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At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exist countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.
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The Anunnaki (also transcribed as Anunaki, Annunaki, Anunna, Ananaki and other variations) are a group of deities of the ancient Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians.  In the earliest Sumerian writings about them, which come from the Post-Akkadian period, the Anunnaki are deities in the pantheon, descendants of An and Ki, the god of the heavens and the goddess of earth, and their primary function was to decree the fates of humanity.
Giants Mentioned In The Bible
In the Bible, we find several references to ancient giants.
For example, Joshua, who became the leader of the Israelite tribes after the death of Moses mentions the Gibborim in his chronicles.
The "Gibborim", "heroes of old, men of renown", who are mentioned in Genesis 6, were not as tall and powerful as the Nephilim , but they were nevertheless a dangerous warrior race.
Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
celebrates the triumph of King Naram-Sin
over a mountain people, the Lullubi.
King Naram-Sin appears to be exceptionally tall.
"There were giants in the earth in those days and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown."
There are also a number of Biblical stories dealing with the Rephaim, another group of giants described as,
"a mighty people with tall stature who lived in Canaan."
Another mysterious race that is mentioned in the Bible are the little known Didanum people, sometimes also called the Ditanu or Tidanu.
The Didanum people were the ancestors of the Nephilim and Rephaim.
From the Book of Deuteronomy,the fifth book of the christian Old Testament, where it is also known as the Fifth Book of Moses we learn that giant King Og of Bashan ruled over 60 cities built by the huge Rephaim.
Bashan is frequently mentioned in the Bible.
It is the northernmost region of the Transjordan, which is located in what is today known as Syria.
Archaeologists who have examined the ruins found in this region can say with certainty these cities were not constructed by people similar to modern man.
Did Early Explorers Find Giants in the New World?
In 1608, explorer John Smith wrote: “The Sasquesahanougs are a Gyant-like people.” He described them: “They measured the calf of the largest man’s leg, and found it three quarters of a yard about, and all the rest of his limbs were in proportion so that he seemed the stateliest and most goodly personage they had ever beheld. His arrows were five quarters yard long, headed with the splinters of a white chrystal-like stone …”
Captain John Smith, painted from an earlier portrait by Simon de Passe, 18th century. (Wikimedia Commons)
John Smith’s 1608 Map showing in the top right a male of the giant race he described.
Hernando de Soto, a 16th century Spanish explorer who delved deep into the territory of what is today the United States, also described men half a yard taller than his tallest men.
Legends of giants are found among the Iroquois, the Osage, the Tuscaroras, the Hurons, the Omahas, and many other Native American peoples.
"Before there were any humans on Pallene, the story goes that a battle was fought between the gods and the giants. Traces of the giants' demise continue to be seen to this day, whenever torrents swell with rain and excessive water breaks their banks and floods the fields. They say that even now in gullies and ravines the people discover bones of immeasurable enormity, like men's carcasses but far bigger."
--Greek historian Solinus, c. AD 200
The ancient Greeks told stories of giants, describing them as flesh-and-blood creatures who lived and died--and whose bones could be found coming out of the ground where they were buried long ago. Indeed, even today large and surprisingly human-like bones can be found in Greece. Modern scientists understand such bones to be the remains of mammoths, mastodons, and woolly rhinoceroses that once lived in the region.
But ancient Greeks were largely unfamiliar with these massive animals, and many believed that the enormous bones they found were the remains of human-like giants. Any nonhuman traits in the bones were thought to be due to the grotesque anatomical features of giants.
At A Glance: Giant
From Paul Bunyan of American folklore to the Norse creator-god Ymir, human-like giants populate the myths of many cultures.
- The long bones of elephant relatives and humans are similar enough to be confused.
- Geological events tend to destroy the skulls of prehistoric elephant relatives, leaving only enormous, human-like long bones, ribs, and vertebrae.
- Ancient authors often reported finding the remains of giants hundreds of feet tall--much bigger than an elephant or any other animal. These reports may represent attempts to reconstruct the bones of several animals found jumbled together as a single giant.
The Battle With the Gods
According to Greek myth, the giants were the children of Uranus (the Sky) and Gaia (the Earth) but were almost never born. Afraid the giants would be too powerful, Uranus would not allow them to be born, imprisoning them in Gaia's womb. Uncomfortable, Gaia convinced her older son Kronos to attack Uranus he did and the blood that spilled on Gaia released the giants from their prison.
