Newfound Human Remains Suggest Cannibalism at Jamestown


Scientists have found new evidence that indicates settlers in Jamestown, Virginia resorted to cannibalism to survive harsh droughts and severe famine in the early 1600s.

Stories of the people of Jamestown eating dogs, cats, rats, shoe leather, and even people are not unheard of. Until now, however, these claims of cannibalism lacked definite archeological evidence. Recently, scientists announced the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl. Her skeleton displays signs of having been cannibalized. Nicknamed “Jane,” the skeleton was found in a cellar filled with trash and the bones of other animals consumed at the time. Scientists found clumsy cuts on Jane's head and body that suggest humans ate her and used knives to gather her "meat."

According to Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley, Jane's bones date back to the winter of 1609 to 1610, a period known as the “starving time.” During this winter, a severe drought spurred a food shortage. This led to the deaths of hundreds of settlers from Jamestown's original population of 6,000. Journal entries from Capt. John Smith and George Percy, two of Jamestown's leaders, detail stories of their citizens excavating corpses from burial places when food ran out. In one case, they recalled, a man even killed and ate his wife. Smith wrote, “one amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered her, and eaten part of her before it was known, for which he was executed as he well deserved.”

Archaeologists at Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia initially doubted the tales of cannibalism. But, according to Oswley, “this [newly found skeleton] is very convincing evidence that it did [happen].”

[Source: Associated Press]

Your article is very informational. I never knew that people practiced cannibalism in Jamestown. I like that you included a quote from one of Smith's journals. – MelodyLa Follette HS (2014-11-02 12:20)
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