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Evidence of Cannibalism Found at Jamestown

Evidence of Cannibalism Found at Jamestown

Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in North America, was founded in May of 1607 by 104 settlers who arrived aboard three ships: the Susan Constant, the Discovery and the Godspeed. They founded their colony on a narrow peninsula in the James River, constructing a wooden fort, a storehouse, a church and a number of houses. The Jamestown settlers suffered greatly from hunger and disease, and struggled to grow crops due to the region’s drought and their inexperience. They relied on supplies brought by later ships of settlers, as well as trade with local Native American tribes established through Captain John Smith’s negotiations with Algonquian leader Chief Powhatan. In October 1609, Smith was accidentally burned by gunpowder and forced to return to England for treatment; he would never return to Virginia.

Over the winter that followed, the situation for the remaining Jamestown colonists grew desperate. Relations had turned increasingly hostile with members of Powhatan’s empire, and the punishing drought continued. George Percy, who served as governor of Jamestown during the Starving Time, wrote in 1625 that the colonists ate their horses to survive and later moved on to dogs, cats and vermin such as rats and mice. Eventually, Percy wrote, they resorted to cannibalism: “…Notheinge was Spared to mainteyne Lyfe and to doe those things which seame incredible, as to digge upp deade corpes outt of graves and to eate them. And some have Licked upp the Bloode which hathe fallen from their weake fellowes.” In addition to Percy’s, five other accounts also refer to cannibalism at Jamestown during that time.

Earlier excavations at the Jamestown site discovered carcasses of dogs, cats and horses consumed during the winter of 1609-10, but no evidence of cannibalized human remains. Then last August, archaeologists working as part of the Preservation Virginia Jamestown Rediscovery project (which began in 1994) found skeleton fragments belonging to a girl around the age of 14 buried in a debris-filled cellar in the Jamestown fort. After examining the bones, Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, found that the girl’s skeletal remains—including a skull, lower jaw and leg bone—all bear marks of an ax or cleaver and a knife, which he characterized as telltale marks of cannibalism.

On Wednesday, Owsley and lead archaeologist William Kelso presented their findings at a press conference at the National Museum of Natural History. Using technology such as computer graphics and CT scanning, along with sculpture materials and demographics, they have been able to reconstruct what the girl’s head may have looked like. They believe she probably came to the colony on one of six supply ships that arrived in June of 1609. She might have been a maidservant, though an isotope analysis of her bones revealed that she had eaten a high-protein diet, suggesting that she was in fact a gentleman’s daughter, and one of the colonists. As the scientists found no evidence that she was murdered, it seems likely that her hungry fellows ate her after she died of natural causes.


Cannibalism at Jamestown



Possible reconstruction of "Jane" - Cannibalized victim
 If you know anything about the Jamestown colony, this title probably doesn’t surprise you. In fact, when I initially read this article by the Washington Post, detailing the first physical evidence of cannibalism at the first permanent English colony in the new World, I thought it had long since been a matter of common knowledge. I call it the first physical evidence, because strong written evidence of the consumption of human flesh at Jamestown has existed almost since the colony’s infamous "starving time" of 1609 – 1610. Still, the newly discovered archeological finds at the site of the former colony are compelling and fascinating.

According to the Washington Post, the remains of a butchered 14 year old girl were discovered in an excavated cellar in the former English fort by the ongoing Jamestown Rediscovery Archeological Project. The girl, who has been nicknamed Jane, showed evidence of having been carved by an axe or cleaver and a knife. In fact, the skull, lower jaw, and the leg seemingly show the sloppy technique of the killer. Some guess that this demonstrates hesitation on the part of the one that butcher.

Although the identity of Jane is not yet known, researchers assume she was one of 300 new colonists who set sail from England in 1609 to resupply the struggling colony. Since its establishment in 1607, the Jamestown colony had consistently come into conflict with the local Powhatan Tribe. In addition, the settlement had struggled to provide food for its colonists from its initiation. With the arrival of the new settlers, things only became worse.

Though the new ships were meant to resupply the colony with both provisions and a healthy labor force, the 300 new people were more of a burden than a boon. According to the article, the crew of the ships horded supplies and the existing summer crop was woefully inadequate. Furthermore, the famous Captain John Smith, the military leader who had largely been responsible for organizing the colonists during their first years, was severely injured in a gunpowder explosion. Smith returned to England in October along with the departing ships.

