"Skeleton of Giant" Is Internet Photo Hoax

National Geographic has not discovered ancient giant humans, despite rampant reports and pictures. But we have discovered how the hoax started and perhaps why people believe.

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Since 2004 this doctored image has helped give legs to tall tales of ancient giant humans.

At least one version of the storypublished in the March 2007 issue of India's Hindu Voicemonthly and cited in countless blog entries and emails this yearclaims that a National Geographic Society team helped make the "discovery" in India.

The picture, however, is an innocent fake.

The image was lifted from Worth1000, a Web site that hosts contests for digital artists. Created by an artist using the alias IronKite, the picture placed third in a 2002 competition titled "Archaeological Anomalies 2," which asked contestants to create a hoax archaeological discovery.

Man, this guy gets around! said IronKitewho does not want his real name used in this storyafter hearing his work had been used to back up the latest false reports.
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Canadian artist IronKite used this mastodon-excavation phototaken in 2000 in Hyde Park, New Yorkas the basis for his entry in an online photo-manipulation contest.

The altered photo lies behind persistent Internet rumors, spread since 2004, of archaeologists unearthing ancient human giants.

IronKite digitally superimposed a human skeleton over the mastodon-dig photo, he told National Geographic News in December 2007.

The artist later added a man holding a shovel. His clothing was re-colored to match that of the man in the above, authentic picture. The goal, IronKite said, was to make the shoveler appear to be part of the excavation team.
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Though not used to create the skeleton image on the first page of this gallery, this second authentic photo of a New York State mastodon excavation gives another perspective on the dig that served as the foundation for the digital artwork.

The artwork, in turn, inspired false reports of an ancient-giant discovery.

IronKite, the digital artist, had nothing to do with the subsequent hoax.

To create the photo collage, he said, I kept most of the wood frame from the dig site and replaced most of the muddy dirt with ground from the skeleton picture, using a fuzzy 'brush' to fade the two so no hard lines would be visible."
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As if one fake giant skeleton weren't enough, other images across the Internet have bolstered claims of massive human remains.

Like IronKite's image on the first page of this gallery, this image by Anakinnnn has been used in blog postings and emails about "discoveries" of ancient behemoths.

Also like IronKite's image, this one originally appeared on Worth1000, a site that hosts competitions for digital artists.

The site's two Archaeological Anomalies contests invited entrants to create a hoax archaeological discovery.

"Be open minded," the contest organizers added, "there are many mysteries buried beneath the earth.
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This digitally altered picture has been featured widely on blogs debating the existence of ancient giantsspeculation fueled in part by false reports of huge skeletons unearthed in India, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere.

The image, created by Amaranto, appears to be a less than serious attempt at a hoaxnote the huge revolver in the skeleton's hand.

Avi Muchnick runs Worth1000, the Web site that sponsored the photo-manipulation contests that inspired the fake photos in this gallery.

We have thousands of people who regularly create images like these in image-editing tools like Phoenix and Photoshop," Muchnick said. "So it's no surprise to us when some of these images get passed around the Web as authentic depictions of actual events."
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Tap images for captions

The National Geographic Society has not discovered ancient giant humans, despite rampant reports and pictures.

The hoax began with a doctored photo and later found a receptive online audience—thanks perhaps to the image's unintended religious connotations.

A digitally altered photograph created in 2002 shows a reclining giant surrounded by a wooden platform—with a shovel-wielding archaeologist thrown in for scale.

By 2004 the "discovery" was being blogged and emailed all over the world—"Giant Skeleton Unearthed!"—and it's been enjoying a revival in 2007.

The photo fakery might be obvious to most people. But the tall tale refuses to lie down even five years later, if a continuing flow of emails to National Geographic News are any indication. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

The messages come from around the globe—Portugal, India, El Salvador, Malaysia, Africa, the Dominican Republic, Greece, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya. But they all ask the same question: Is it true?

Perpetuating the Myth

Helping to fuel the story's recent resurgence are a smattering of media outlets that have reported the find as fact.

An often cited March 2007 article in India's Hindu Voice monthly, for example, claimed that a National Geographic Society team, in collaboration with the Indian Army, had dug up a giant human skeleton in India.

"Recent exploration activity in the northern region of India uncovered a skeletal remains of a human of phenomenal size," the report read.

The story went on to say the discovery was made by a "National Geographic Team (India Division) with support from the Indian Army since the area comes under jurisdiction of the Army."

The account added that the team also found tablets with inscriptions that suggest the giant belonged to a race of superhumans that are mentioned in the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic poem from about 200 B.C.

