Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ancient giant

He would be no record-breaker today, when the tallest of the tall exceed 8' (244cm), but a man whose skeleton was excavated in 1991 stood head and shoulders above his peers. The resident of Fidenae, 5mi (20km) north of Rome, stood 6' 8" (202cm) at a time when men averaged 5' 6" (167cm) in height. He lived in the 2nd century and his remains (including the bone above compared to an average bone) are the subject of a study* by University of Pisa paleopathologist Simona Minozzi and team. His is the only complete ancient skeleton shown to have gigantism. The 1st indication of his size was his abnormally long tomb. The diagnosis was confirmed by examination of his bones:
  • He had skull damage consistent with a pituitary tumor, which would have caused the gland to overproduce human growth hormone.
  • His limbs were disproportionately long.
  • At the time of his death, at an estimated age of 16-20 years, his bones were still growing.
Minozzi explains that almost nothing is known about the role or presence of giants in the Roman world, but given the taste for entertainment by dwarfs and others with physical anomalies, the giant's size would have generated plenty of curiosity.

*Published last month in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
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