Did Giants once live in Sicily?

Giants appear in the mythologies of many cultures. This is fair enough. It doesn’t take much to wonder what if someone was taller and stronger than the tallest person you know. But it would also be difficult to doubt the existence of giants if you kept finding their bones everywhere.

Sicily is a large island in the Mediterranean and is today, an autonomous region of Italy. Over the centuries, huge bones were found in the mountain caves of the island. One example is documented by the Italian writer,  Giovanni Boccaccio in his book, Genealogia deorum gentilium (Genealogy of the Pagan Gods). Boccaccio speaks of how, in 1342, in a cave in Mount Erice, townsfolk came across the bones of what they believed was a giant. The majority of the bones turned to dust, but three teeth remained, along with one of the leg bones which let the townsfolk estimate the ‘giants’ height. [ref] Myth and Geology edited by Luigi Piccardi, W. Bruce Masse 2007 [/ref] 

However, this was far from the only supposed giant skeleton found over the centuries in Sicily. So many bones were reportedly taken from the Cave of St Ciro in 1663, that according to Vincenzo Aurio, they formed the whole body of a giant. [ref] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249551895_Giants_and_elephants_of_Sicily [/ref]

Adrienne Mayor, in her book The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, discusses how the discovery of what we now class as fossils, could be the underpinning for many ancient myths. She cites the work of Austrian professor, Othenio Abel, who proposed that it was the discovery of elephant skulls on islands such as Sicily which gave rise to the myth of Cyclops. [ref] The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times By Adrienne Mayor [/ref]

Sicily’s numerous caves lend themselves to the preservation of fossil remains. In the past, there were hippopotamus and elephants on the island, though that would have been eight thousand years ago.

The population of Sicily in the middle ages would have little experience of elephants, and the discovery of the skull of one would look very strange indeed. People from an area where elephants lived would recognize the huge cavity in the middle of the skull as the nasal socket where the trunk attached. However someone who had never even seen an elephant might interpret it as something completely different.

Just take a look at the picture of fossilized elephant skull yourself. It is easy to let your mind run wild and dream up what kind of monster it might belong to.

an old elephantidae skull
an old elephantidae skull (XIXth century), face, in a veterinarian museum. Photo by Jebulon

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