"They were very tall, big and very powerful, such that they could put their arms around a tree trunk and uproot it," the report said, repeating claims that initially appeared in 2004.

Voice editor P. Deivamuthu admitted to National Geographic News that his publication was taken in by the fake reports.

The monthly, which is based in Mumbai (Bombay), published a retraction after readers alerted Deivamuthu to the hoax, he said.

"We are against spreading lies and canards," Deivamuthu added. "Moreover, our readers are a highly intellectual class and will not brook any nonsense."

Other blog entries—such as a May 2007 posting on a site called Srini's Weblog—cite a report supposedly published in the Times of India on April 22, 2004. But a search of that newspaper's archive revealed no such article.

Arabian Giant

Variations of the giant photo hoax include alleged discovery of a 60- to 80-foot long (18- to 24-meter) human skeleton in Saudi Arabia. In one popular take, which likewise first surfaced in 2004, an oil-exploration team is said to have made the find.

Here the skeleton is held up as evidence of giants mentioned in Islamic, rather than Hindu, scriptures.

The Debunkers

Web sites dedicated to debunking urban legends and "netlore" picked up on the various giant hoaxes soon after they first appeared.

California-based Snopes.com, for example, noted that the skeleton image had been lifted from Worth1000, which hosts photo-manipulation competitions.

Titled "Giants," the skeleton-and-shoveler picture had won third place in a 2002 contest called "Archaeological Anomalies 2."

The image's creator—an illustrator from Canada who goes by the screen name IronKite—told National Geographic News via email that he had had nothing to do with the subsequent hoax.

He added that he wants to remain anonymous because some forums that debated whether the giant was genuine or not "were turning their entire argument into a religious one." It was argued, for instance, that the Saudi Arabian find was entirely consistent with the teachings of the Koran.

"This was about the same time that death threats and cash bounties were being issued against cartoonists and other industry professionals for doing things like depicting the Prophet Mohammed," IronKite wrote.

How the Image Was Made

IronKite started with an aerial photo of a mastodon excavation in Hyde Park, New York, in 2000. He then digitally superimposed a human skeleton over the beast's remains.

The later addition of a digging man presented the biggest technical challenge.

"If you look, he's holding a yellow-handled shovel, but there's nothing on the end," IronKite said.

"Originally, the spade end was there. But [it] looked like it was occupying the exact same space as the skeleton's temple, making the whole thing look fake.

"Now it looks like he's just holding a stick, and people don't notice. It's funny."

IronKite also altered the color of the man's clothing to create a "uniform tie-in" with the white-shirted observer peering down from the wooden platform.

The two figures work to exaggerate the scale of the skeleton, he added.

(Related: "Shark 'Photo of the Year' Is E-Mail Hoax" [March 8, 2005].)

IronKite said he's tickled that the picture—which took only about an hour and a half to create—has generated so much Internet attention.

"I laugh myself silly when some guy claims to know someone who was there, or even goes so far as to claim that he or she was there when they found the skeleton and took the picture," IronKite said.

"Sometimes people seem so desperate to believe in something that they lie to themselves, or exaggerate in order to make their own argument stronger."

Wanting to Believe

David Mikkelson of Snopes.com said such hoaxes succeed when they seem to confirm something people are already inclined to believe, such as a prejudice, political viewpoint, or religious belief.

A hoax also needs to be presented "in a framework that has the appearance of credibility," he said in an email.

The "ancient giant" has both elements, according to Mikkelson.

"It appeals to both a religious and a secular vision of the world as different and more fantastic than mere science would lead us to believe," he said.

"Proof," Mikkelson added, "comes in the form of a fairly convincing image."

For anyone who may have knowingly propagated the myth, Mikkelson added, the motivation "probably wasn't any different than the motivation for engaging in a game of ringing someone's doorbell and running away—because it's an easy way to have a laugh at someone else's expense."

Alex Boese, "curator" of the virtual Museum of Hoaxes, said fake giants have a long history going back to the at least the 1700s.

The recent hoax is reminiscent of the once famous Cardiff Giant myth, involving a ten-foot-tall (three-meter) stone figure dug up in 1869 in Cardiff, New York, Boese said.

Many people believed the figure was a petrified man and claimed he was one of the giants mentioned in the Bible's Book of Genesis: "There were giants in the Earth in those days."

Likewise, Boese said, the recent giant hoax "taps into people's desire for mystery and their desire to see concrete confirmation of religious legends."

National Geographic News photo editor Sebastian John contributed to this report.
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