In 2016, during an excavation of a late Neolithic settlement in Jiaojia – a village in the Chinese province of Shandong, the remains of an unusually tall group of people who lived around 5,000 years ago were found. Given that the human race was never taller than it is today, these ancient “giants” were undoubtedly the harbingers of the future.
The excavation was being led by researchers from Shandong University. According to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua, during an archaeological expedition in Jiaojia, they unearthed a trove of fascinating finds – including the ruins of 104 houses, 205 graves and 20 sacrificial pits. The site is a late Neolithic burial site, when the Yellow River Valley was inhabited by the Longshan culture, also known as the “black pottery culture”. This group of Eneolithic cultures flourished here from around 3000 to 1900 BC.
It is worth noting that analysis of the skeletons found during excavations shows that the ancients were bizarrely tall – many of them were over 180 centimeters tall. So far, archaeologists have not reported how many remains have been found and what their sex is. However, the height of the tallest man they found is known to be around 192 centimeters. To their neighbors, the inhabitants of this settlement certainly looked like real giants. As other studies show, typical Neolithic men were about 167 centimeters tall and women about 155.
As the scientists explain, such an unusual height was likely the result of genetics and environmental influences. In fact, stature remains the defining characteristic of people living in Shandong today. According to 2015 data, the average height of 18-year-old men in the region is 179 centimeters, 5 centimeters higher than the country’s figures.
One of the excavation leaders, Fang Hui
(Head of the School of History and Culture at Shandong University) notes that the Neolithic civilization found at the end of the period was engaged in agriculture, meaning that residents had access to a variety of healthy and nutritious foods. Of the cereals, corn was most often grown, and pigs were an important part of animal husbandry. This steady diet influenced the ancient Chinese’s physical proportions, including height, explains Hui.
Interestingly, the tallest people of the Longshan culture were found in tombs, which archaeologists attribute to residents with a higher social status, meaning they could eat even better than others.
Perhaps the neighbors of this village did not have as many products and a balanced diet, and the environmental conditions were more severe, which affected their short stature. By the way, some of the smallest prehistoric peoples were the Maya of Central America: the average man grew up to 158 centimeters, and the woman – up to 146.
However, it is likely that altitude as a beneficial genetic trait existed long before the Neolithic era and the Longshan people. This is evidenced by a recent study by Czech scientists (Masaryk University). Thus, among the Gravettian culture, height genes were found. These Late Paleolithic Europeans lived 50,000 to 10,000 years ago and were mammoth hunters, which may have influenced their stature. The tallest representatives reached a height of 182 centimeters.
The assumptions of Czech researchers largely coincide with the opinion of Chinese archaeologists. Thus, the lead author of an article on Gravetian culture, Pavel Grassgruber, states:
However, it is impossible to say with certainty why some groups of people are short and others are tall. Many factors affect human growth: ecology, heredity, various diseases and so on. Because of so many variables, the issue of growth in science still has many blind spots.