Kronos took power, but was soon overthrown by the god Zeus. The giants were enraged by the defeat of their savior and brother, and they took up trees as clubs and boulders as missiles, waging war on Zeus and the other Greek gods in an epic battle--the Gigantomachy. But the giants were ultimately defeated and buried under mountains, where their tormented shivers were said to cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Seeing Is Believing
The people of Tingis (modern-day Tangier, Morocco) once boasted that their city's founder was a giant named Antaeus who was buried in a mound south of town. To test the claim, Roman soldiers dug into the mound in 81 BC. Much to their surprise, an enormous skeleton surfaced--which they then reburied with great honors. Modern scientists confirm that ancient elephant fossils are common in the area.
A Giant's Bridge?
The spectacular Giant's Causeway on the northeast coast of Ireland consists of about 40,000 interlocking columns of basalt rock. According to Irish myth, the Irish giant Finn MacCool built the causeway so he could walk to Scotland to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner. Formations like this one are typically the result of volcanic activity. Some 65 million years ago, lava flowed over the area. As the lava cooled, it contracted, fracturing into the columns seen today.
On his way home from the Trojan War, the brave adventurer Odysseus and his crew landed on the island of Sicily. Happy to find food in a cave, they gorged themselves until the cave's occupant, a ferocious cyclops named Polyphemus, returned home and began to eat the men one by one. Polyphemus soon asked Odysseus his name and he replied, "My name is Nobody." That evening, Odysseus and his men planned their escape -- first they drove a stake into Polyphemus's one eye. Screaming in pain, Polyphemus called to his brother cyclopes, "Help! Nobody is hurting me!" Confused, they ignored the cries, and Polyphemus lost his only eye. In the morning, Polyphemus let his sheep out to graze after feeling along the animals' backs to make sure the men weren't riding on top. But Odysseus and his crew had tied themselves under the sheep's bellies, so they slipped by, unnoticed by the blinded cyclops.
--Adapted from Homer's Odyssey, c. 800-600 BC
Eyeing the Evidence
The one-eyed giants, called cyclopes, of Greek myths are usually said to live on the island of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. Significantly, the island was once home to ancient elephants whose enormous, fossilized skulls and bones can still be found today eroding out of cliffs and hillsides. As far back as the 1370s, scholars have suggested that when the first inhabitants of the island encountered elephant skulls, they might have mistaken the large central hole where the trunk was attached for the enormous single eye socket of a cyclops.
At a Glance: Cyclops
One group of cyclopes were the blacksmiths to the gods and were praised for their fine crafmanship. Today, well-constructed stone walls are called "cyclopean."
- The plural of cyclops is cyclopes ("sigh-KLO-peez").
- Another group of cyclopes appear in Homer's Odyssey. He describes them as grotesquely ugly, ungainly, strong, stubborn brutes who were prone to aggression and cannibalism.
- Cyclopes are enormous, human-like creatures with a single eye in the middle of their foreheads.
The Spark In Their Eye
Some blacksmiths in ancient Greece may have worn a patch over one eye to prevent flying sparks from blinding them in both. If so, it is only fitting that the first cyclopes to appear in Greek myths were also blacksmiths. Toiling in their smoky forges under volcanic Mount Etna, these cyclopes were said to have crafted Zeus's thunderbolts, Hades' invisibility helmet, and Poseidon's trident.
Dwarf Elephant Skull
The opening in the center of this dwarf elephant skull is where the animal's trunk attaches. But ancient Greeks may have interpreted the large trunk opening as the massive, single eye-socket of a cyclops.
Did Giants Exist? Part 4: Were Giants Responsible for the World’s Ancient Megalithic Structures?
Imagine our world long ago, when the Great Pyramid at Giza and Stonehenge were young. The freshly cut stones are smooth to the touch without the erosion and decay that will eventually besiege them. Their towering architecture rises into the sky as a beacon of human ingenuity and accomplishment.
Megalithic structures are found all over the world, from South America (Puma Punku) heading east to Japan (Ishibutai Tomb), and just about everywhere in between.
Is it possible that ancient giants built some of these towering structures?
