On the day when Magellan “found” 3-meter-tall Giants in Patagonia

Margie Jones
31/08/2023

During Ferdinand Magellan’s 1520 nautical journey, he made a stop in what is now known as Patagonia. During this stop, Magellan encountered a group of giants, which he sent one of his men to approach with the intention of exchanging dances and songs to establish a friendly relationship. The encounter was successful, and the giant was delivered to Magellan waiting on a nearby island.

According to Antonio Pigafetta’s travel notebook, the giant was initially frightened upon seeing the Europeans, mistaking them for angels. The giants were much taller than the Europeans, and even the tallest among them could barely reach the giant’s waist. This encounter with the Tehuelches lends some credence to the legend of giants living in Patagonia.

Magellan made the mistake of feeding and watering the giant before giving him a mirror, causing the creature to grow frightened upon realizing who he was. It leapt back, trampling four of Magellan’s men to the ground. However, after the incident had subsided, the explorers established contact with the rest of the tribe, went on hunting trips with them, and even built a home to store their supplies while they stayed on the coast.

After spending many weeks living with the tribe, Magellan came up with a plan to kidnap two giants and bring them back to Spain. This plan marked the end of their peaceful interaction with the Tehuelches.

To avoid any issues with the giants, Magellan carefully planned their capture by providing them with various metal objects, such as mirrors, scissors, and bells, to keep them occupied while their legs were restrained by chains and shackles.

Although the giants welcomed the chains, they were unsure of how to wear them. Unfortunately, during the lengthy journey back to Spain, Magellan’s bodily remains were lost, and the captured giants died en route. However, Magellan and Pigafetta were able to bring back the story of their encounter with the giants, and the land where they lived became known as Patagonia, which some believe comes from the term “leg,” meaning “Land of the Big Feet.”

The story of the Patagonians was later recorded in a book called Primaleón, which describes them as a wild race of people. It is said that Magellan may have taken inspiration from this book when naming the giants.

Sir Francis Drake’s nephew recounted in The World Encompassed in 1628 that despite the Patagonians’ initial reluctance, they were able to communicate with the British explorers and establish a peaceful interaction.

It is believed that the Spaniards were misled in their perception of the giants in Patagonia, as there are English people who are taller than the tallest person observed by Magellan and his crew. However, the Spaniards’ belief that no English people would come to deceive them made them more confident in their description of the giants. The giants varied greatly in terms of size, physical prowess, magnificence, and the ugliness of their voices, but they were not as enormous and terrible as they were initially thought to be.

For academics, the Patagonian giants were a contentious topic. According to William C. Sturtevant’s essay Patagonian Giants and Baroness Hyde de Neuville’s Iroquois Drawings, the Tehuelches were simply a very tall people. While some records suggest that Patagonians’ height was closer to 1.82 meters, future expeditions led by Magellan believed their height to be as much as 3 meters.

As scientific discoveries began to emerge, popular interest in the giants of Patagonia waned, according to Sturtevant. Some estimates from the 19th century or measurements taken by certain individuals suggest that the giants may have been more than 2 meters tall.

The average height of Tehuelche men is estimated to be around 1.80 meters, which is considered normal for humans, but not for giants. However, according to William C. Sturtevant, even if we take the lowest estimates based on current measurements of male Tehuelches, they still rank among the tallest populations in the world.

In contrast, during the 16th to 18th centuries, the average height of European men, including Magellan, was only around 1.5 meters. Despite his short stature, Magellan’s imagination seems to have been boundless.

Fantastically Wrong: Magellan's Strange Encounter With the 10-Foot Giants  of Patagonia | WIRED

But why were the Tehuelches shorter than Europeans? The answer might lie in Bergmann’s rule, which suggests that animals and humans tend to grow more rapidly in colder regions, where larger bodies are better equipped to withstand very low temperatures.

This is why the largest terrestrial carnivores in the world, such as the polar bear, are found in the far north, while tropical species that lose heat more rapidly are better adapted to hot and humid climates.

Environments can exert pressure on humans during the process of evolution, which may result in certain populations becoming larger than others. However, skeptics who try to explain reports of giants in the Americas often resort to a weak argument that gigantism is the cause, without providing any supporting evidence.

Gigantism is a rare hormonal disorder, and there are no reliable statistics on its prevalence. Throughout American history, less than 100 cases of gigantism have been reported. The vast majority of people who are 2 meters or taller do not have this condition, and only 0.000007% of the modern population falls into this category.

Given these statistics, it’s puzzling that the Smithsonian has reportedly discovered 17 skeletons taller than 7 feet in ancient burial mounds located in a relatively small region of North America. The origins of these skeletons remain a mystery.

Related posts