The Endless Online Conspiracy Theories About ‘Giant Human Skeletons’

Like so much online flotsam, a “satirical” post by the infamous blog World News Daily Report (WNDR) was spotted recirculating as recently as 2022, painting the Smithsonian Institution as part of yet another alleged historical cover-up.

The original story, which was posted in December 2014, centered on a fictional court battle between the Smithsonian and the fictional “American Institution of Alternative Archeology” that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court:

During the court case, new elements were brought to light as several Smithsonian whistle blowers [sic] admitted to the existence of documents that allegedly proved the destruction of tens of thousands of human skeletons reaching between 6 feet and 12 feet in height, a reality mainstream archeology can not admit to for different reasons …

As “proof,” the blog included a photograph often associated with this type of conspiracy theory, showing a man holding what it called a “giant human femur uncovered in Ohio in 2011,” presumably betting that its readers had not already seen it posted on other sites claiming that it was actually “discovered” in Turkey:

In reality, the photograph was digitally-altered, and likely part of what the National Geographic Society once called “a continuing flow of emails” from people hoping that the photo they found of “giant bones” would be the one to be confirmed.

As is often the case, internet users on social media or fringe message boards ignored WNDR’s standard disclaimer:

World News Daily Report is a news and political satire web publication, which may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within are fiction, and presumably fake news. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental, except for all references to politicians and/or celebrities, in which case they are based on real people, but still based almost entirely in fiction.

Conspiracy theories about “giant skeletons” long predate the Internet, however; some proponents have taken to citing an 1848 speech by then-Illinois Rep. Abraham Lincoln as evidence. During an appearance at Niagra Falls, Lincoln said:

When Columbus first sought this continent — when Christ suffered on the cross — when Moses led Israel through the Red-Sea — nay, even when Adam first came from the hand of his Maker — then as now, Niagara was roaring here. The eyes of that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara, as ours do.

But as researchers at the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy have showed, those citing the speech often ignore the next part of Lincoln’s remarks:

Co[n]temporary with the whole race of men, and older than the first man, Niagara is strong, and fresh to-day as ten thousand years ago. The Mammoth and Mastadon now so long dead, that fragments of their monstrous bones, alone testify, that they ever lived, have gazed on Niagara.

Despite being roundly and repeatedly debunked, however, the claims of “giant skeletons” continue to circulate online.

Update 9/5/2023, 1:26 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. — ag