Monday, May 25, 2009

The strange case of Teutobochus, king of the mastodons: Part 2

The discovery

In January of the year 1613, a group of stonemasons set out to dig a well near the ruined castle of Chaumont not far from junction of the Rhone and Isere Rivers where Marius had prevented Teutobochus from following Hannibal's path into Italy. The spot the masons chose was a sandpit on a piece of level ground that the locals called the Field of Giants. Eighteen feet down they found some large bones. The masons notified the landowner, the Marquis de Langon, of their find and, after doing the heavy lifting to remove the bones from their well, exited stage right. They were mere bit players in this drama. Langon called in the professors at Montpellier to examine the bones and the governor of the province sent some of the bones to the professors at Grenoble for a second opinion. The decision of the experts was unanimous: Langon's workers had unearthed the bones of a giant.

The belief in giants was still very strong in seventeenth century France. Giants are part of all the world's mythologies where they fill many different roles. Many giants are cast in purely symbolic roles as representations as the forces of nature and creation. Other giants fill more down-to-earth roles in the history of a community. These giants represent the challenges that the group faced in the past and the heroes who overcame those challenges. It was only reasonable to assume that the great men of the past must have had great stature to match their great achievements. Respected authorities reenforced local legends. The Bible spoke of Giants such as Goliath, Og of Bashan, and the sons of Anak. Herodotus, Pliny, St. Augustine, and Bocaccio all wrote about the discovery of giant's remains. Many of the bones in the past were identified as belonging to specific individuals, such as Orestes, Theseus, and the cyclops Polyphemus. Closer to home, large bones were regularly kept in churches as relics of the saints. The bones of large, unknown quadrupeds, regularly discovered in the earth, provided proof of the truth of the community's legends even as the legends provided an explanation for the bones.

In living memory, just such a giant had been discovered nearby in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1577, a storm uprooted an oak tree near the Abby of Reyden. When some workmen investigated the damage, they found large bones between the roots. The bones were taken to the city hall, where the leading citizens of the city admired the find and debated their origin. Some thought they were the remains of fallen angels. After seven years, they turned to Fleix Plater, a well-known anatomy professor in Basel, to settle that matter. Plater examined the bones and pronounced that they were not from angel, but instead, the skeleton of a giant nineteen feet tall. He provided the town council with a drawing of the giant, which they incorporated into the arms of the city. Other bones of giants had been discovered even closer to Chaumont in 1456, 1564, and 1580.

Comparative sizes of historical giants
From: Mundus subterraneus by Athanasius Kircher, 1678. The largest figure, on the left, is based in the bones of a 300 foot giant described by Boccacio as having been discovered in Sicily in 1371. Kircher thought that number was a typo and that the Sicilian giant was really only 30 feet tall. The tiny man next to his ankle is a normal man of Kircher's day. Next comes Goliath, then the Lucerne giant, and, on the far right, a giant Kircher called Gigas Mauritanae.

The usual fate of giants' bones was for them to be put on display at the local church or town hall and to be brought out for special occasions until they fell to pieces. Alternatively, they might be picked up by a wealthy collector with an interest in the new natural philosophy and displayed in his cabinet of curiosities, also until they fell to pieces. In either of those cases, the Chaumont bones most probably would have vanished from history. What saved them from historical oblivion was their coming to the attention of two entrepreneurial souls in a neighboring village.

Pierre Mazurier (or Mazuyer), the barber-surgeon from Beaurepaire, and David Bertrand, the town clerk, watched as men of influence and means traveled to Chaumont to view the giant's bones. It's possible that the two had been involved with the bones from the very beginning as the first two officials called by Langdon to identify the bones or it may be that they didn't hear about the bones until the traffic to Castle Chaumont began. In either case, they reasoned that people all over France would pay to view the remains and gained permission from Langon to take the bones on a tour. To supplement the exhibition, the entrepreneurs contracted to have pamphlet written by Jacques Tissot, a Jesuit in the nearby town of Tournon. The title reveals the story that Mazurier and Bertrand told their audience.
True history of the life, death, and bones of Giant Teutobocus, King of Teutons, Cimbri and Ambrones, defeated 105 years before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

With his army of four hundred thousand, he was defeated by Marius, the Roman consul, killed and buried near the castle called Chaumont, and now Langon, near the town of Romans in Daulphiné.

There his tomb was found, thirty feet in length, on which his name was written in Roman letters, and the bones therein exceeded 25 feet in length, with one tooth weighing 11 pounds, all being monstrous in both height and size, as you can now see the in the city.

In an official record of the discovery, Mazurier gave a detailed description the tomb and each of the bones including the skull, which he described as being five feet long, ten feet around, with eye sockets the size of dinner plates. Unfortunately, Mazurier wrote, most of the bones turned to dust after being exposed to air, and the only parts that remained of the skull were two fragments of jaw, two complete teeth, and fragments of maybe four others. Mazurier also described two silver medals that he claimed were in tomb, each bearing the likeness of a man on one side and the letters M A on the other, all of which he took to mean Marius.

The show was a resounding success and soon orders came that they were to proceed to Paris and present the bones to eleven year old King Louis XIII. On seeing them the king asked a courtier if there really had been such giants. Yes, the courtier replied, imagine what a great army they would make. The king was less enthusiastic. They would soon eat the country clean, he commented. The boy-king’s skepticism may have been shared by some of his court. A few weeks after the bones arrived, a secretary to the king wrote to Langon requesting he send more evidence from the discovery: the silver medals, the inscribed stone from the tomb, a detailed drawing of the tomb, and the official report of the discovery.

The terms of the agreement with the court allowed the king to keep the bones for at least eighteen months. During that time, Mazurier stayed in Paris and capital society debated whether of not the bones were authentic.

No comments: