(Author’s Note: This article contains reference to an anonymous source. Although we have a rule of not using anonymous sources in our published work, we have made an exception in this case, since we feel that the possibilities yielded by this investigation could be of some importance.)
In the summer of 1930, a series of newspaper articles appeared describing a most sensational discovery: a race of gigantic beings unearthed from two burial mounds in Doddridge County, West Virginia.
According to the Clarksburg Daily Exponent for June 15, 1930, in an article entitled Two Prehistoric Indian Mounds Found Near Morgansville (by Bruce Horton), the mounds were located on the farm of Benjamin Zahn in Morgansville, 12 miles (19 kilometers) west of Salem. The article mentions that Professor Ernest Sutton of Salem University carried out excavations.
Burials of a Vanished Race
The article makes remarkable claims regarding the “now vanished race” found buried in the mounds:
“The particular tribe or race which inhabited this section of the state is believed to have been composed of individuals ranging from seven to nine feet in height…”
Of the two mounds, the Exponent article notes that one, being “six feet in height and nearly fifteen feet in diameter” (1.8 meters high and 4.5 meters diameter) contained a type of megalithic chamber “shaped from large, flat rocks”, which was “carefully and tightly packed with clay”. Within the chamber was one sitting burial, considered to be a chief.
The Exponent explains that the second mound was “ten feet high and about sixty feet in diameter” (three meters high and 18 meters diameter), featuring three burials, one of which was “a man of height, strength and power, measuring seven feet, six inches tall” (228.6 cm tall), buried near the center of the mound and “carefully covered by flat stones”. Another skeleton from the same mound is described as being “hermetically sealed in a case of clay”.
Another article, entitled Salem Professor Discovers Huge Skeletons in Mounds appeared in the Charleston Gazette for June 15, 1930. According to the Gazette, the mounds contained “what Prof. Ernest Sutton, head of the history department of Salem College, believes is valuable evidence of a race of giants who inhabited this section of West Virginia more than 1000 years ago.” Again four burials were mentioned from the two mounds, measurements “indicating they were from seven to nine feet tall” (2.1 to 2.7 meters tall). The burial sealed in clay is again mentioned, with a measurement given of “seven and a half feet tall”.
Artist’s representation of North American giant. Credit: Marcia K Moore / Ciamar Studio. Visit https://www.marciakmooreciamarstudio.com/
The Smithsonian Acquisitions
In the spring of 2015, the authors undertook an investigation of these discoveries made long ago. To begin with, the press articles all mention that Sutton sent the artifacts from the Zahn Farm mounds to the Smithsonian Institution. In fact, the acquisitions records of the Smithsonian do note the donation of several artifacts from the “Zahn-Maxwell Mound”, including a stemmed point, slate gorget, and a sandstone disk. The disk itself is mentioned in the press articles, noted as featuring several engraved lines on one side. These three artifacts were manually assigned to Ernest Sutton and Oris Stutler in the acquisitions journal at the Smithsonian, with a date of donation of July 9, 1930.
These are without doubt artifacts from the mounds in question and the material can be viewed at the online Smithsonian Collections Search Center.
Sutton himself published a paper detailing the excavations of the mounds in the 10th volume of the West Virginia Archaeologist in 1958. According to Sutton, the two mounds, dubbed Do-1 and Do-2, were located on a steep hill 400 feet (122 meters) above the village of Morgansville.
Do-2 was the Zahn-Maxwell Mound, the actual dimensions of which were 10 feet in height and 75 feet in diameter (three meters high and 22.8 meters diameter). Sutton documents four extended burials, one of which was encased in a type of baked clay, as well as the presence of red and yellow ochre in some burials.
Map from the Sutton Report, courtesy authors.
Sutton refers to Do-1 as the Zahn Mound, measured as 12 feet in diameter and three feet high (3.6 meters diameter and one meter high). The report offers extensive details regarding the burial in the stone chamber mentioned in the Newspapers:
“The body had evidently been placed in a sitting position on a large flat rock with the legs extended toward the large mound. Skull, chest, and pelvic bones were in one mass on top of the rock. The leg and foot bones extended beyond the rock in the direction of the larger mound.”
Interestingly, Sutton notes that even though no “artifacts or articles of adornment were found with the skeletal remains”, he and his assistant, Page Lockard, felt that the burial was “very unusual”, and that “the person who had been buried here was of more than average importance.”
Page Lockard himself seems to have had great interest in this particular skeleton:
“Mr. Lockard collected the bones and took them home with him.”
Sutton later removed the large stone upon which the skeleton was found, uncovering four cache blades, pipe fragments, a bone awl, flint scraper, black arrowhead, and a bluish gray banner stone broken in two.
Significantly, a comparative study reveals that the newspaper accounts, published 29 years before Sutton’s own document, were almost perfectly accurate in their details.
For example, the Clarksburg Daily Exponent notes that the first evidence of burial in the Zahn-Maxwell mound was “charcoal lumps and some evidence of burnt bone” found in an excavation trench from the east side of the mound.
Artifacts from Doddridge County Mounds in Sutton Report, courtesy authors.
Sutton himself describes the same area containing “dark organic material” and “bits of ashes and charcoal”.
The Exponent also mentions that “the entire mound had been covered by loose rocks”, while Sutton states that the “mound was covered with a good protective layer of rock, sandstone, of varying sizes”.
