The Fiske Center Blog

Weblog for the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The History Channel’s Giant Problem

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Mrozowski after visiting Goshen

Mrozowski after visiting Goshen

When I was asked to appear on this History Channel show, Search for the Lost Giants, Episode 3 the producers told me that it concerned local mysteries and stone structures. I had recently visited several stone structures in Massachusetts, the builders of which remain a mystery. Therefore, I was curious to see what Bill and Jim had discovered.

The Goshen Tunnel that I inspected on the show was an intriguing structure comprised of a well, with a tunnel running from its base. The Vieiras’ interest was certainly genuine, and I admired their enthusiasm – not everyone has a dedication to get to the bottom of local mysteries and at some level all archaeologists have a reservoir of curiosity for questions of history.  I did not find any physical evidence that confirmed for me that the structure was built using modern metal tools such as chisels or pry bars, and I said as such. In my estimation the best explanation for the tunnel was that it was linked to some illegal activity: maybe to counterfeiting or  to the smuggling of bootleg liquor  probably coming from Canada.  The liquor could have been kept cool in the tunnel, which could have been concealed by a metal or stone cap placed at the bottom of the well, but above the level of the tunnel so that water could be filled in to make the well look like, well a well.  The day after the visit, I e-mailed Bill to look in the well for a possible ridge upon which the cap could have been seated. None of this appeared in the episode.

My point isn’t to question either the sincerity or motivation of Bill and Jim in pursuing their interest in the possibility of giants or the presence of a burial chamber connected to the Goshen Tunnel. I only wish they had shared this intended direction with me either before or during the filming or post-production information exchanges. During the 19th century, all sorts of theories were developed to explain the many large mounds and earthen structures located throughout North America.  Among others theories were put forward that linked the construction of these mounds to one of the lost tribes of Israel, Old World civilizations such as the Phoenicians, and a race of giants.  In 1890, Cyrus Thomas published the results of his review of all of the archaeological evidence collected from mound sites across North America. He concluded that the evidence confirmed that these large mound complexes were the work the indigenous populations. Archaeologists know today that these were the centers of complex, highly sophisticated indigenous societies. Attempts to link such structures to non indigenous peoples is part of a larger attempt to end Native American history and to replace that history with an American narrative that denies the identity of North America’s indigenous peoples. The perpetuation of long discredited ideas concerning a race of giants is an affront to the indigenous peoples of North America and need to be recognized as such.

Author: Stephen Mrozowski

Stephen Mrozowski is the founding director of the Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he is also Professor of Anthropology. Mrozowski’s research encompasses the growth of complex societies, colonization, and its role in shaping the modern world. His particular research interests include social theory, spatial theory, historical archaeology, environmental archaeology, urban archaeology, industrial archaeology and indigenous archaeologies. He has conducted field research in Eastern North America, Northern Alaska, the Caribbean, Iceland and Northern Britain. He has published more than seventy scholarly articles and monographs.

12 Comments

  1. When I was watching these investigations, I was wondering if the structure was a similar age to the burial chambers we have in the UK and if Native Americans used similar techniques to that of the European Neolithic & Bronze aged people. If so, the surrounding area would have been an obvious mound, the stone work constructed first, then covered with earth. However, such earthworks in the UK all appear to have entrances accessible at ground level, rather than by a vertical shaft. These chambers were revisited over a period of time before being finally sealed and abandoned as new rituals concerning the burial and communion with dead ancestors replaced older traditions. Of course, the UK had repeated invasions by different cultures each bringing new concepts of the life/death cycle and associated rituals. I’m wondering whether Native Americans movement from chambered burial mounds to more traditional cemeteries – such as the urn burials we see here in the Bronze age – in a similar time scale to Europeans?

  2. Thanks for shedding the light on this, Stephen. I saw the show while waiting for the ballgame to come on and decided to see if I could find the result or some background on the internet about the site. Like most TV shows of this kind, I knew I was wasting my time but, fortunately, I was doing just that.