Construction of the Great Pyramid and the megalithic foundation at Baalbek temple complex in Lebanon still stump scientists. If giants existed, they would naturally have an advantage over a typical man in constructing large, megalithic structures.
In 1901, in “The World’s History: A Survey of Man’s Record,” Han Ferdinand Helmolt and James Bryce Bryce wrote: “For the erection of these in their present position without the technical resources at the disposal of modern builders, human strength appears inadequate, in popular opinion, only giants could have made such structures.”
Giants are not, however, the only possible explanation for the construction of ancient megastructures.
We know that giants did not construct the modern Coral Castle near Miami, Fla. That was done by a solitary man named Ed Leedskalnin who weighed just about 100 pounds and stood little more than 5-feet tall. Leedskalnin single-handedly cut and moved stone blocks, some weighing 9 tons, into place with near perfect precision. Unfortunately, when he died in 1953, he took his construction secrets to the grave with him.
However, some of the ancient megalithic structures are far heavier and larger than Coral Castle. Ollantaytambo in Peru was an Incan military stronghold and outpost against the invading Spanish 500 years ago. Today, it is one of the last surviving towns that retain the original Incan walls and street grid. It is the site of six towering megalithic pink granite slabs that stand about 13 feet tall and each weigh some 50 tons or more.
Megaliths at Ollantaytambo in Peru. (Wolfgang Beyer/Wikimedia Commons)
Stonehenge’s blocks tower up to 24 feet and weighing more than 45 tons each. But Stonehenge isn’t the only megalithic formation in England, it’s just the most famous. The Cove at Avebury in England consists of two gigantic cove stones, which stand as some of the last remnants of the northern inner circle of the Avebury Henge. There were originally 98 standing stones in its outer circle, estimated to stand about 13 feet tall and weigh more than 40 tons each. They date to about 3000 B.C.
The two remaining stones at Avebury Cove. (Jim Champion/Wikimedia Commons)
But where are the records of these massive projects? Should we expect to find documentation or some trace in history of how, when, or why these structures were erected? Archaeologists are left guessing, or inferring.
However, archaeologists have found intriguing imagery in the reliefs at the Tomb of Rekhmire in Luxor (ancient Thebes), Egypt. One image shows two men herding a giraffe. What’s odd about the image is that the men are of nearly equal stature to the giraffe. An elephant is also shown as smaller than the men and leopards and baboons seem to be proportionally smaller. It is difficult to tell, however, as oxen are shown to be of normal size in relation to the men.
A copy of the relief at the Rekhmire tomb. Notice the proportional size of the elephant and giraffe (outlined in blue) compared to the humans depicted. (George Alexander Hoskins/Wikimedia Commons)
Although most of the men depicted in the facades are of equal stature to each other, there are a few images where some figures loom over others. The smaller figures may represent children rather than smaller men. Some of these figures appear in construction scenes, carrying blocks and donning shoulder harnesses.
Were the artists and craftsman of these reliefs depicting giants building ancient structures?
Rekhmire was mayor of Thebes and vizier to pharaohs Tuthmosis III and Amenophis II during ancient Egypt’s 18th-dynasty. He may have overseen many construction projects during his tenure as both mayor and vizier. It’s also possible that while he was vizier under the pharaoh, he was privy to ancient knowledge, which could have included knowledge about giants if they existed and other secrets from remote history. These may have been depicted in his tomb.
In 1988, Gregor Spörri went to Egypt as an amateur researcher interested in the pyramids. According to an article written by Annemieke Witteveen for Ancient Origins, Spörri made an interesting giant-related discovery. A local introduced him to a farmer named Nagib, whose ancestors were tomb robbers. Artifacts had been passed down in his family, some sold at intervals to buy land and other assets. One strange artifact that Nagib was said to guard jealously was a decaying giant finger.
The finger measured just over a foot long, said Spörri. Spörri took photos of it, but could not again find Nagib when he returned to Egypt in 2009 to search again for the relic, and during the 1988 visit, Nagib insisted he would not part with the finger.
Notice the wide jaw and towering foreheads of these “moai.” Is it possible that the ancient creators of these statues were depicting giants? (Ian Sewell/Wikimedia Commons)
Lastly, a discussion of megaliths wouldn’t be complete without the Easter Island heads. The mystery surrounding these giant heads not only leads bold investigators to consider the possibility that they depict giants with elongated faces and heavily pronounced jaws, but also introduces a variety of equally bold theories including the possibility of sunken continents and advanced prehistoric civilizations. Easter Island is considered one of the most remote locations in the world, sitting almost half-way between New Zealand and South America, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Some wonder if a lost civilization left these artifacts in this now isolated place.
