Lovelock Cave: Where legends of red-haired giant cannibals refuse to die

Strange rumors lurked beneath centuries of bat feces in Nevada’s Lovelock Cave. When two miners began removing layers of guano about a century ago, they inadvertently discovered an ancient Native American legend of cannibalistic red-haired giants.

Rest assured, the legend of Lovelock Cave is just that: a legend. No evidence of ferocious ginger giants has ever been found here, nor of any other long-lost caverns. Nevertheless, the story of Lovelock’s rediscovery is still fascinating.

Lovelock Cave is located in a remote part of northwestern Nevada, close to the Humboldt State Wildlife Management Area, approximately 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside the town of Lovelock. Like many other rock shelters in the region, the cave had been used by humans for thousands of years – and, judging by the archaeological remains found here, it likely had some significance to the Native American culture that lived in the region.

The artifacts in the cave came to light in 1911 when two miners, James Hart and David Pugh, filed a mineral claim and began mining bat guano there.

Guano, if you didn’t know, is the feces of seabirds and bats and is rich in nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. Because these are the main nutrients required for plant growth, the droppings make excellent fertilizer and were once a very lucrative material to harvest.

However, the pair of prospectors found something much more interesting than bat poop. Digging through more than 6 feet of guano, they came across numerous archaeological artifacts, many of which appeared to be millennia old.

Artifacts from Lovelock Cave, Nevada, United States.  On display at the Humboldt Museum in Winnemucca, Nevada.

A collection of artifacts found in Lovelock Cave, on display at the Humboldt Museum in Winnemucca, Nevada.

Llewellyn Lemont Loud, an archaeologist at the University of California Museum of Anthropology, was informed of the discovery and began excavations in the spring of 1912. In total, Loud discovered approximately 10,000 archaeological specimens. However, his methods were quite shoddy by modern standards and the thousands of finds were given only a single paragraph of description in his report.

He returned to the cave with Mark Raymond Harrington in 1924 and they discovered some of the cave’s most fascinating remains: a cache of eleven duck decoys made from real duck skin and feathers.

It is not clear exactly when, but during this series of early excavations a vast amount of human remains were discovered, including several skeletons and whole bones. For even more obscure reasons, people began spreading reports that one of the skeletons was over 90 inches (231 centimeters) long and had been unearthed with a noticeable head of orange hair.

“One of his greatest finds was a skeleton, found about twenty miles south of Lovelock, Nevada, which shows that the body of which it was a framework was exactly six feet in length. It is one of the ‘gigantic men’ of an ancient race whose skeletons have been unearthed in Central Nevada,” reads a 1935 biography by John T. Reid, a mining engineer who worked in Lovelock.

Somehow it seems that the reports of mysterious skeletons have been merged with a myth from the Northern Paiute people that speaks of an ancient tribe of red-haired giants. The jumbo people are said to belong to a legendary tribe known as “Si-Te-Cah” who fought the Northern Paiutes in distant times but were eventually banished from the region.

Rumors about redheads may not have been completely out of the blue. In her book Fossil legends of the first Americanhistorian Adrienne Mayor explains that after death, hair pigment can often turn a rusty, red color when exposed to certain conditions.

However, she believes other parts of the story may be more nefarious. Mayor writes that legends about giants may have been invented by local entrepreneurs who wanted to attract tourists to the area. Furthermore, the area already had an abundance of large bones belonging to prehistoric megafauna, such as mammoths and cave bears, which could be mistaken for a large human in the eyes of a layman.

Stories about the legendary giants are still relevant in the 21st century. A quick Google search will give you a long list of articles flirting with the idea of ​​Lovelock Cave’s bizarrely tall inhabitants. Remember for next time: Giants have never existed and never will (and no, the Vatican didn’t order us to write that).

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