Saturday, December 25, 2010

Book Review: True Giants

Is Gigantopithecus Still Alive?
Mark A. Hall and Loren Coleman
Anomalist Books, 2010

In True Giants, Coleman and Hall tackle a question that's hung around the edges of primate cryptozoology without being fully addressed: Are sasquatch and its ilk (assuming they exist) the tallest primates on Earth, or could there be an additional species, presumably a modern descendant of Gigantopithecus blacki, that forms the basis for worldwide legends of giants 9-20 feet tall? I greatly respect Coleman, and Hall is a researcher of prodigious skill, but this slender volume didn't change my thinking on this.
The authors admit up front that we don't know what kind of skeletal structure works in such an animal. To me, practical knee joints are especially hard to visualize: human knees are problematic even for people of ordinary height and chronically troubled for very tall people. Giraffes manage their True Giant-like height with fairly normal mammalian knees but have four to spread the weight over.
The authors suggest a honeycomb bone structure for lightness, but there's no precedent for a true birdlike honeycomb structure in mammals: you have to postulate a long line of evolution we know nothing about for a change this radical. It seems a stretch even though, given that we have nothing of G. blacki but fossil jaws and teeth and the entire fossil record of the modern species of chimpanzee and gorilla could be held in a man's two hands, our picture of primate ancestry is a long way from complete.
Gigantopithecus is viewed by anthropologists, almost unanimously, as a heavily built knuckle-walker. If this is correct, it would take a lot of evolving to get to any sort of upright ape and a lot more for the True Giant. Giganto's gorilla-like posture is basically implied from the sheer size indicated by its sparse fossils, so this common scientific belief does not quite rise to the level of established fact. The late Grover Krantz argued the spread of the fossil jaws indicated upright posture, but leading Giganto expert Russell Ciochon rejected this, and very few people in the scientific community are open to the idea.
Implausibilities and new structures certainly arise in mammals, but scattered eyewitness reports and footprints are not enough to make me take the True Giant possibility seriously. I commend the authors for tackling a difficult subject and sparking debate, and cryptozoologists should read this book for an understanding of the "high end" of unidentified-primate reports.


Loren Coleman said...

I sincerely wish to thank Matt Bille for taking the time to read and critique Mark A. Hall and my book on True Giants.

Needless to say, in our heavily referenced text, one of the major goals of this book was to propose a radical theory and view of legend, traditions, sightings, and evidence for a group of primates excluded from most consideration by hominologists, Yeti, Bigfoot, and associated cryptozoologists.

Without becoming overly defensive, to answer Matt's main criticism, which is that there is not enough evidence, we must point out two main points: (1) as long as the True Giant notion is seen as unacceptable for the existence of these primates, evidence often will be ignored, not collected, or not even recorded if found; and (2) paradoxically, the main body of evidence for these primates of over 10 feet tall actually existing has already been verified - i.e. the fossils of Gigantopithecus! And yet this lynchpin seems to be ignored, as well, as a point in the theory's favor.

Matt Bille said...

Thanks for responding, Loren. On your points:
(1) I agree evidence should not be overlooked because the animal is viewed as improbable. The whole point of cryptozoology is taking a fair look at what might otherwise be too quickly discarded. It would, however, take more evidence to convince me of a live True Giant than it would take for (to use the obvious example) sasquatch, which I would characterize as unproven but less of a stretch from its presumptive ancestor.
(2) We certainly do have evidence for a massive primate (Gigantopithecus). A knuckle-walking Giganto might well have stood 10 feet high when rising onto its hindlimbs in gorilla fashion. The True Giant accounts seem to describe a natural biped of that height, though, and that's harder for me to connect to Giganto.
Hall and Coleman have done cryptozoology a service by diligently collecting and presenting everything known on this topic. "Everything known" just isn't enough yet.