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Giants in West Virginia

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Legends of giants in West Virginia is not new. It has been theorized that a giant rests below the mound at Indian Mound Cemetery and according to some, this is not the only one. It has also been theorized that the mound of Grave Creek Mounds in Moundsville, WV house the remains of giants.

As legend goes, in 1889 the South Branch of the Potomac flooded. As the waters receded, numerous skeletons were uncovered. Of these skeletons, there were giant bones. The man who discovered the bones held a leg bone next to his leg and the bone was a good 5-6 inches longer than his shin.

Hanging Rock

A History of the Valley of Virginia was written in 1833 by Samuel Kercheval. According to this account, a row of Native American graves from a battle had been uncovered between the road and the cliffs along the South Branch. An archaeological team investigated the area.

According to the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology (1891), several Indian Mounds on farms surrounding Romney, WV were thoroughly investigated by archaeologists. On the farm of Joseph Wirgman, existed two mounds. One mound contained a small pot and the other a large grave, but there is no commentary upon the size of the skeleton.

When the B&O Railroad came through the area, excavations were made in the South Branch and Hanging Rocks area. Several graves are reported as being uncovered as previously mentioned. These graves are presumed to have been from a battle between the Catawba and Delaware tribes.

On the farm of Mr. Harriott, an extensive village was unearthed including fireplaces and skeletons. Several relics were found including hatchets and beads. Historians believe this village to be that of the Seneca tribe.

According to an article in the Baltimore Sun (December 25, 1888) the skeletons exhumed from the farm of Mr. Harriott, we of gigantic size. Further, this article is written from a first person viewpoint as the author claims to have been present during the opening of at least one mound. Such claims are not the only ones from West Virginia.

Other WV Giants

Upon excavation of Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville, WV in the 1800’s it was reported that skeletons measuring up to 8 feet tall were discovered. Later, the Smithsonian excavated the Criel Mound in South Charleston, WV and reportedly unearthed a skeleton almost seven feet tall.

Another 7 foot tall skeleton was unearthed in the 1950’s by Don Drago. He was excavating the Cresap Mound of Marshall County. Across the state giant skeletons have been unearthed yet, none of them were preserved.

In the 1930’s an excavation lead by Ernest Sutton of Salem University unearthed two burial mounds on Dodridge County. According to his records, he found human remains measuring 7-9 feet tall. According to legend, he turned the finds over to the Smithsonian where they disappeared. This has lead to a decades long controversy regarding a cover up.

The Rebuttal

As there is no substantial evidence outside of eyewitness accounts, many scholars have claimed that giants did not exist. In a 2019 interview, Anthropologist Olivia Jones who had recently joined the museum staff at Grave Creek Archaeological Complex, attempts to refute the existence of giants in the state and a cover-up attempt.

She begins by highlighting the myth that the Adena culture that occupied the state from 500 BCE to 100 CE were a race of giants. Giants within this context refer to people that are simply unusually tall but nothing compared to those today who have been diagnosed with gigantism. She claims that “inspiration for the giant myth is based more on the misperceptions of early settlers and excavators alike.”

In discussing the measurements of the skeletons unearthed at the Cresap mound she postulates that the skeleton was likely “measured by a workman in the field, often local day laborers rather than trained osteologists (bone specialists) in a lab.” It is necessary to point out that in the absence of any form of osteological examination, Ms. Jones’ assessment is just as speculative as those she is attempting to discredit.

She has based her opinion upon a peer reviewed article Giant Amerindians: Fact or Fantasy? (1997). This article looked for genetic abnormalities such as gigantism. However, as American Basketball can attest, there are individuals who are simply naturally tall with no genetic abnormalities.

For example, born in 1825, in Isle of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides, stood a whopping 7 feet 9 inches tall. This was his natural height with any sort of hormonal abnormality. Furthermore, he was reported a having great strength. These are the same attributes that eyewitness accounts have reported concerning giant Native Americans. Spanish explorers in Florida have written that the Timucuan Indians who they encountered were very tall and strong. However, scholars continue to claim their eye deceived them.

A Tall Skinny Phase

Researchers from Cambridge University examined the fossil record spanning 4 million years and discovered that humans went through a tall and skinny phase in the past. The scientists believe this may have been an adaptation to new environments. This phase was sparked approximately 1.5 million years ago or 400,000 BCE.

This study did not include the fossil record of North America. Despite this, the findings provide plausibility to the claims of giant or abnormally large humans. Furthermore, human height can be estimated osteologically, in the lab, from a single toe bone. Due to gaps in the fossil record, estimates had to be made in this manner by the Cambridge researchers.

Does this mean that these early humans were giants? No. In reality, the taller and skinny ancestors were still less than 6 feet tall. However, the study demonstrates human evolution and that humans can suddenly be taller due to environmental factors.

Gravettian Culture

The Paleolithic Gravettiam Culture has produced men who, on average, are well over 6 feet in height. According to a study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, men from Herzegovina, the Netherlands, Croatia, and Montenegro, who are descended from this early culture are naturally tall. The lead researcher from Masryk University, Pavel Grasgruber remarked that good nutrition and environmental factors can influence the height of a population.

Taking this into consideration, an indigenous culture living in the mountains of what is now West Virginia, along a fresh water source, such as the South Branch of the Potomac, would be reasonable to have the necessary environment and nutrition to simply be exceedingly tall.

Are There Giants?

The short answer is yes. Again, simply look at Basketball players. The tallest player is Suleiman Ali Nashnush who stand 8 feet tall. Garth Joseph, pictured above is just over 7 feet tall. None of the reports of tall Indigenous people claimed that they were supernaturally tall. All reports put them between 6-9 feet tall. Al reports also claim they were strong or “athletic”.

It is unclear why scholars continue to go to great lengths to dismiss reports of giant skeletons unearthed of Native Americans. Again, in the absence of documented proof, the rebuttals of scholars are as speculative and unsound as they claim the eyewitness reports to

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