The ancient pharaoh Sa-Nakht, who ruled Egypt around 4,700 years ago, may be the oldest known human giant, scientists have said. Analyses of his supposed skeletal remains have revealed that he would have been extremely tall for his time – about 1.87 metres (or 6 feet tall).

Acromegaly – a disorder in which the body produces too much growth hormone – and gigantism are conditions that have been observed in human populations for centuries. Ancient myths and literature abound with descriptions of giants. However, ancient cases of gigantism have rarely been documented in the scientific literature with precision.

In 1901, archaeologists working in the desert near Beit Khallaf (Egypt) discovered impressive tombs dating back to Ancient Egypt's third dynasty (around 2700 to 2575 BCE). In one of them, they uncovered the remains of a very tall man, which were attributed to the ephemeral pharaoh of Egypt Sa-Nakht.

Although it is not 100% certain whether these are really the remains of Sa-Nakht, they still fascinate archaeologists, because they may represent the oldest known case of gigantism in the world.

In research now published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, scientists have conducted new analyses of the bones, to find out whether this man could be considered to be a giant.

Kings taller than commoners

They first assessed measurements of the skull from previously published articles and reviewed photographs of the skull.

This data was then compared with data from other anthropological databases to see whether these measurements were unusual when compared with the remains of Egyptian commoners and members of the royal family in the same era.

Kings were typically taller than commoners, and this is also the case here. However, the alleged Sa-Nakht also appears to have been much taller than other royals.

"From all known royal mummies, no other king or queen fulfils the requirement of gigantism. In general, they were taller than commoners, but within the normal range," the authors write in the study.

From these analyses, it is likely that the pharaoh had gigantism, which makes him the the oldest known giant in the world. Assessments of the facial structure also suggest that he probably suffered from acromegaly.

Sa-Nakht's size does not appear to have been a problem or a source of fear for the ancient Egyptians.

The fact that he was buried with honours in an elite tomb, after reaching adulthood, reveals that being a giant at the time was probably not associated with social isolation or discrimination. He was a king, and he was adored as such, giant or not.

In fact, although short people appear to have been preferred in ancient Egypt, especially in the early dynastic period, there are no records that very tall people were at any disadvantage.

Next, conducting genetic analyses - if it's possible to recover well-preserved DNA - could help confirm whether the alleged Sa-Nakht did actually suffer from acromegaly.