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The Patagones or Patagonian giants are a mythical race of people, who first began to appear in early European accounts of the then little-known region and coastline of Patagonia. They were supposed to have exceeded at least double normal human height, some accounts giving heights of 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 m) or more. Tales of these improbable people would take a hold over European concepts of the region for some 250 years, until they were substantially debunked at the end of the 18th century.
First mention of these people came from the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan and his crew, who claimed to have seen them while exploring the coastline of South America en route to their circumnavigation of the world in the 1520s. Antonio Pigafetta, one of the expedition's few survivors and the chronicler of Magellan's expedition, wrote in his account about their encounter with natives twice a normal person's height:
Pigafetta also recorded that Magellan had bestowed on these people the name "Patagão" (i.e. "Patagon", or Patagoni in Pigafetta's Italian plural), but did not further elaborate on his reasons for doing so. Since Pigafetta's time the assumption that this derived from pata or foot took hold, and "Patagonia" was interpreted to mean "Land of the Bigfeet". However, this etymology remains questionable, since amongst other things the meaning of the suffix -gon is unclear. Nevertheless, the name "Patagonia" stuck, as did the notion that the local inhabitants were giants. Early maps of the New World afterwards would sometimes attach the label regio gigantum ("region of giants") to the area.
In the 1590s, Anthonie Knivet claimed he had seen dead bodies 12 feet (3.7 m) long in Patagonia.
Also in the 1590s, William Adams, an Englishman aboard a Dutch ship rounding Tierra del Fuego reported a violent encounter between his ship's crew and unnaturally tall natives.
In 1766, a rumour leaked out upon their return to Britain that the crew of HMS Dolphin, captained by Commodore John Byron, had seen a tribe of 9-foot-tall (2.7 m) natives in Patagonia when they passed by there on their circumnavigation of the globe. However, when a newly edited revised account of the voyage came out in 1773, the Patagonians were recorded as being 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m); very tall, but by no means giants.
The people encountered by Byron were in all likelihood the Tehuelches, indigenous to the region. Later writers consider the Patagonian giants to have been a hoax, or at least an exaggeration and mis-telling of earlier European accounts of the region.