Shandong is an eastern province of China situated on the lower reaches of the Yellow River. The locals in Shandong attribute height as one of their distinctive characteristics—the average height of 18-year-old youths in the region was 175 centimeters (approx. 5 ft 7 in) in 2015. Interestingly, Confucius (551–479 BC), whose hometown was in Qufu, Shandong, was said to be around 1.9 meters (approx. 6 ft 2 in) tall.
In 2017, an archaeological dig led by the University of Shandong has unearthed 205 graves and ruins of 104 houses, with separate bedrooms and kitchens, dating back 5,000 years ago in Jiaojia Village in Jinan, Shandong, China. One grave shows a gigantic man who’s measured at 1.9 meters tall.
“This is just based on the bone structure. If he was a living person, his height would certainly exceed 1.9 meters,” said Fang Hui, head of Shandong University’s school of history and culture.
The skeletal remains of the Longshan people—named after Longshan mountain—unearthed at the site, which is located at the historic Yellow River Valley, measured an average 1.8 meters (approx. 5 ft 9 in). These giants were taller than the ancient folk in the neighboring areas of that time—some 5,000 years ago.
The tallest of the Longshan giants were found in tombs, which archaeologists attributed to higher social status and access to better food. According to the findings, taller men were found in larger tombs, possibly because such people had a high status and were able to acquire better food.
“I suspect that this big game specialization associated with a surplus of high-quality proteins and low population density created environmental conditions leading to the selection of exceptionally tall males,” said Pavel Grasgruber from Masaryk University, who studied the tall men in the Balkan country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in an interview with Seeker.
Although not unusually tall by modern-day standards, the men may have seemed freakishly tall in ancient China. For comparison purposes, the average European male in the Neolithic period measured about 1.6 meters (approx. 5 ft 2 in), while females were around 1.5 meters (approx. 4 ft 9 in), according to one study.
What made the Longshan people so tall? Archaeologist Fang Hui said environment possibly contributed to their height. He explained that this late Neolithic civilization—developed before China’s first dynasties began and spread out in the lower and middle reaches of the Yellow River from about 3,000 to 1,900 BC—engaged in agriculture.
“Already agricultural at that time, people had diverse and rich food resources and thus their physique changed,” Fang Hui said.
Their diet included a diverse array of nutritious foods, and findings suggest that they grew millet as their primary crop, in addition to raising animals, mainly pigs, for food. This rich diet is believed to have contributed to their taller-than-average height.
At the site, archaeologists also unearthed pig bones and teeth in some graves, as well as artifacts such as colorful pottery and numerous objects made with jade from the Longshan Culture, which was also referred to as Black Pottery Culture due to the Longshan people’s incredible advancements and high level of skills in pottery making.