Fuego and Adjacent Territory. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 63. Washington: Smithsonian Institution 1917, 123.
nature of these early reports: "In fact [they]...are elsewhere described as of middle stature."27
However, there were other characteristics that indicated that the giants were of an entirely different race. They had beards which no other tribe around did and, in fact, Cooper notes "bearded men are not reported by other expeditions to Southern Chilean waters."28
Early explorers also described these giants as "somewhat white-skinned" which is contrary to the skin color of the other Indian groups in the area.
Earlier, more fantastical tales were told by Sir John Mandeville who wrote of a race of giants living on an island beyond the Ganges Valley in his book published in 1356, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville:
Beyond that valley is a great isle where the folk are as big in stature as giants of twenty-eight or thirty feet tall. They have no clothes to wear except the skins of beasts, which they cover their bodies with. They eat no bread; but they eat raw flesh and drink milk, for there is an abundance of animals. .they will more readily eat human flesh than any other. .if they see a ship in the sea with men aboard, they will wade into the sea to take the men. We were told that there is another isle beyond that where there are giants much bigger than these, for some are fifty or sixty feet tall some men have often seen those giants catch people in the sea and go back to the land with two in one hand and two in the other, eating their flesh raw.29
It is obvious that Sir John was repeating some of the urban legends of his time; however, there have been massive, gigantic hominids in the past such as Gigantopithicus that may have survived as recently as 100,000 years ago, crossing paths with early man, Homo erectus. Could that have been enough to sow the seeds for much of the folklore surrounding giants around the world? It remains a possibility that a race of "giants," people who were larger than their neighbors or in some way physically out of the ordinary, did exist among the more "normal" human populations of the earth. However, physical evidence of communities of such a race have never been discovered. The folklore could have grown up around this theme in an attempt to create a hero persona in some cultures. Are stories such as the Biblical stories of the Valley of Giants and Cherokee legend of the visiting giants just intended as history, or a bit of "self-puffery," history with a spin to make the listeners feel that great odds were overcome? Much of the world's myths speak of extraordinary events and people overcoming tremendous odds and giants would fit nicely into this pattern.
Supposedly other archaeological evidence for giants exists, including the Glen Rose tracks. Several human-like tracks have been found in a Cretaceous limestone formation near Glen Rose, Texas. Many appear to be of giant men. The Glen Rose tracks are 15 inches long [38.1 cm], and theoretically were made by people 8.3 feet tall. Some, 21/ inches [54.6 cm] long, would have
29. Mandeville, Sir John. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Translated by C.W.R.D. Moseley. London: Penguin Books 1983, 175.
been made by people 11.8 feet tall. Of course, there are innumerable possible explanations for such a find; they could even be a form of "cave art" left by the local (ordinary) humans. Giant ground sloth have also been mis-identified as gigantic hominids, and their tracks are also found in fossilized form.
There are a number of documented cases of gigantism over the years. Gigantism can result from the overproduction of growth hormone during childhood or adolescence. The arms and legs grow especially long, and it is not unknown for an individual's height to surpass 2.4 m (8 ft). Gigantism is caused by a pituitary tumor that, if untreated, usually kills the patient by early adulthood. Physical characteristics may include some deformity and weakened musculature. However, if these conditions can be caused by pituitary imbalances, it seems possible that isolated populations became gigantic through selective breeding. The world has witnessed gigantic animals throughout time that lived successfully without these physical faults — why not humans? Again, one would be delighted if archeological traces could be found.
Early natural historian Charles Hamilton Smith noted some true giants in history. "The emperor Maximinus exceeded eight feet; Gabarus, an Arabian, in the time of Claudius, was nine feet nine inches high; he was shown at Rome. In the reign of Augustus, Pusio and Secondilla were ten feet three inches in height. the Emperor Andronicus was ten feet high, according to Nicetas...Charlemagne, seven feet."30 And, as Smith sums up, "Without, therefore, vouching for the exact measurements here given, we have still sufficient evidence to show, that even in recent times, men of high stature, and of immense strength, have been historically conspicuous."31 Much of the research from Smith's era is being re-examined in a modern light, however. Heros are often depicted as oversize characters, "larger than life," in art, history and in popular story-telling. It would be naive to pretend that symbolic exaggerations did not occur.
Still, history is full of anecdotal lore about true giants. One of these is Aymon, a member of Archduke Ferdinand's bodyguard. According to historian Dr. C. J. S. Thompson, he "was said to have been 11 feet in height, but he did not live much beyond his fortieth year. A wooden image of this giant was preserved in the Castle of Ambras in the Tyrol."32 Giants were a favorite of the kings and queens of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, who employed them as door attendants, servants and guards.
Yeti, Sasquatch and Yowie — What Do They Have in Common?
The ancient hominid Gigantopithicus was mentioned above as a possible source for many of the tales of giants around the world. Supposedly, this
30. Smith, Charles Hamilton. The Natural History of the Human Species. Edinburgh: W.H. Lizars 1848, 139
32. Thompson, Dr. C.J.S. Mystery and Lore of Monsters. New York: Barnes & Noble 1994, 142
creature, according to Richard Leakey, "was the ancestor of some apparently very large terrestrial apes of Asia that became extinct."33
Fossil remains of this hominid have been found throughout Asia and, while Leakey states that it was "about the size of a modern gorilla"34, the size of its skull indicates otherwise. The skull is almost twice as large as a modern gorilla's skull.
Some researchers have speculated that this creature was more humanlike than most archaeologists have allowed. Although there is little evidence, the idea has been posed that the legends of the Sasquatch of North America, Yeti of Tibet and the Yowie of Australia refer to examples of small groups of living Gigantopithicus humanoids. "Yowie" means "Great Hairy Man" and it has most of the same characteristics of the other two mysterious creatures.
However, this cannot be the source for all of the tales of Giant Men. The Cherokee tale of the visiting giants described them as being social and civilized — speaking and living with the Cherokee for some time. Likewise, the giants of Patagonia were often involved in meetings with the European explorers. We would not expect a Gigantopithicus individual to be so agreeable or conversant!
As new and remarkable discoveries are made every day, we cannot dismiss anything out of the ordinary simply because it does not fit the established mold that scientists have been able to piece together. Unusual findings, discoveries that do not fit with accepted "facts," may suggest the model is wrong and that we still have a long way to go to understand the universe and the rich past — a past that still awaits our exploration.
33. Leakey, Richard E. Origins. New York: E.P. Dutton 1977, 56.
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