The Giants of Ancient Albion & the Legendary Founding of Prehistoric Britain
Jack the Giant Killer
Before we leave the confines of Cornwall, the stories of Jack-the-Giant-Killer are worthy of a mention. The violent chronicles of Britain’s most famous giant hunter stretch far back into prehistory, to the times when the giants and humans were attempting to co-exist, before the arrival of Brutus. Mainly based in Cornwall, his exploits lingered across the whole of Britain. He was presented as a clever young man who often outwitted his gargantuan foes.
Jack kills Cormoran with a pick-axe. (Public Domain)
The most famous story is that he defeated the terrible Cormoran on St Michael’s Mount. By blowing a horn loudly, he caused the giant to come rushing out, but it fell into a deep pit that Jack had prepared and covered with twigs. Cormoran was then hacked to death by Jack. The other stories continue in this vein, and it was only when the printing press was developed in the Victorian age that the story was toned down, and it transformed into the children's classic Jack and the Beanstalk .
Even though there are thousands of legends of giants throughout Britain, there are a surprising amount of accounts of large and powerful people in the archaeological and historical record. Their physical strength and stature became exaggerated as their deeds pass into legend, but in a strange twist, it is often in the same locations that actual giant skeletons and bones were reportedly unearthed. Here are a few intriguing examples:
St. Michael’s Mount photographed in 1903 with added color. (Image via author)
St. Michael’s Mount: A prehistoric eight-foot (2.4 meter) skeleton was unearthed from a dungeon on the island 250 years ago, that may well be the giant that Jack was said to have slayed.
Tregoney: “The Annual Register for 1761 tells us that in March of that year, as a miner was working at Tregoney, in Cornwall, in a new mine, he accidentally discovered a stone coffin, on which were some inscribed characters. Within it was the skeleton of a man of gigantic size, which, on the admission of the air, mouldered into dust. One tooth, two inches and a half long, and thick in proportion, remained whole. The length of the coffin was eleven feet three inches, and its depth was three feet nine inches.”
News report from The Age - Jan 24, 1955 p.2 (Public Domain)
This is the area where Gogmagog was thrown off the cliff by Corineus: “A stone coffin in Devonshire contained a thigh-bone belonging to a man eight feet nine inches high.”
Mold, Flintshire: “ He found by the remains, (of a tumuli), that the person interred was above the common size of men .”
The Mold cape made of gold now on display in the British Museum. (Image via author)
Later in Histories giants reappear in the stories of the Welsh wizard, Merlin. He tells the King that in a distant epoch, giants transported huge trilithons from North Africa to Killarus in Ireland, where “The Giant’s Dance” was positioned. Later, they were transported to Salisbury Plain by mysterious means. However, huge skeletons have also been discovered in the mounds in the local landscape. In Journey into South Wales (1802) George Lipscomb reported: “ a skeleton which measured fourteen feet ten inches in length .”
In A Theological, Biblical, and Ecclesiastical Dictionary (1830), it describes a nine foot four inch (284.48 cm) skeleton unearthed near Salisbury in 1719. It also recounts a mound named ‘Giant’s Grave’ next to St Edmunds Church, just a few miles from Stonehenge.
Where Albion was finally defeated in a battle with Hercules are two examples of gigantic skeletons being unearthed:
Two examples of giant discoveries in old Gaul. (Public Domain)
The authors have collated over 150 accounts of giant bones, skeletons and skulls throughout the British Isles. Although the founding of Britain is still shrouded in mystery, and Geoffrey’s Histories is clearly jumbled-up versions of older books and myths, the stories of the giants seem to go very far back. The Legends and foundations myths of Britain are so strongly associated these local titans, we hope this introduction to giant-lore gives some indication that they could be the ancestral memories of real-life giants who ruled here long before us ‘Brits’ ever lived here, and could have been responsible for the thousands of megalithic constructions that grace this ancient landscape.
The Burgh Castle Giant skeleton in Norfolk. A Saxon giant who lived in the sixth century AD and is 7 ft 4 in (223.52 cm). (Images via author)