These heads, called “moai” by the islanders, remain a mystery no historical record of their construction, written or oral, exists today even though there are nearly 900 of them. These heads are about 13 feet tall and weigh about 14 tons each.
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The lost giants that prowled the Australian wilderness
Australia's wildlife is unique. The vast majority of the animals that live there are not found anywhere else &ndash and things were no different 1 million years ago during the Pleistocene: the age of the super-sized mammal.
Before humanity became Earth's undisputed superpower, giant beasts of all shapes and sizes dominated every continent, from the mammoths of Siberia to the ground sloths of South America.
In typical Antipodean fashion, the Pleistocene mammals of Australia were different. On most of the continents it is placental mammals that dominate, but Australia was (and still is) the heartland of the marsupials.
Australia's Pleistocene marsupials were closely related to the pouched, fluffy creatures that still hop and scurry around the outback today. But some of them could grow to the size of small cars, or possessed teeth longer than knife blades.
These monster marsupials were not the only giants. Their numbers were swelled by 5m-long lizards, half-tonne birds and giant, dinosaur-like tortoises. The result was a truly nightmarish biological assemblage.
None of these animals survive today &ndash although exactly why that's the case is a mystery. Humans, with their advanced hunting techniques and use of fire to modify the landscape, may have played a central role in the megafauna's disappearance, but this idea is still a matter of heated debate.
Even if we cannot be sure that the arrival of Australian Aboriginals on the continent had catastrophic effects on its native animals, it seems that the animals had a rather spiritual effect on the humans. The Aboriginal mythological "Dreamtime" includes a cast of monstrous creatures, many of which bear a close resemblance to some of the real-life monsters that once stalked Australia's plains. Are the myths based in fact? Perhaps: after all, these creatures are far stranger than anything dreamed up by humans.
Weighing two tonnes, the Diprotodon comfortably holds the title of largest marsupial ever. In size and appearance it looked superficially like a modern rhinoceros, but the Diprotodon seems to have had a social lifestyle more like that of an elephant, another mammal with which it shares anatomical similarities.
What the Diprotodon most resembles, however, is exactly what it is: an enormous wombat.
Early European colonists searched feverishly for a living specimen of this fabulous creature
Like its modern counterpart, Diprotodon possessed powerful, clawed feet that were most likely used to tear at vegetation and dig for roots. Unlike modern wombats, Diprotodon would have had no need to extend its digging operations further underground for shelter, as only the hardiest of predators would have targeted it.
Hundreds of Diprotodon skeletons have been unearthed in Lake Callabonna, a dry salt lake in which multiple family groups seemingly wandered in search of food during the dry season, only to fall through the brittle surface and become trapped in mud.
The bunyip, a lake monster that drags unsuspecting passers-by into its watery lair, may be a cultural Aboriginal memory from the days when many Diprotodon wandered the swamps of Australia. This popular idea was first suggested in the mid-19th Century.
Certainly there have been incidences of Aboriginal Australians identifying Diprotodon bones as belonging to bunyips. Early European colonists searched feverishly for a living specimen of this fabulous creature &ndash but without success.
Giant short-faced kangaroo
Procoptodon goliah, the largest of the so-called short-faced kangaroos, is also the largest kangaroo known to science. Standing 2m tall and weighing almost three times as much as a red kangaroo, these hulking marsupials were a walking contradiction &ndash a kangaroo that could not hop.
They possessed "short faces" with eyes that were almost forward-facing, like our own
Analysis of extinct and extant species has suggested that the Achilles tendons of these monster 'roos would not have withstood the impact of the hopping motion &ndash unlike the kangaroos we know and love today.
Instead, they probably shuffled around on large, one-toed feet, in a bipedal fashion that is very unusual in the mammal world &ndash even though it is the way we humans get around, of course.
And just like humans, these kangaroos possessed a key adaptation for such a lifestyle: a well-developed set of buttocks. Such musculature is absolutely key if an animal is to balance while lifting one leg at a time off the ground.
