A Giant Hoax in Cardiff

In 1869 in two men digging a well came across at ten foot tall stone man in rural New York. Immediately the find was claimed to be alternately an example of the Biblical giants from Genesis 6:4 or an ancient statue carved by a long gone tribe. In fact it was neither of these it had been created by an atheist tobacconist named George Hull. He was inspired and enraged by a conversation with a biblical literalist reverend he met in Iowa. Hull acquired a 5 ton block of Gypsum and swore multiple people to secrecy along the way as he got the man carved and buried on the farm of William Newell in Cardiff New York.The Cardiff Giant being "exhumed"

Newell began to display the artifact now known as the “Cardiff Giant” under a tent on his farm and charging fifty cents for people to come look at it, and he made a killing with this. American’s traveled from across the eastern seaboard to see this remnant of some sort of ancient past. This was the Burned Over District during the Second Great Awakening which meant that the Cardiff Giant was discovered in a time and place there was an immense amount of religious seeking and thus the idea of physical evidence of an ancient Biblical past on American soil was enthusiastically received by the general public. It’s not so different from the beginnings of Mormonism.

The Giant was soon exposed as a hoax and yet people continued to visit it in its new home in Syracuse. And P.T. Barnum even offered to lease it for 3 months for $60,000 and when he could not get it he built his own replica to travel with his circus. The Giant now resides in the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York where people still visit it today.

The Cardiff Giant on display at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown,  NY

The Cardiff Giant on display at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown, NY


The Cardiff Giant is an example of groups of people building a cultural identity around an “archaeological” find. Fundamentalist Christians wanted to validate their faith and their connection to a Christian past in America to legitimize the colonization of America. And if this giant man was really a petrified body of a biblical giant no one could deny that Christianity and, by the logic, Europeans had a right to be in the Americas.

But even when the truth was revealed and the Cardiff Giant was clearly not an actual archaeological artifact people continued to be fascinated by it, and in this way we can see something about America today. We are interested in how we see our pasts and the Cardiff Giant is now a ridiculous example of how easily people could be hoaxed in the past. We like to think we have e come farther and that we are better at validating our artifacts but fraud in archaeology is still prevalent and it is estimated that over 1200 fake artifacts are on display in major museums, so honestly we cannot say that we have gotten much better as a society at collectively recognizing hoaxes. Or maybe the hoaxers have just gotten better.



“Cardiff Giant, Cooperstown, New York.” RoadsideAmerica.com. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/2172>.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. Archaeology Essentials. 2nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2010. Print.

“The Cardiff Giant.” The Farmers’ Museum. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.farmersmuseum.org/node/2482>.

“The Littlest Literary Hoax.” Museum of Hoaxes. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://hoaxes.org/archive/permalink/the_cardiff_giant>

New Deal Archaeology

Under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program resources were given to create jobs preserving the nation’s monuments to protect them for posterity. Thousands of people were called upon to conduct large scale excavations across the lower 48 states. Archaeological projects were first funded through FERA or the Federal Emergency Relief Agency and then the WPA or Works Progress Administration. Archaeological programs worked closely with the Federal Writers Project to create state guides that provided a historical, cultural, and archaeological view of each state, while employing more people and encouraging tourism.

Figure 1: A CCC excavation in Nevada's "Lost City"

Figure 1: A CCC excavation in Nevada’s “Lost City”

The archeology practiced by these teams was not always the best form but it ultimately resulted in an increased understanding of archaeology in the public sphere and exposed people to the archaeological process. The crews would enter a site and often end up destroying much of the critical context around the finds and removing them from their associated objects. This was partly because modern sampling strategies using parallel and intersecting lines and squares had not yet been developed and also because most of the workers had no professional training in archeological field work or theory. So significant amounts of data have been lost about many of the Native American sites and colonial ruins that were excavated under the New Deal.

The archaeology done under the new deal was a form of Processual Archaeology and part of the period known as the “classificatory historical period”. The goals were to create a chronological narrative of a region as was common in the time. The narrative element also lent itself well to the creation of the State Guides.

The Cover of the FWP State Guide for Illinois

The Cover of the FWP State Guide for Illinois

And through these state guides the history and archaeology of the country was opened up to the rest of the population instead of the elite intellectuals of the country. Among the programs of the New Deal the archaeological projects created more public awareness of the historical context of the United States and brought us more new information. Many other programs like the CCC and WPA just improved on existing things in the United States by restoring buildings, National Park maintenance, and building projects, but archeological programs took the bleakness of the Great Depression and used it to create opportunities for research and collecting knowledge from resources right outside our doors. And even if the processes were not perfect in the grander history of archaeology they widened the foundation of American Archaeology and made room for organizations like the Society of American Archaeology and other groups that serve to protect and preserve America’s archaeological resources.









Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn.Archaeology essentials: theories, methods, and practice. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 20102