Lovelock Cave: A Tale of Giants or A Giant Tale of Fiction?
The Paiutes, a Native-American tribe indigenous to parts of Nevada, have an oral tradition that they told to early white settlers of the area about a race of red-haired, white giants or ‘barbarians’ that their ancestors referred to as the “Si-Te-Cah.” The story was written down in 1882 by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, daughter of a Paiute Indian chief in her book Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims . These “giants” were described as being vicious, unfriendly and cannibalistic. In this story, the Paiutes speak of a great battle that took place which led to their extermination at site known today as Lovelock Cave. During the early part of the 20th century archaeologists found thousands of artifacts inside this cave leading to a lengthy excavation of the site and leading to some speculation that the Paiute legend was real.
Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute Writer and Lecturer, alongside her father and Chief Poito Winnemucca of the Paiute Natives in Nevada. Circa 1882. ( Wikimedia Commons )
“Si-Te-Cah” or Saiduka literally translates as “tule-eaters” in the Northern Paiute language. The tule is a fibrous water plant, which according to legend, the giants wove into rafts to escape attacks by the Paiute. They used the rafts to navigate across what remained then of Lake Lahontan, an ancient lake that once covered most of northern Nevada during the last ice age. As the Paiute tale goes, after years of warfare, all the tribes in the area joined together to rid themselves of the Si-Te-Cah. One day, as the tribes chased down the last remaining red-haired giants, they took refuge in a cave. The Paiutes demanded their enemy come out of the cave and fight, but the giants refused. The coalition of tribes proceeded to shoot arrows at them while starting a large fire at the mouth of the cave. The smoke drove out a few who died in a hail of arrows while the rest were all either burned alive or asphyxiated. Over time, the entrance to the cave would collapse leaving it accessible only to bats and cut off from human contact.
Lovelock Cave, known also as Bat Cave, Horseshoe Cave, Sunset Guano Cave and Indian Cave is located 20 miles south of modern day Lovelock, Nevada. It’s a very old cave that pre-dates humans on the continent and in prehistoric times was underneath Lake Lahontan. In 1886, a mining engineer from Lovelock named John T. Reid was told of the legend by local Indians, who took him to the site to prove it existed. Reid was unsuccessful in getting an archeological dig started immediately but two miners, James Hart and David Pugh, realized the value of guano as an ingredient of gunpowder, and created a company to start digging it out in 1911. They stripped a layer of guano from the cave approximately three to six feet deep, using a pick and shovel with little regard to the artifacts, and shipped some 250 tons of it to the Hawaiian Fertilizer Company in San Francisco.
The outside of Lovelock Cave ( Wikimedia Commons )
Alfred Kroeber, founder of the University of California Anthropology Department was contacted by Hart and Pugh when they reported finding prehistoric artifacts. This spurred the first archeological dig of Lovelock in 1912 led by L.L. Loud also of the University of California. A second dig took place in 1924 and after finishing the excavations, Loud collaborated on a report that was published in 1929. What L.L. Loud found was nothing short of amazing. Approximately 10,000 archaeological specimens were uncovered including tools, bones, baskets, and weapons. According to the report, 60 average-height mummies were unearthed. Duck decoys (among the oldest known in the world with feathers still attached) and a sandal over 15 inches long were excavated. A donut-shaped stone with 365 notches carved along the outside and 52 corresponding notches inside was found, which some scientists believe is a calendar. Interestingly, radiocarbon dating done on follow up visits found vegetable material dating back to 2030 B.C., a human femur dating to 1450 B.C., human muscle tissue dating 1420 B.C., and basketry dating back to 1218 B.C. Archaeologists concluded from this that human occupation of Lovelock cave, by this culture, started in 1500 B.C. Today's anthropologists call the people who lived in the area the Lovelock Culture with the Period lasting some 3,000 years. Many archaeologists believe that the Lovelock Culture was replaced by Northern Paiutes.
Pictures are some Duck Decoys, circa 400 BC – AD 100, they are on display at the National Museum of the American Indian of the Smithsonian Institute. ( Courtesy of Ernest/Amoroso .)
There is some debate as to the veracity of the claims made regarding the Lovelock Giants. During the initial excavations, there were reports of mummified remains being found of two red-haired giants—one, a female 6.5-feet tall, the other male, over 8-feet tall. However, no such evidence remains. In Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins book, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims , she does not mention giants but does refer to ‘barbarians’. Skeptics claim that chemical staining by earth after burial was a likely reason why mummified remains have red hair instead of black, like most Indians in the area. A study done at the University of Nevada indicates the “giants” were about six feet tall, and not up to 8 feet tall as had been claimed.
Image of the Natives fighting off the Red Haired Giants at the Lovelock Cave, Nevada. ( bibliotecapleyades.net)
To others, the uncovering of 15” sandals at Lovelock Cave is proof enough that the Paiute tale is real. In an article published in the Nevada Review-Miner in 1931, in February and June of that same year, it was reported that two very large skeletons were found in the Humboldt dry lake bed near Lovelock, Nevada. One measured 8.5-feet tall and was later described as having been wrapped in a gum-covered fabric similar to Egyptian mummies. The other was supposedly nearly 10-feet long. Some other evidence for the Lovelock Giants includes a set of images showing a handprint, more than double the size of a normal man’s hand imprinted on a stone bolder in the cave which was released by Bigfoot investigators MK Davis and Don Monroe in 2013. Along the Peru/Bolivia border skulls have been found near Lake Titicaca, with claims being made they were from giants with reddish hair and elongated skulls. The legends tell of the Uros Indians making reed boats and living on islands on Lake Titicaca similar to the Paiute. The Incas apparently drove them to live this way much like the Paiutes’ ancestors apparently did to the giants at Lake Lahontan.
Today, many of the original artifacts found at Lovelock (but no giants) can be viewed at a small natural history museum located in Winnemucca, Nevada. Objects such as the duck decoys are housed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., and the basketry and bones belong to the Nevada State Museum. The site is significant in an archaeological context because it is an example of evidence that turned up, and was scientifically analyzed to confirm the legend that Paiutes elders told tribal children for years, even if not everything was entirely accurate and accounted for. The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California published a paper on Lovelock cave in 2005 had this to say: “The site has been extensively pot-hunted and many materials remain in private collections. Lovelock Cave, despite years of destruction, is one of the most important sites in the history of North American archaeology.” Lovelock Cave was officially designated a historical site in 1984.
Featured Image: Photo taken of the lovelock Cave interior, Nevada, 2013. ( Wikimedia Commons )
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