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Strange discovery made by a boy looking for arrowheads, gives this Missouri Town an absorbing mystery to ponder.
Steelville, Mo. June 11, 1933
This quiet little summer resort town of the Ozarks has just come to grips with an absorbing mystery of a sort it has never before been called upon to solve. It all came about as a result of Billy Harman's hunt for arrowheads a few weeks ago.
Poking about in Puckett's Cave in a Meramec River bluff some 10 miles northeast of here, young Harman reached for something white in a hole in the ground and, to his vast amazement came up with a handful of human bones. Soundly startled, the 16 year-old lad put them down and dashed for home. Then, after gathering his courage and some reinforcements, he went back and proceeded to dig on the site of his discovery. From the ancient accumulation of ash and limestone debris he turned up the complete skeleton of an 8 foot giant. The grisly find was brought to Dr. R. C. Parker here and stretched out to its enormous length in a hallway of his office where it has since remained the most startling exhibit Steelville has ever had on public view. People have come from far and near to examine it and fire a broadside of questions at the harassed doctor.
Who was this giant? When did he live? To what race did he belong? Was he simply a freak among people of normal stature, or did he belong, possibly, to some extinct race of stone-age giants who roamed over these hills before the coming of the Indian? What was the manner of his death? Did he come to his end from natural causes or does that lone arrowhead found among the bones tell its own story of violence? Was he, perhaps, an Ozark Goliath brought down by some David of the Missouri hill country who used a bow and arrow instead of a sling?
If anybody can answer these questions he is pretty likely to find a warm welcome in Steelville, especially at the hands of Dr. Parker. Anthropologists are scarce hereabouts and the doctor's fund of information about such things was exhausted in the first 20 minutes. An appeal to Dr. Ales Hrdlicka, anthropologist of the National Museum in Washington and celebrated authority on primitive races is expected to help. Dr. Parker has written to him, offering to forward the skull or the whole skeleton, if necessary , for scientific study.
Meanwhile, speculation is proceeding at a lively rate. The consensus of local opinion is that these prodigious bones are the remains of an Indian--maybe and Osage, since the Osages inhabited this region a century or so ago--but in any case a chief. For it is argued, a man of such gigantic stature must have been a chief among any primitive people. The skeleton itself is seven and a half feet long without the cartilage layers that once separated the vertebrae, and with some of the bones of the feet missing, Dr. Parker believes the man must have been close to eight feet tall in life, but was apparently of slender build, for the bones are not of extraordinary size except as to length. His slenderness, too, must have been accentuated in appearance, at least, by the extremely small size of his head. With all his magnificent stature, this primitive chief, if chief he was, really was something of a pinhead. The skull measures only 20 inches in circumference--a pretty small skull, even for a man of normal height. The heads of most average sized men measure from 22 to 28 inches in circumference. A 20 inch dome perched on the shoulders of a giant eight feet tall must have looked tiny indeed.
His brow, too, was anything but noble. Height of forehead, once popularly believed to be a sort of hallmark of high or low intelligence, has been largely discredited as such an indicator now, so this cave man's sloping brow may not necessarily be regarded as a stamp of low mentality. But it may be set down, anyway, as one of the cranial characteristics which fit very neatly into the general "pinhead" picture. Of course he had considerably more above the eyes and ears than such extremely primitive types as the Peking man, Piltdown man and the Neanderthaloids.
But he did have a low brow, and what is probably more significant, a very narrow one. His jaw, too, while not of the prognathous type characteristic of the most ancient men, was somewhat heavier than that of the average man of today.
As to his age at the time of his death, there is only the condition of the teeth to serve as an indicator. The fact that most of them were still doing service would argue that he had not attained advanced age and the fact that the molars were considerably worn would indicate he was no longer a stripling.
The cave in which the skeleton was brought to light is not essentially different from hundreds of other caves to be found in the limestone bluffs of the Ozark country, except that it is easily accessible both from above and below. Many of these Ozark caves are not. The entrance is about 100 feet above the river valley and may be reached by a stiff climb from below or by means of a narrow limestone ledge that runs around the face of the cliff from above. John Pucket of Steelville, who was born and raised in the vicinity, and who owns the cave, says he has known for 50 years that it was once inhabited, for its floor at the entrance is covered with an ash and charcoal accumulation, two or three feet deep. As a boy he was accustomed to hunt for Indian relics in the place and in later years used it as a livestock shelter. As the cave faces east, with a bluff and a heavy forest to protect it from winter winds on the west and north, it makes a capital shelter for livestock--and for the same reason it made a capital dwelling for early races of human beings.
A corner in the north wall, just within the entrance formed the giant's tomb. The body apparently had been placed in a kneeling position in a shallow grave dug in this niche and covered over with about two feet of soil and debris scooped up from the floor of the cave. The skull, when found, lay face down. Whether the man inhabited the cave in life or took up his abode there only after death, is a question which, like a good many others concerning him, has not been satisfactorily answered. In either case it is evident that the cave had served as a human dwelling place long before his burial, for mixed with the ash and limestone debris, both above and below the skeleton, were numerous fragments of crude clay pottery--the dish breakage of several generations maybe. Apparently the cave dwellers did not bother about such housekeeping details as sweeping out broken dishes.
There were other thing besides pottery fragments in the grave, too. Whether they were placed there with the body or were merely part of the cave rubbish with which the grave was filled is problematical. But here is the list: two stone awls or drills, two to three inches long; three small bird arrowheads, one of them neatly serrated; one larger arrowhead which might possible have been the cause of the giant's death; a thin oval piece of polished shell roughly the size of a quarter; a segment of bone an eighth of an inch in diameter and half an inch long, polished and hollowed out for stringing; and a 2 ½ inch fragment of a canine tooth or fang, possibly the fang of a saber toothed tiger of prehistoric origin. It is slightly curved and broken off perhaps an inch from the point. If it is the fang of a saber toothed tiger, its presence in the cave would not necessarily mean, of course, that the buried cave dweller was a contemporary of this animal, now long extinct.
As to the age of the skeleton, estimates are loose and highly variable. They range all the way from 100 to 2000 years. Just now it appears that one man's guess is as good as another's, but the weight of evidence seems to be on the side of the higher estimate. For a good many years, now, scientists have been uncovering evidence that the Ozark region once was inhabited by a primitive race of cave-dwelling savages long antedating the Indian. They lived in caverns in limestone bluffs--caverns similar to Puckett's Cave--and led what appears to have been a lowly existence.
Some 13 years ago, Gorard Fowke, field explorer of the Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, spent several months investigating these cave-dweller remains. He visited hundreds of caves and found, in some, evidence of continuous habitation over a period of 1000 to 2000 years, his estimate being based principally on the depth of ash accumulations from camp fires. One of his most astonishing discoveries was evidence that these aborigines were cannibals, for along with the bones of animals, which they had used for food, he found also human bones, which had been cracked for the extraction of the marrow they contained. These people, he believed lived at least 1000 years ago.
Reason appears, therefore, for belief that the giant of Puckett's Cave may have been one of these prehistoric bluff dwellers.
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