Intriguingly, their walking style is not the only thing connecting these kangaroos with humans. As their name suggests, they possessed "short faces" with eyes that were almost forward-facing, like our own. This, combined with the kangaroos' primate-like teeth, gave them uncannily simian features, although it is fair to say any confusion with modern apes or indeed humans is unlikely.
With all of these big juicy slabs of marsupial meat wandering around, it is little wonder that enormous predators evolved.
Elsewhere in the world this niche would have been occupied by dogs or big cats, but not in Australia. Enter top Pleistocene predator Thylacoleo carnifex to banish any remaining thoughts that marsupials are cute and cuddly.
The marsupial lion had the most powerful bite force for its size of any known mammal species
The 1m-long marsupial lion was not a true lion, of course. This creature was in fact closely related to the Diprotodon, but at some point in its evolutionary history, it took a drastically different course from its herbivorous cousin.
In fact, the marsupial lion is a true testament to the power of evolution to "make do" with the raw materials at its disposal.
The group that Diprotodon belongs to is not blessed with scary canines of the type seen in most predatory mammals. What they do have, however, is large, forward facing incisors that allow them to slice through tough plant matter. In the marsupial lion, these incisors developed into huge, pointed weapons that were perfect for taking down large prey.
Thylacoleo also possessed oversized premolars with slicing edges that would have allowed it to butcher a carcass with ease.
In fact, simulations have indicated the marsupial lion had the most powerful bite force for its size of any known mammal species, living or dead. It might have had unpromising evolutionary roots for a predator, but this beast really was a force to be reckoned with in the ancient outback.
Initially characterised as another giant kangaroo species, the Palorchestes genus has undergone several major makeovers since its initial description in 1873. As more fragments of skeleton have emerged, new theories have been proffered by palaeontologists as to what these creatures looked like.
Deep lower jaws would have been the perfect anchor for a long, prehensile tongue similar to that of the giraffe, while a recessed nasal cavity suggested the presence of a small trunk, which has given rise to the common depiction of Palorchestes as a group of marsupial tapirs &ndash some of which grew to 2.5m in length.
But they are also clearly close relatives of the Diprotodon, based on anatomical similarities such as powerful claws. This creates the impression that Palorchestes could be sizeable, rotund creatures something like trunked ground sloths.
Intriguingly, Aboriginal rock art dating from the time that Palorchestes was still alive lends weight to this depiction. Paintings of creatures that look remarkably like the scientific reconstruction of Palorchestes suggest not only that those reconstructions are accurate, but also that these animals bore some significance to the early settlers of Australia.
This is not the first time insights have been gained from studies of ancient Aboriginal rock art. Paintings of animals resembling marsupial lions indicate that, like modern tigers, they had striped markings, lending support to the theory that they too were camouflaged ambush predators.
Not all of the Australian megafauna were marsupials. The continent was also once home to large birds, some growing to 3m tall. Enter Dromornis stirtoni, a bird that looked superficially like an ostrich or an emu &ndash but that was actually more closely related to ducks and geese.
Both Dromornis and Bullockornis disappeared from the continent long before humans arrived
This has earned one related species, the 2.5m-tall Bullockornis planei, the fanciful nickname "Demon Duck of Doom".
Whether that nickname is appropriate or not is unclear. These birds possessed enormous beaks that would be just as capable of crushing seed pods as skulls. On the one hand, the lack of predatory hooks on their bills or talons on their feet suggest a herbivorous lifestyle, but on the other hand the sheer power and offensive capability of their heads hints they showed at least some degree of predatory behaviour.
Both Dromornis and Bullockornis disappeared from the continent long before humans arrived. But some of their relatives &ndash including the 2m-tall Genyornis &ndash were very much a part of the Pleistocene megafauna that greeted the first Australians. They, too, were captured for posterity in Aboriginal rock art.
As the eggshells of these giant birds are surprisingly well preserved across Australia's fossil beds, they have served as a useful proxy for extinction dates in different regions. These shells have helped to implicate humans in the extinction of the Australian megafauna.
Another record breaker, this time a world champion Varanus priscus, commonly known by its antiquated genus name Megalania &ndash was the largest terrestrial lizard the world has ever known.
Megalania was a goanna lizard, a relative of today's infamous Komodo dragon, and conservative estimates have predicted that it was at least 5.5m long.