  3. Oh….good gosh….. I came across this show while flipping through the channels late one night. Yuh know, I get so angry at reality show producers and directors for going as far as telling deliberate lies to gain ratings/popularity/fame for their show. THIS show has to be one of the BIGGEST lies I have EVER seen! It’s actually hard for me to believe there are actually people who believe this crap about a “whole tribe of giants” with crowns, jewelry and gold buried in North America!!!! They showed two stories in newspapers about the skeleton of a large 7foot man…and this is not hard to believe. Sure there is going to be a very tall person buried occasionally, but THAT is not evidence of a WHOLE TRIBE of GIANTS! LOL Trust me, I’ve been in the funeral/cemetery/burial business for 40+ years, and there has NEVER been any TRUE information leading to information about any such “ancient burial chambers” in AMERICA, there has NEVER been any crowns jewelry and gold found in an elaborate burial chamber in America…..and the one they kept referring to was in……EGYPT…..did anyone else catch that? OH, and the “mysterious” letters on the stone in the area that they talked about but NEVER SHOWED THE COMPLETE MESSAGE. I DID see the last part that said “MPH HWY20” Gee whiz, I don’t think it’s very ancient if it speaks of “Miles Per Hour and Highway 20” ! WHAT A CROCK OF CRAP! And the tall skeleton they found in the book in the library? That was only 1 skeleton….NOT a full TRIBE of them! LOL In the past 40 years, I’ve buried a NUMBER of tall people….anywhere from 6.5 feet up to 8.2 feet!!!!!! So, occasionally you’re going to run in to a TALL skeleton in a grave like this….but NOT a whole tribe like they are trying to make out of it! LOL ANYWAY, I actually believe the earlier comment about the tunnel….I believe it was a way to keep booze cool because my great grandfather kept it in their root cellar. They kept it cool because if it got hot, the booze would pop the tops off the bottles… my grandfather said they had some pop one time, and it sounded like a machine gun. That’s when they started keeping it in well tunnels. Sorry, but THAT’S the whole story I’m afraid! LOL

  4. Good for you Steve. Although shows like this might make good stories, the truth of history is what needs to be illustrated and learned.

  5. Thank you for shedding some light on this. I just stumbled across one of these shows and started watching it out of curiosity. And your part just came on while I was typing, where you tell them there is no evidence of the use of tools like chisels. The explanation you give here makes sense. A lot more sense than the strange mysteries they are trying to sell on the show, most of which are not all that mysterious. They act like there has never been such a thing as a giant human, or a person with a double set of teeth. Both are rare, but not unheard of.

  6. This, exactly. Living in Portsmouth, Ohio—a city built on one of North America’s most interesting indigenous earthworks sites (sadly, mostly destroyed, now)—the legacy of 19th-century attempts to discredit Native American links to their own past lives on. However, people today—just like the amateur researchers in the History Channel program—aren’t even aware of the dubious history and original intent of these pseudo-historical and archaeological theories. It’s easy to get angry when someone mentions “giants” or “lost tribes” in relation to our local wonders like Serpent Mound or the Newark Earthworks, but that only leads to needless conflict. These people are just mentioning something they find interesting, whether they got it from almost forgotten family legends or late-night paranormal AM radio shows. They have no idea what they’re saying is tied to racist theories that tried to lend justification to the expansion of the United States. So, I thank you for not only pointing out the misleading editing of your involvement in the project, but also for showing a proper way of reacting to those interested in the old theories but aren’t aware of their origins.

  7. This program showed today in my country. I guess it is doing the rounds all over the world. Thought I would look on the Internet for more info and came across this site. From what I have read here I do not believe the giant story anymore. Sadly it is just another attempt at sensationalism and I agree it is disrespectful to indigenous people.

  8. Truly unfortunate, as an individual who aware of the fact there are some parts of or history that are neglected or ignored I am naturally curious of new research and ideas pertaining to related topics / ideas / events, and although I am certainly aware that these types of network orchestrated “research” shows exaggerate and over dramatize for the sake of ratings, it is nice to have a basis of fact or relevany behind the subject matter, and though the presence of giants has been to a certain degree downplayed, it is more harmful and discrediting to the theory to near falsify facts and artifacts and literature for the purpose of drama or “entertainment”. I would have been more content to see an investigation into the subject lead nowhere but be done objectivity as opposed to dramatized and embellished. Love history and especially the less commonly discussed or known, but finding it more and more difficult to find credibility in the mass media sources of history.