The Exponent describes the sandstone disk as three inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter, with Sutton’s report giving the same diameter and a thickness of 3/16ths of an inch (0.48 centimeters). The Exponent even accurately describes the artifacts discovered by Sutton beneath the large stone platform in the Zahn Mound:
“…beneath the large rock upon which he (the burial) sat were buried his pipe, banner stone, arrow heads, spear points, and other instruments chipped from flint rocks.”
Sealed in Clay
Regarding the body being “hermetically sealed”, the Exponent suggests that the body had been “covered and sealed” in clay, which was then heated in a process during which were “many different applications of clay and many different bakings,” which mirrors Sutton’s own interpretation that “the body had been encased in the puddled clay and then the clay baked or heated”.
The Charleston Gazette mentions that this skeleton, “enclosed in a casting of clay” was the “best preserved” in the mound, “with all the vertebrae and other bones excepting the skull” intact. This matches Sutton’s description of the burial, mentioning that “this was the first complete skeleton found, and that the “skull of this skeleton still remains in the mound”.
The purpose of this digression is to illustrate that in this rare instance, the accuracy of a newspaper account of mound excavations can be discerned by cross reference with the actual work of the excavator. The data presented by the two press articles is of near accuracy in regards to those features also described by Sutton himself, except for some discrepancies in mound size. This is in stark contradiction to the assumptions of critics of giantology who frequently attribute the claims of the press relating to excavations in the 19th and 20th centuries to pure sensationalism.
One crucial element missing from Ernest Sutton’s report are the measurements of skeletons. However, there is evidence between the two newspaper accounts and Sutton’s report that would suggest that the claims of gigantic skeletons were also accurate. Both the Exponent and the Gazette attribute one gigantic frame to the Zahn-Maxwell mound (Do-2). The discrepancy is that the Exponent claims the “seven feet, six inches tall” skeleton was found near the center of the mound, while the Gazette mentions that it was the clay casted skeleton which was “seven and a half feet tall”. Since both articles, and Sutton himself, note that this clay casted burial was the best-preserved skeleton in the mound, we submit that this could have represented one of the two giants supposedly found on site.
The only other skeleton from the site with remains sufficiently intact for measurement, according to Sutton, would be the single burial in the stone chamber from the Zahn Mound (Do-1). Since the press reports unanimously attributed the 7.6-foot-tall skeleton to the Zahn-Maxwell Mound (Do-2), it would stand to reason that the single burial from the Zahn Mound (Do-1) was the source for the nine-foot tall skeleton reported by both the Exponent and the Gazette. Could the extraordinary size of this skeleton have been the reason why Page Lockard took it away?
There may be an explanation for why Sutton chose not to include the skeletal measurements in his report. In fact, the absence of measurements could represent validation of the gigantic size of some of the remains.
It is important to note that Sutton’s report did not appear until 1958—29 years after his initial excavations in the summer of 1929. The Zahn Mounds were his first mound excavations, and the beginning of a long career as an amateur archaeologist working in West Virginia and Ohio.
As someone working outside of the establishment, Ernest Sutton may have been initially unaware of the policy of secrecy enacted under the authority of Ales Hrdlicka of the Smithsonian, regarding the reporting of gigantic skeletons. As a result of these circumstances, Sutton may have gone public with what he considered to be very important anthropological discoveries in June of 1930, and then avoided the mention of the size of the skeletons in his official report filed almost three decades later.
“Ales hrdlicka” by Unknown – Archive Museum of Aleš Hrdlička in Humpolec. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Gazette article specifically mentions that the information came from Sutton himself, who had made some manner of presentation on the night of June 14, the day before the article’s publication. The extensive and accurate details contained in the Exponent article may have been due to the reporter attending the same event, which could have been held at Salem University, where Sutton taught History and Geography.
The Stigma Against Giants
There is evidence of the enforcement of the stigma against reporting gigantic remains in Sutton’s subsequent work. Between September of 1962 and October of 1963, Sutton excavated the Johnson-Thompson mound in Athens County, Ohio. However, several issues prevented the official report from being published until July of 1966 in the Ohio Archaeologist. Several of these issues are outlined in a piece of correspondence between Ernest Sutton and Martha Potter of the Ohio Historical Society, dated March 21, 1966.
The Sutton Letter, courtesy authors.
Among the questions addressed are Sutton’s methods of determining the height of skeletons:
“I note some question by both you and Dr. Baby regarding my measurement of burials and what formula I use. By examination and checking, I find that the length of the femur bone is approximately one-third of the total length.”
In the letter, Sutton also assures Potter that the “Johnson-Thompson Mound report has been revised in conformity with instructions and is now returned.” This is clear evidence that large “official” organizations were enforcing specific criteria in the publication of archaeological data. In relation to this, the specific reference to the measurement of skeletal height in Sutton’s letter would indicate that this subject was among those bounded by these criteria.
(A big thanks to Joshua Magaw for providing Sutton’s personal correspondence for this investigation.)
Visit Jason and Sarah’s Website at https://www.paradigmcollision.com/
(Read Part II )
Top Image: Deriv; The Sutton Letter, courtesy authors, and a human skull. Representational image only. (Steve Snodgrass/ CC BY 2.0 )
Updated January 25, 2022.