This would make Megalania the largest venomous animal ever to have lived
Early descriptions of Megalania fossils by the likes of palaeontology superstar Sir Richard Owen described a truly monstrous creature, more like 7m in length, which sat unchallenged at the top of the food chain. As understanding of ancient Australian ecosystems has increased, and the importance of mammalian predators such as the marsupial lion appreciated more fully, Megalania's status has shrunk, along with its projected size.
However, even at "just" 5.5m, this giant lizard would have been one formidable predator.
Like its relative, the Komodo dragon, Megalania was armed with a lethal arsenal of curved teeth. A 2009 investigation into the poorly understood predatory ecology of Komodo dragons, which also incorporated some comparative anatomy of Megalania teeth, indicated that the dragons possess a venom delivery system. By association, Megalania may well have done so too.
If so, this would make Megalania the largest venomous animal ever to have lived.
Like Megalania and other pumped-up reptiles from Pleistocene (including the 9m-long Bluff Downs Giant Python), Meiolania platyceps was certainly big enough, at 2.5m, to hold its own in the company of Australia's giant marsupials.
Crafty humans were not intimidated by these walking tortoise fortresses
This massive tortoise not only dwarfed any modern specimens, it also possessed a pair of impressive horns on top of its head. Such devilish appendages would have prevented these reptiles from withdrawing their heads into their shells, as most modern tortoises do when faced with a threat.
However it's fair to assume that Meiolania platyceps was not one to run away from a fight.
In addition to a heavily armoured front end and a large, domed shell, these tortoises possessed spiked tails that would have made potential aggressors think twice before taking a bite out of them. The combination of features means Meiolania platyceps superficially resembles a group of armoured dinosaurs called the ankylosaurs, which could hold their own against Tyrannosaurus.
Unfortunately, crafty humans were not intimidated by these walking tortoise fortresses. While the fate of Meiolania platyceps remains unknown, a clue is offered by some bones unearthed on the Pacific island of Vanuatu belonging to a close relative, M. damelipi.
Unlike their larger cousins, who went extinct during the Pleistocene, these tortoises survived well into the age of humans, only to be exterminated by a seafaring people called the Lapita around 2,000 years ago.
Remains of butchered leg bones found in rubbish pits give an indication as to the gastronomic fate that might also have befallen Australia's giant tortoises.
The Thylacine serves as a cautionary tale for anyone who doubts humanity's ability to annihilate species. Unlike most of Australia's megafauna, which went extinct tens of thousands of years ago, these wolf-like marsupials survived on the island of Tasmania well into the 20th Century long enough, even, for film footage of them in captivity to exist.
It seems unlikely that thylacines will ever rise from the ashes
Though not as "mega" as most megafauna, thylacines were powerful apex predators capable of hunting other sizeable marsupials such as kangaroos and wallabies. This, ultimately, was their downfall, as European settlers in Tasmania inferred from their predatory appearance that they were responsible for attacks on sheep.
The local government placed a bounty of £1 per thylacine head, and this, combined with increased habitat degradation by humans and competition with settlers' dogs, led to total extinction by 1936.
Though unconfirmed sightings continue to this day, and Tasmania's landscape is both inaccessible and theoretically amenable to supporting such creatures, it seems unlikely that thylacines will ever rise from the ashes.
It is a reminder that, while we may lack scimitar-like teeth, crushing beaks or horned heads, it is humans that are the most lethal of all megafauna.
Why Giant Bugs Once Roamed the Earth
Dragonflies got as big as birds to avoid oxygen overdose, study hints.
Predatory dragonflies the size of modern seagulls ruled the air 300 million years ago, and it's long been a mystery how these and other bugs grew so huge.
The leading theory is that ancient bugs got big because they benefited from a surplus of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere. But a new study suggests it's possible to get too much of a good thing: Young insects had to grow larger to avoid oxygen poisoning.
"We think it's not just because oxygen affects the adults but because oxygen has a bigger effect on larvae," said study co-author Wilco Verberk of Plymouth University in the U.K.
"So a larval perspective might lead to a better understanding of why these animals existed in the first place, and maybe why they disappeared."
Baby Bugs Can't Control Their Gases
Fossils show that giant dragonflies and huge cockroaches were common during the Carboniferous period, which lasted from about 359 to 299 million years ago. (Explore a prehistoric time line.)
