Believing the Giant Skeleton Myth

There is a popular internet meme involving fake photographs allegedly portraying skeletons of giant humans. You’ve probably seen a few of these photographs before, for example, the one on the left below (beside the original photograph on the right):

Left: Hoax Giant skeleton photograph; right: The original photograph from a dinosaur dig in Niger, Africa, by the University of Chicago (1993)
Left: Hoax Giant skeleton photograph. Right: The original photograph from a dinosaur dig in Niger, Africa, by the University of Chicago (1993)

A recent article published in the journal SAGE Open asks: what are the characteristics of people likely to believe that the discovery of giant human bones is true?

Participants, drawn predominantly from central Europe, were presented with the following form of the myth:

giant-skeleton-found-in-indiaRecent exploration activity in the northern region of India has uncovered the skeletal remains of a human of phenomenal size. This region of the Indian desert is called the Empty Quarter. The discovery was made by the Indian Division of the National Geographic Team, with support from the Indian Army as the area comes under the jurisdiction of the Army. The exploration team also found tablets that suggest the giant belonged to a race of superhumans that are mentioned in the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic poem from about 200 BC. The government of India has now secured the whole area and no one is allowed to enter except National Geographic personnel.

The National Geographic confirmed in 2007 that the story and accompanying pictures were a hoax. The results of the 2016 study showed that significant predictors of belief in the Giant Skeleton Myth were Openness to Experience, New Age orientation, and anti-science bias:

Results showed that women, as compared with men, and respondents with lower educational qualifications were significantly more likely to believe in the giant skeleton myth, although effect sizes were small. Correlational analysis showed that stronger belief in the giant skeleton myth was significantly associated with greater anti-scientific attitudes, stronger New Age orientation, greater religiosity, stronger superstitious beliefs, lower Openness to Experience scores, and higher Neuroticism scores. However, a multiple regression showed that the only significant predictors of belief in myth were Openness, New Age orientation, and anti-scientific attitudes.

(Viren Swami, Ulrich S. Tran , Stefan Stieger, Jakob Pietschnig, Ingo W. Nader, and Martin Voracek, “Who Believes in the Giant Skeleton Myth? An Examination of Individual Difference Correlates”, SAGE Open (January-March 2016): 1–7, published online 5 January 2016, DOI: 10.1177/2158244015623592)

Thanks to Aren Maeir, director of the archaeological dig at Tell es-Safi/Gath (Goliath’s alleged hometown), for alerting me to this study. Aren also amusingly notes that, “every few months, I get an email asking me about th[ese] finds”!



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