Computer-generated image of ‘giant’ does not show last living Neanderthal man
A picture has been shared multiple times on social media in Nigeria alongside a claim that it shows the “last Neanderthal giant” -- an extinct species of ancient humans. The claim is false: the image was created using Midjourney, an artificial intelligence (AI) program that generates images based on text prompts entered by users.
“The last Neanderthal giant,” reads the caption of a purported photo tweeted on April 30, 2023.
The picture shows a giant man standing several metres taller than people in the crowd around him. His long, bushy beard hides his expression while he appears to be staring at the camera.
The post has been retweeted more than 1,300 times and received 13,000 likes.
The picture also appeared elsewhere on Twitter, Facebook and TikTok where a post claimed it was taken in 1901.
Several social media users queried whether the image was real.
Ancient human relatives
Neanderthals are an extinct species or subspecies of archaic humans who lived until about 40,000 years ago, co-existing with humans for a long period of time before dying out.
Research shows there is evidence from both fossils and DNA suggesting that Neanderthal and modern human lineages separated at least 500,000 years ago, with some genetic calibrations placing their divergence at about 650,000 years ago.
The image purported to be a picture of a Neanderthal giant is not genuine.
Using reverse image searches, AFP Fact Check traced the picture to this site (archived here) featuring a link to a post on Mastodon by visual verification service HoaxEye.
"A lot of people seem to believe that there were once giants on Earth. This photo was created by Midjourney artificial intelligence," reads the HoaxEye caption, pointing to the likely source (archived here) of the image on a Russian-language Telegram channel dedicated to AI-created images.
HoaxEye tweeted the same post here.
Midjourney is an AI tool that generates images based on text prompts entered by the users. This YouTube video explains how it is done.
Advanced searches further revealed that the Telegram picture was also published (archived here) on April 26, 2023, on a Reddit channel dedicated to images created with Midjourney (archived here).
The Reddit caption claims the picture shows "the last of the giants being paraded through the streets circa 1890".
When zooming into the high-definition image, we noticed inconsistencies and defects typical of artificially generated images.
For example, the right hand of the "giant" seems to have only four fingers, including a disproportionately large index finger. Several faces in the crowd are also distorted.
AFP Fact Check conducted several tests on Midjourney using various queries in an attempt to generate a similar picture of a giant.
A second, less viral Midjourney photo on Reddit showed a character resembling a giant from a fairy tale. The branches or ropes that hide his face strongly are similar to those that drape the bodies of some of the “giants” generated by AFP Fact Check.
AFP Fact Check debunked the same claim in French.