The day Magellan “found” 3-meter giants in Patagonia
In 1520, Fernão de Magalhães found time in his worldwide maritime schedule to stop in what is now Patagonia, where he encountered giants.
Magellan ordered one of his men to make contact with the giant (the emissary’s reaction would have to be seen, but unfortunately it is lost to history), and thus make sure that the exchange of dances and songs led to a display of friendship.
It worked. The man managed to lead the giant to a small island off the coast, where the great captain was waiting for him. The description of the scene was carried out by a scholar during the day, Antonio Pigafetta, who kept the voyage diary that later became Magellan’s Voyage: First Around the World.
“When he stood before us, he began to wonder and fear, and he raised a finger in the air, believing that we came from heaven. He was so tall that the tallest of us only came to our waists’, and he had a deep, resonant voice.
The illustration above proves it, Patagonia was once inhabited by giants who dwarfed the celestial Europeans who came to conquer them.
Okay, maybe this isn’t a perfect test. But it could be that the people Magellan encountered, the Tehuelche, were really huge, and so this myth has some basis in reality.
On that small island, Magellan had his men give the giant food and drink, and then made the mistake of showing him a mirror.
“The moment the giant could see himself he was terrified,” Pigafetta wrote, “he leapt back throwing four of our men to the ground.”
But once things calmed down, the explorers began making contact with the rest of the tribe, hunting with them and even building a house to store their supplies while they remained on the coast.
After several weeks with the tribe, Magellan came up with a plan: he had to kidnap two of them and take them back to Spain to test these giants he had discovered.
“But this had to be planned cunningly, otherwise the giants would have gotten our men in trouble.” Magellan offered them all sorts of time-wasting metal products, such as mirrors, scissors, and bells, so they wouldn’t mind putting handcuffs and chains on their legs.
“To which these giants were pleased to see these chains, not knowing where to place them.” Magellan, however, lost evidence of it during the long journey back to Spain. The giants did not survive.
But what Magalhães and Pigafetta brought was this story and the new name of the land of the giants, Patagonia, its etymology is still not entirely clear. Some argue that it means “Land of Big Feet”, because of the “leg”.
Although Magellan probably took his name from a novel popular at the time, Primaleón was called and told of a race of wild people called the Patagonians.
Though they let the British pour cold water on it anyway, Sir Francis Drake managed to make contact with the Patagonians themselves, as his nephew summarized in The World Encompassed in 1628:
“Magalhães was not entirely mistaken in naming these giants, in general they differ so much in stature, greatness and bodily strength, and also in the ugliness of their voices, but neither were they so monstrous and giants as they are represented, there are some Englishmen as tall as the highest we could see, but the Spaniards don’t think any English would come here to lower them and that makes them more audacious to lie».
For scholars, this was like an open wound, and with good reason. According to William C. Sturtevant in his essay Patagonian Giants and Baroness Hyde of Neuville’s Iroquois Drawings, the Tehuelche were just a particularly sculptural people.
While Magellan’s later voyages measured Patagonians up to 3 meters tall, others placed them in the 1.82 meter range.
“Popular interest in the Patagonian giants waned as scientific reports began to appear,” writes Sturtevant. “Some estimates from the 19th century or from measurements of some individuals are still high,” more than 2 meters.
But the best measurements of Tehuelche men put them at around six feet tall, perfectly reasonable for a human being, but totally unpresentable for a giant.
“If we accept the smallest (and least documented) of these means based on modern measurements of males,” he adds, “the Tehuelches are nonetheless among the largest known populations worldwide.”
In contrast, male Europeans such as Magellan in the 16th to 18th centuries would have measured at a low range of 1.5 meters. His imagination, however, seems to have outgrown his small stature.
But why was there such a height difference between Europeans and these “end of the world” natives? Animals, including humans, tend to grow more in cold climates and less in hot climates.
This is known as Bergmann’s rule: with a larger body, you lose less heat and are therefore better suited to survive subzero temperatures.
Therefore, it is no coincidence that the world’s largest land predators, such as the polar bear, live in the far north, while tropical creatures, which lose heat more quickly, are better suited for sweltering jungles.
And over evolutionary time, environments can exert the same pressure on humans. Thus, the natives of glacial Patagonia would have grown — in theory — more than their European counterparts.
In a feeble attempt to explain something without really investigating the matter, skeptics claim that gigantism is likely the cause of many of the reports of giants in the Americas, however, they have never provided evidence for this claim.
Gigantism is extremely rare, so rare that there are no statistics on the incidence of this hormonal disease. In the history of the United States there are less than 100 recorded cases of gigantism.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of tall people today – approaching or approaching 2 meters – have no gigantism disorder at all. On the other hand, the percentage of modern humans who reach 2 meters in height is 0.000007%.
So how is it that, for example, the Smithsonian has in its possession 17 skeletons over 2 meters tall found in ancient burial mounds in a relatively small region of North America?