The 16th-Century Myth Of Giants In South America

“But one day (without anyone expecting it) we saw a giant who was on the shore, quite naked, and who danced, leaped, and sang, and while he sang he threw sand and dust on his head.” —From the journal of Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition

In A Nutshell

The Age of Exploration resulted in numerous misconceptions and wild fantasies about the New World being spread as fact throughout Europe. According to the diaries, journals, and writings of Ferdinand Magellan and his crew, the Pacific Coast of South America was populated by a tribe of giants called the Patagonians. These giants were so tall that the Europeans were only waist-high to them, and two were even captured to be brought back to show all of Europe.

The Whole Bushel

The first accounts of a race of giants living on the Pacific Coast of South America come from the chronicler on Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage in 1520. According to Antonio Pigafetta, they first saw a giant singing, dancing, and cavorting on the beach. As he seemed lighthearted and happy, they assumed he was friendly and approached him in much the same manner. He was; they communicated with him through a sort of sign language, and he made it clear that he thought they were from heaven.

Pigafetta tells of an entire race of the people. They were said to be so tall that the tops of the Europeans’ heads only reached to their waists. Upon meeting the rest of the people, Magellan was said to be anxious to take a few of them back to Europe. And that meant a good ol’ kidnapping scheme. Pigafetta describes an incident in which nine of their strongest men were sent to capture two of the giants. They had such strength that the men were barely successful. Unfortunately, both captives fell ill and died on the journey back to Europe.

The myth, unlike Magellan’s captives, didn’t die there.

Next, Sir Francis Drake got in on the story. In his nephew’s published account of their journeys, he told of encountering the massive giants. But, he estimated their height at closer to 2.2 meters (7.5 ft) instead of 3 meters (10 ft), probably in an attempt to discredit earlier accounts. He tells of how wary and untrusting the giants became after Magellan’s cruel treatment of them and attempted abduction, painting a very clear picture of the Spanish expedition ruining a people that had previous been kind and amiable. And instead of entirely discrediting Magellan, he gave the myth a boost.

Another voyage, this time commanded by John Byron of the British Royal Navy in the mid-1700s, seemed to confirm the tales. A conveniently anonymous book published two years after the ship’s return told more stories about the giants. And this account included illustrations, lending more and more credence to its claims. (So much so that it seemed to be overlooked that there was no named author, much less a named author that could be confirmed to have been on the HMS Dolphin for the voyage.) The book succeeded in not only selling well, but increasing interest in the myth across Europe.

And the myth got yet another boost when a priest named Pernety, who had been on a previous round-the-world voyage, decided to write his own book about how the captains of his ship had met the elusive giants. Even though he himself had no first-hand experience with the peoples, he quite openly condemned those who would doubt in the face of such evidence.

Several years after the anonymous book and the priest’s follow-up, the captain of the HMS Dolphin released his own statement. The people they had met were tall, yes, but hardly the massive giants that everyone was making them out to be. He presented the first accurate picture of a people that were still tall enough that they would have seemed to tower over the smaller Europeans, but certainly not giants. Now, it’s thought that the references made were really to some tall natives that the explorers encountered; but that these were probably the Tehuelche or the Aonikenk people—not the giants that Europeans told stories of for more than two centuries.

Show Me The Proof

Princeton University: Patagonian Giants
Patagonian Giants in the work of Dom Pernety, 1769–1771

  • ArmandoWhitby

    The 16th century Life is so very different and weird.

  • Rijul Ballal

    I heard about this from a creationist guy who had come to my school,he insisted that this disproved evolution. Even the sixth graders laughed at him.

    • lbatfish

      Another example of laughter being the best medicine.

    • rincewind

      Even if true, I can’t see how this would disprove evolution.

  • Nathaniel A.

    Another case of classic over-exaggeration.

  • Scott

    A shame that our world usually leans towards the mundane rather than the mythical.

    • Nathaniel A.

      If everything that you consider mythical was commonplace, then mythical things would now be mundane and new things would take their place to be your “mythical” things.

      • Kevin Johnston

        I once heard of a duck-billed, beaver-tailed, poisonous (venomous?) mammal.

        • Nathaniel A.

          That is called a platypus. Certainly not mythical but definitely not mundane.

          • Kevin Johnston

            haha yah I just love the description. Sound’s like it should be a mythical creature

      • Scott

        Not sure if I agree. I think if I was used to fire-breathing flying lizards, shape-shifting wolves, and beautiful women that are half-fish and eat people I wouldn’t be the least bit excited at the sight of a raccoon.

  • Precious Okori

    You never know, it could have happened. You never really know what’s out there…

  • Kat

    Well perhaps at the time, the people from other lands were really tall (although i do think some accounts were exaggerated) but after awhile, evolution made them smaller. Maybe the air got less pure and their food source less nutritious so they just stopped growing so big

  • JayTe

    Ms. Kelly, may I refer you to a book by Richard J. Dewhurst, “The Ancient Giants who Ruled America”. You’ll find that he research first person accounts from newspaper articles and photos, first person accounts, state historical records and illustrated field reports to put together a compelling evidence that not only was there an advanced race of giants in North America but the majority of the skeletal evidence has been collected and squired away by the Smithsonian in a blatant coverup since the time of when Major John Wesley Powell was appointed director. The most blatant of the coverups is on Catalina Island where in the 1920s they found a megalithic burial complex with 6,000 years of continuous burials and more than 4000 skeletons including successions of kings and queens, some more than 9 feet tall. You’re not going to find this information in conventional texts because it goes against a number of the narratives that the powers that be want us to accept.

    I would also refer you to Lloyd Pye and Everything You Know is Wrong.

  • Evergreen1613

    It takes faith to hold to any belief. Some choose evolution, others nothing. These are two empty sets of beliefs to Bible believers like me. The Judeo-Christian scriptures decisively talk about giants (Genesis 6), preflood and later. After the flood there are some mentioned, like Goliath, at nearly 10 foot tall or King Og who slept in a 13 foot bed. There were races of giants as mentoned in the Old Testament books who inhabited land in Canaan. No doubt, in other parts of the world. Too many testimonies in other cultures to call everyone a liar.
    ts not a matter to those like me IF these existed–but rather why have their bones been hidden away, unlike dinosaur bones?
    Time will tell who is the fool.