During this time, the rise of vast lowland swamp forests led to atmospheric oxygen levels of around 30 percent—close to 50 percent higher than current levels.
According to previous theories about insect gigantism, this rich oxygen environment allowed adult bugs to grow to ever larger sizes while still meeting their energy needs. (Related: "Did Rising Oxygen Levels Fuel Mammal Evolution?")
For the new study, Verberk and colleague David Bilton instead focused on how varying oxygen levels affect stonefly larvae, which, like dragonflies, live in water before becoming terrestrial adults. Higher concentrations of oxygen in air would have meant higher concentrations dissolved in water.
The results showed that juvenile stoneflies are more sensitive to oxygen fluctuations than their adult counterparts living on land.
This may be because insect larvae typically absorb oxygen directly through their skin, so they have little or no control over exactly how much of the gas they take in. By contrast, adult insects can regulate their oxygen intake by opening or closing valve-like holes in their bodies called spiracles.
While crucial for life, oxygen can be poisonous in large quantities: Humans exposed to excess oxygen can suffer cell damage leading to vision problems, difficulty breathing, nausea, and convulsions.
It's likely the larvae of many ancient insects also passively absorbed oxygen from water and were not able to regulate their oxygen intake very well—a big danger when oxygen levels were so high.
One way to decrease the risk of oxygen toxicity would have been to grow bigger, since large larvae would absorb lower percentages of the gas, relative to their body sizes, than small larvae.
"If you grow larger, your surface area decreases relative to your volume," Verberk explained.
Lower Oxygen Led to Poor Bug Performance?
The new theory could also explain why giant insects continued to exist even after Earth’s atmospheric oxygen levels began decreasing, he said.
"If oxygen actively drove increases in body mass to avoid toxicity, lower levels would not be immediately fatal, although in time, they will probably diminish performance of the larger insects," since adults would have evolved to require more oxygen and would get sluggish in air with lower levels, Verberk said.
"Such reduced performance will eventually have made it possible for other species to outcompete the giants."
Zeng Jinlian(1964-1982) was the tallest female ever measured in medical history, surpassing the historical world record 7 feet 11 inches, previously set by English woman Jane Bunford(1895-1922). She is also the only woman who has reached verified height of 8 feet or more.
She was born on June 26 1964 in Yuian, China. 4 months after her birth, she started growing rapidly, and at age 4 ,she had already reached height of more than five feet. Her growth patterns exhibited exceptional similarity to these of Robert Wadlow. On average, she grew 5 inches every year, was able to lift a 110 pound(50 kg) stone at the age of 5, and slept in specially made bed, 8 feet long.
Zheng Jinlian was later diagnosed pituitary tumor, which caused her gigantism, and she was also suffering from diabetes, disease that also caused her death at the age of 17 in Hunan. Few days before her death, she would have been 8 feet 1.75 inches tall, but she could not stand straight because of her severely deformed spine.
A subreddit dedicated to the news, history and discussion of Ancient Giants
Hi all, I love ancient giant theories and have my very own complex theory on the existence of giants. However, I think this topic is fringe even for conspiracy/paranormal circles. I was wondering why that is and I came up with a few ideas. These are all things that I consider to be barriers to progress in giant research. I think any of us could start working on these, I will try to in my spare time.
Poor documentation. There a lot of stories out there abut the Smithsonian covering shit up, or soldiers encountering giants, but it is all anecdote. I couldn't name a source document for almost any of the modern giant anecdotes I've heard. The really detailed info on giants comes from oral tradition, such as native americans, or from religious/mythical texts. Modern giant research should probably work to document all of their giant claims in a way that is more scientific.
Poor outreach. As I said, this is fringe even for fringe. I think that is because a lot of the really good info is given at conferences and locked behind paywalls. Steve Quayle is probably one of the loudest proponents of giant theories, and he has a GREAT website gensixgaints.com, but the juciest things he has are behind paywalls and I gotta pay rent, so I won't be seeing it any time soon.
Lack of unity. I have a clear idea of what I think the truth is as it relates to giants. But everyone seems to have different ideas and there doesn't seem to be a well accepted theory besides that they existed and probably had red hair. Iɽ like to see people work towards more of a consensus.
Anyway, I hope this makes everyone think. Iɽ love to hear your ideas.