Science: Giants in Those Days

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There were giants in the earth in those days.—Genesis, VI, 4.

Genesis and many a folk tale notwithstanding, most anthropologists have pictured primitive man as a little fellow somewhere between an ape and a monkey in size. But last week evidence was offered to prove Genesis correct. A Java geologist had dug up bones of prehistoric men bigger than the largest known apes.

The discoverer was Dr. R. von Koenigswald of The Netherlands Indies Geological Survey. No word has come from or of him since the Japanese took Java in 1942. But Dr. Franz Weidenreich of Manhattan's American Museum of Natural History, piecing together what he had learned of Koenigswald's findings, reported them in Science. He pronounced the discovery the most important in anthropology since Eugene Dubois dug up Pithecanthropus erectus, the "missing link" between men and apes, in Java in 1891.

Koenigswald first found a big jawbone which looked more human than Pithecanthropus', but was so massive that he thought it could not possibly be a man's.

Then he found a still larger jaw, the biggest ever discovered, which was unmistakably human. It was apparently the most primitive truly human fossil ever discovered. Koenigswald named it Meganthropus palaeojavanicus (Big Man of Ancient Java). Meganthropus seemed to have been about the size of a big male gorilla.

Koenigswald's crowning find dwarfed even Meganthropus. Prowling in South China apothecaries' shops, whose drawers are often full of fossils, he found three astounding fossil teeth. They were six times as big as a modern man's molars, twice as big as a gorilla's. Koenigswald thought they were an ape's. But Weidenreich is sure, from the pattern of their "biting surfaces, that they are definitely human. He has named this man monster, who was certainly much larger than a gorilla, Gigantanthropus.

The Java giants, Weidenreich thinks, were not freaks. Taking a fresh look at the thick-boned fossils of such other primitive human beings as Heidelberg Man, Weidenreich now believes that "gigantism and massiveness may have been a general or at least a widespread character of early mankind."