  9. “Attempts to link such structures to non indigenous peoples is part of a larger attempt to end Native American history and to replace that history with an American narrative that denies the identity of North America’s indigenous peoples. The perpetuation of long discredited ideas concerning a race of giants is an affront to the indigenous peoples of North America and need to be recognized as such.”

    Yeah, like that’s likely.

    I’ve used your kind of argument before… ironically, and usually to rub the nose of some over-earnest white defender-of-other-cultures in their own unacknowledged centrisms, patronizing and sanctimonious attitudes, and hypocrisies.

    Back when educated people had humility and a sense of proportion, and when they didn’t need to haul out their indignation and use emotional arguments (an “affront”?) to make a point, we would have said that the race-of-giants ideas were just plain dumb and solely on the basis of absence of proof and merits. Curt dismissiveness was all that was necessary. The end.

    Instead, you’ve used this issue as an excuse to step up to the pulpit, and seemingly for little reason other than flashing your credentials as a social justice warrior. I’ll retract when I find the anthropological journals bulging with articles on races of giants.

    Do you know what are affronts to the indigenous people of North America?–the “educated” public’s general lack of any knowledge whatsoever of these people beyond “LOOK WHAT WE DID TO THE INDIANS!”–i.e. turning their histories into histories of what *we* did to them and exploiting those histories for contemporary sociopolitical activism–and the seeming need, by some of the educated descendents of those people who “did things to the Indians,” to set themselves up as their defenders and spokespersons.

    Just teach the young people about WHO these Native Americans were and what their remarkable societies were all about–do your damn jobs as educators–and the “Indians” won’t need defenders, spokespeople, and the indignation of white privileged warriors for social justice.

    One more thing: the sciences have lost the respect of a good chunk of the general public by abandoning objectivity and nonpartisanship and politicizing. It’s a zen thing and I’m not certain you John Browns with PhD’s are ever going to get it as intelligence is applied to rationalizing as often as it is to reasoning. I think politicized academics have become more interested in impressing each other than you have with doing the hard work of of educating and persuading “stupid” people that I know–because I’ve spent much time around modern academics–you have far too much fun belittling. In other words, for the sake of adopting the pulpit, you’ve abandoned your true ability to effect change.

  10. I think you raise several legitimate points and I agree that if we were all doing our jobs better there might not be the need to counter the arguments put forth in shows such as this. I would remind you that I was mislead into participating in this and was not informed by anyone about the true focus of the program. That alone was enough to have me react the way I did, but to then link me with a view Native American History that does not include any Native American voices is an affront, to them and to me as a citizen, not as an academic. Fraud it fraud and my PhD have got nothing to do with my response to fraud. Now I know you might assume that objectivity is possible, but the history of archaeologists dealing with Native Americans has very little objectivity involved – its a great idea, but not one that I believe it even possible. So to me the best way to do science is to seek to be objective knowing that that aspiration is just that, an aspiration. And far be it for me to be the one to explain to the indigenous peoples of North America that they should be willing to listen to the “objective” among us given how often they have been lied to. I am not going to defend anything about that and you are entitled to your opinion as am I. The key is the freedom to disagree and to voice our views. Blogs are not designed to do that are not part of freedom of speech – they are often designed to put forth a particular point of view. If the history of science was one of fairness and objectivity with respect to indigenous peoples across the earth your point would be well taken, but that is not the case and the history is painfully clear.

  11. Hi Stephen,

    I am agree with your words.

  12. Having got himself involved in this- for the best of scientific motives IMHO – curiosity, surely it is now Dr. Mrozowski’s duty to encourage its proper investigation.
    Failure to do so will result in 2 undesirable things: it gives credence to the conspiracy theorists, and worse the site will probably get dug illegally by treasure hunters, with total loss of all archaeological or anthropological data.
    Surely are are some grad students who would like to try such an investigation with minimum supervision?

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