I received an email recently from Doug Weller, who is one of the great resources of our profession. Doug is the moderator of the long-lived "Doug's Archaeology Site: Skeptical Views of Fringe Archaeology", and daily he fights the good fight of debunking crazy claims about archaeology and the past.
Doug wrote that he had noticed that people were using my "Why don't we call them CroMagnons anymore?" article to support a theory that there were giants in prehistory. That article of mine was sorely in need of updating anyway, and so I was happy to go dig around some.
According to the latest information, there are physical differences between the Early Upper Paleolithic form of Homo sapiens (once called Cro-magnon, now more commonly Early Modern Human [EMH] or Anatomically Modern Human [AMH]). The earliest EMH (as it is abbreviated these days) have been discovered at a couple of sites in Ethiopia: Bouri and Omo Kibish, at dates somewhere in the range of 165,000 to 190,000 years ago.
Early Modern Human Sites
For those who are eager for the details, we got 'em, Here's a list of a handful of sites with EMH/AMH skeletal materials and their dates.
- Omo Kibish (Ethiopia) 104,000-195,000 BP
- Bouri (Ethiopia) 160,000 BP
- Skuhl Cave (Israel) 100,000-134,000 BP
- Border Cave (South Africa) 74,000 BP
- Klasies River Caves (South Africa) 70,000 BP
- Kostenki (Russia) 40,000 BP
- Mladec (Czech Republic) 31,000 BP
- Dolní Vestonice (Czech Republic), 27,000 BP
- Predmosti (Czech Republic) 24,000-27,000 BP
So, all these sites and all these data: was EMH taller and more robust than us? Yes, it appears to be the case that the initial and early Upper Paleolithic folks (about 40,000 years ago) were a few inches larger than us at about 12,000-20,000 years ago, according to the length of their femurs. Scholars debate how much shorter we are: the measurements are a matter of statistical averages based on measurements of a leg bone. They also debate why we shrank or became smaller over time---decrease in mobility as we left long-distance hunting and gathering for settled agricultural life is the designated culprit (although the dates are a little weird for that--agriculture didn't really get fired up until about 6,000 years ago).
Cut to the Chase, Dang it! Were there Giants in Prehistory?
Giants? Well, the tallest estimates for men of the early Upper Paleolithic are 176.2 centimeters or 5 foot 9 inches, which is hardly gigantic. Hunter-gatherer males who lived between 20,000 and 12,000 years ago averaged 165.2 cm or 5 foot 5 inches. And, with advances in health care, modern humans are as tall or taller than AMH/EMH. You can find all the data sources and discussion now in my revised Why don't we call them Cro-Magnons anymore? article.
Very interesting. By the way, all this is part of my putting together the Upper Paleolithic part of the Human History Project, which is in progress. Thanks, Doug!