That’s my evening sorted: #HamilDocPBS » « DANGER DANGER DANGER — 2500 milliHovinds of stupidity ahead

Hey, history sure is easy!


There’s a study that identified a mutation relatively common in Ireland that can lead to acromegaly.

They undertook an ambitious and widely collaborative study, enlisting the invaluable help of patients and the general public to set the study up in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. They identified a particular mutation in Irish patients and now searched for carriers of this gene in Ireland. The frequency of the AIP mutation (R304*) was found to be surprisingly high in Mid-Ulster, Northern Ireland. The data suggest that all Irish patients with this particular mutations (18 families and 81 carriers) are descendants from the same ancestor, who lived in the area 2,500 years ago. Out of the identified 81 carriers 31 had developed acromegaly and over half of these had gigantism (18 patients, 58%). The clinical importance of this study is that we can now screen family members and carriers can be followed to pick disease up early. Our larger study has showed that 24% of seemingly unaffected gene carriers in fact have early signs of acromegaly, and some were immediately operated as a result of the genetic screening process.

Sure. That’s interesting, and also, as they point out, useful.

But this is nonsense.

This study may also give a scientific explanation for the numerous Gaelic myth of giants in Ireland, where the Giant causeway and the legend of the creation of a lake is strongly linked to giants. In modern history, famous Irish giants include Charles Byrne whose skeleton in the Hunterian Museum, London was studied and DNA sample showed he also carries the same mutation. There is data available of numerous giants living in this area over the last centuries such as Mary Murphy (the ‘Portrush Giantess’) and James Kirkland (one of the ‘Potsdam Giants’) making this data support a colourful story.

Professor Sian Ellard, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who collaborated on the research said: “Irish folklore has numerous stories regarding Irish giants and the remains of some of these giants have been studied in the past. Our data provides an explanation for the observation made by the pioneering anthropologist James C. Prichard in 1826.”

Do no other cultures have folklore about giants? Scandinavian mythology is full of giants, and dwarves, too. The Chinese have a creator-god named Pangu, who was a giant. Greek myths have Titans. Do they all have associated mutations? Are AIP mutations the only source of giants in our species?

Why would you take a perfectly legitimate scientific explanation for a specific genetic abnormality and patch an unsupported pseudo-historical just-so story onto it unless you thought history was so trivial that you didn’t need evidence to make that kind of association?

That’s my evening sorted: #HamilDocPBS » « DANGER DANGER DANGER — 2500 milliHovinds of stupidity ahead


  1. wzrd1 says

    But, but are you telling me that science doesn’t accept a sample size of one and then frame a significant theory around it?
    Oh wait…

    Bloody hell!

  2. Rich Woods says

    Unless the descendant of one of those giants also owns a flaming spear, I am not in the least bit interested in their explanation.

  3. CJO says

    Not just Titans: the legendary heroes of the Greek world, who were regarded as the progenitors of fictional kin-groups among the elite, were believed to be of giant stature. Fossilized bones of Pleistocene megafauna were the likely kernel of the notion, or at least provided corroboration of the legends. The bones were frequently interred in local sanctuaries and revered by the populace. There’s even an account from the 5th century (?) of “giant bones” discovered buried in an oversized container (don’t remember if it was supposed to be a coffin or a large ceramic vessel). Clearly fossils had eroded out of a hillside in some former era and been interred as “hero’s bones”. They re-interred them as the bones of whichever of the heroes was supposed to be their ancestor.

    The First Fossil Hunters by Adrienne Mayor makes the case for the origins of legendary creatures, especially, the griffin and of course “giants”, in ancient fossil discoveries. I found it convincing, even though I generally look askance at attempts to rationalize ancient myths. She correlates ancient accounts with modern paleontological discoveries, and shows that the types of remains that might plausibly give rise to this or that story are in fact known to occur in the regions in question. It’s an interesting book.

  4. wzrd1 says

    @CJO, I could nearly rent the hypothesis that some people saw a human with acromegaly, then found those bones and the two events resulted in the erroneous belief that the two were linked.
    Alas, the incidence is 60 per million per year and the population was crazy too low to support such an outlandish hypothesis.

  5. brucej says

    Gonna have to disagree here.

    Nowhere in that reporting do they claim that theirs is the only explanation, only that it could have helped perpetuate the pre-existing myths of giants, and the actual cases in existing literature, given that they’ve identified a local bloodline going back 2500 years of cases of acromegaly.

    If you get a real giant every few generations, yes, your folklore is going to include giants in the past.

  6. cartomancer says

    Generally we pluralise the word “dwarf” as “dwarfs” in English. Particularly when talking about the creatures as presented in historical mythology. “Dwarves” was coined (or, at least, popularised) by Tolkien, who used it as a parallel with “elf” and “elves”. Some fantasy writers use Tolkien’s plural, some use the normal -fs plural, but outside a post-Tolkien fantasy context the -ves plural generally isn’t used. One will note that the fairytale (and 1939 Disney film, released in the same year as The Hobbit) was called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.

  7. robro says

    Do no other cultures have folklore about giants?

    Of course, but that’s because Gaelic people were everywhere. They were all over Europe, into Anatolia, and perhaps as far as Western China. One Biblical scholar/archeologist I read a while back said that the Assyrians (I think, or perhaps Persians) settled Galatian mercenaries around Samaria, so maybe that Bible story about a giant is about an Irish giant.

  8. numerobis says

    Gaelic people weren’t from Ireland; they were from Central Europe and spread in all directions.

  9. DLC says

    Huh. Well, I guess it might help identify where my ancestors come from. I knew it had to be somewhere in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

  10. postman says

    Not only the Titans but also the Giants are a greek myth. They are a completely different group of mythical creatures the gods defeated. And people complain about luck of originality in modern films.