The Elusive Giants of Ancient Arkansas

Beaver Lake

In a recent news headline written for Fort Smith, Arkansas’ 5 News Online, reporter Aubry Killion credulously declares, “Diver Finds Evidence Showing Giants Lived in Arkansas.” The headline is as sensational as it is factually incorrect. The diver in question, Mike Young of Fort Smith, did not actually find any evidence corroborating his extraordinary claim that giants once lived in what is now an Arkansas lake.

Mike Young believes that human giants once existed in the distant past. His pseudo-historical and pseudoscientific disposition is interestingly allied to similar beliefs stemming from religious fantasy. Many people of the biblical inerrancy persuasion, who believe the Bible is entirely inerrant and accurate in all its details, have convinced themselves that giants indeed once existed, since the Bible mentions giants in several passages. Believers in such things were not shy about making this biblical connection in the comments section of Killion’s 5 News article:

Killion Article Comments Section

The giant-hunting diver describes what he found in Beaver Lake:

Young said no skeletons were found this time. He said there is strong evidence human giants lived in the area that is now Arkansas. Young came across a wall that he said was man-made.

“This cave also had a flowing spring in it, which would have been an ideal shelter,” Young said.

Well, of course no skeletal remains or other hard scientific evidence was found. If such evidence was discovered, we would be hearing about it from dozens of reputable paleontologists and archaeologists who would be visiting the lake in droves. All we are given is Young’s fanciful interpretation of what he saw in lieu of any hard data. And tellingly enough, the video accompanying the 5 News article does not even treat us to this “man-made” wall and flowing spring that Young speaks of.

Searching for That Which Never Existed

Young’s dive into Beaver Lake was filmed and will be featured in a new television series presented by the misleadingly-titled History Channel. The show is titled Search for the Lost Giants and premieres November 4, 2014. In the History Channel’s sneak peek preview of the show, we hear host Jim Vieira say in a voiceover, “There are giant skeleton reports all over this area. We’re going to get to the bottom of it no matter what. It may sound like science fiction, but I believe in giants.” Following is the description for Search for the Lost Giants from the History Channel’s website:

Stonemasons Jim and Bill Vieira are on a quest to investigate an incredible theory: that the myths and legends we’ve all been told about giants are actually rooted in fact. Jim has researched over 1,000 accounts of skeletons seven feet tall or over unearthed across America in the 19th and 20th centuries. SEARCH FOR THE LOST GIANTS will follow the Vieira brothers on their quest to find evidence of these missing bones, which seem to have slipped through the hands of history. They’ll dig for secret chambers, explore underground tunnels and dive into the deepest museum storage vaults–all to find that one bone, that one hair, that single strand of giant DNA that will answer the question: did giants walk the Earth?

If nothing else, Jim Vieira at least understands that he needs to produce actual skeletal remains in order to satisfy us skeptics. I for one would love to see the bones of a giant and would even be excited to learn that the existence of giants had been verified by hard data and peer review. Archaeologist Ken Feder of Central Connecticut State University is quoted by Robert Darrow in a Pioneer magazine article as saying, “I’ve been digging for 30 years and I have never found the bones of a giant human being. Ever. It’s very easy to silence skeptics like me by producing the skeletons.”

But I am not holding my breath, and neither are any other skeptics. Vieira has failed to impress any professional community with his research, and if the prolonged absence of any evidence is any indication, his “quest” is an exercise in futility. He has been embarrassingly frustrated before in his attempts to bring his views into mainstream acceptance. Back in late 2012, Jim Vieira was invited to give a talk for TEDx, the local and independently-organized version of the popular international TED conference series. The title of his lecture was “Stone Builders, Mound Builders and the Giants of Ancient America.” Shortly after this talk appeared online, the TEDx organizers were criticized by their fact checkers and viewers for failing to properly vet their science speakers and for allowing Vieira to appear on the program. The critics came down especially hard on Vieira for promoting pseudoscience. As a result of the outcry, TEDx removed the video of Vieira’s speech from their official YouTube channel (a bootleg version of the video is still available on YouTube at this writing).

Stacy Kontrabecki, curator of the Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts TEDx program, wrote an open letter to Vieira explaining why they decided to disassociate themselves from his talk:

Basically, TED’s fact check found that your talk is based on a debunked popular hoax from the early 1900s and promotes a well-known and widely discredited fringe theory, while misrepresenting the existence of legitimate research on this issue. (TED/TEDx is not a platform that allows unsubstantiated claims to be put forward as science.)

Kontrabecki goes on to provide a series of eight specific instances in which Vieira made unsubstantiated or factually incorrect claims in his talk. I will share just three examples here:

At 4:19 — You mention carbon-dating but do not specify what was carbon-dated. You cannot carbon-date stone. Again at 6:00.

At 9:15 — You share newspaper clippings from the 19th century, including quotes from Abraham Lincoln, and claim they are evidence of giants. In fact, as one of our experts writes, “Skeletal hoaxes were common in the 19th century (e.g., Piltdown Man, the Cardiff Giant, and Barnum & Bailey Fiji mermaids . . . If (and this is a big if) the 8-foot skeleton is real, it could be a case of medical gigantism, but it is more likely a case of exaggeration.”

At 12:49 — “Bones crumbled away because they weren’t mummified.” Skeletal preservation and mummification are unrelated processes. Plenty of skeletons survive in New England, and the disappearance of any and all skeletons that could lend evidence to these claims today is highly suspect. 

The History Channel’s Search for the Lost Giants show is bound to be just as unimpressive as Vieira’s shoddy and laughable methodology of basing his search for evidence on a bunch of sensational newspaper clippings and anecdotal stories from a time when archaeology was a highly undisciplined and undeveloped science, hoaxes were rampant, and yellow journalism was in vogue. The title of the show is a thinly-veiled euphemism for “Searching for the Nonexistent.” The show can only appeal to those who, like the Vieira brothers, want to believe that giants really existed.

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