Captain John Smith
What followed was a winter of famine and suffering known as the "starving time" in Jamestown history. One of the most detailed accounts of this winter comes from George Percy, one of the original Jamestown settlers and president of the colony after the departure of Captain Smith. First, Percy describes the desperation of the Jamestown settlers, saying:

Yikes, that’s pretty bad. Not only does it seem the desecration and consumption of a previously deceased human body occurred, but also the double murder, salting of, and cannibalization of one of the victims. Or course it is somewhat more shocking to see the crime was committed by a husband against his own wife and child. In addition, though I am thankful, I find it odd that apparently the murderer felt cannibalizing his own offspring was going too far. Instead, he disposed of the poor child in a river.


George Percy
 Percy goes on to describe how the killer was caught and punished for his crimes. After being hung by his thumbs to prompt a confession, the murderer was then executed. However, Percy also explains that the situation had become so bad that many Englishmen abandoned the fort in an attempt to join native villages. In fact, by the time help arrived at the colony only 60 men of the 500 colonists who began the winter of 1609 remained alive. Sadly, it is guessed that Jane was not among them.

Finally, in the spring of 1610, the new Governor arrived in Virginia, after having been shipwrecked on Bermuda for some time. He and his men found the colony in such a bad state that they decided to abandon the whole project and head back home. However, as the ships began sailing down the James River they were intercepted by vessels arriving from England , carrying the new governor Lord Thomas West, the Baron De La Warr. Of course, the State, a river, and an entire nation of natives would be named Delaware after him. It as with the arrival of De La Warr that the modern story of Jane picks up.


Thomas West - the Baron De La Warr
 According to the Washington Post, the 14 year old girl’s bones were found in a heap of trash that also contained the bones of dogs, a horse, and squirrels. This, again, supports the evidence presented by Percy. It is thought this garbage pile was made during the cleanup process after the winter and the arrival of Lord De La Warr. Maybe someone was attempting to conceal a crime from the new governor. Though no one really knows Jane’s true identity, it seems there are many who are already brainstorming how it could be discovered. The use of both traditional historical evidence and newly developed DNA technology has been discussed.

Though this new discovery did not come as a surprise to me, I still found it super interesting. Although gruesome by our standards, resorting to cannibalism in the face of a desperate situation is not without historical precedent. Even in New England, we are still haunted and by and fascinated with the story of the whale ship the Essex. The story of the Donner Party is so infamous in the history of western expansion that even those who have limited historical knowledge have heard of it. Yes, historic accounts of cannibalism are both plentiful and compelling. However, what makes this story unique is the physical evidence that now supports the centuries old accounts of the witnesses of the "starving time." Of course, the Jamestown Project is a continuing effort, one which has already shown interesting results. I find it particularly fascinating considering no one even knew where the Jamestown colony was when I was growing up. I certainly look forward to seeing what else can be uncovered from the site of the first permanent English colony in the New World. Gruesome or not, I'll be waiting.


Evidence of Cannibalism Found at Jamestown - HISTORY

Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in North America, was founded in May of 1607 by 104 settlers who arrived aboard three ships: the Susan Constant, the Discovery and the Godspeed. They founded their colony on a narrow peninsula in the James River, constructing a wooden fort, a storehouse, a church and a number of houses. The Jamestown settlers suffered greatly from hunger and disease, and struggled to grow crops due to the region’s drought and their inexperience. They relied on supplies brought by later ships of settlers, as well as trade with local Native American tribes established through Captain John Smith’s negotiations with Algonquian leader Chief Powhatan. In October 1609, Smith was accidentally burned by gunpowder and forced to return to England for treatment he would never return to Virginia.

Over the winter that followed, the situation for the remaining Jamestown colonists grew desperate. Relations had turned increasingly hostile with members of Powhatan’s empire, and the punishing drought continued. George Percy, who served as governor of Jamestown during the Starving Time, wrote in 1625 that the colonists ate their horses to survive and later moved on to dogs, cats and vermin such as rats and mice. Eventually, Percy wrote, they resorted to cannibalism: “…Notheinge was Spared to mainteyne Lyfe and to doe those things which seame incredible, as to digge upp deade corpes outt of graves and to eate them. And some have Licked upp the Bloode which hathe fallen from their weake fellowes.” In addition to Percy’s, five other accounts also refer to cannibalism at Jamestown during that time.

Earlier excavations at the Jamestown site discovered carcasses of dogs, cats and horses consumed during the winter of 1609-10, but no evidence of cannibalized human remains. Then last August, archaeologists working as part of the Preservation Virginia Jamestown Rediscovery project (which began in 1994) found skeleton fragments belonging to a girl around the age of 14 buried in a debris-filled cellar in the Jamestown fort. After examining the bones, Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, found that the girl’s skeletal remains—including a skull, lower jaw and leg bone—all bear marks of an ax or cleaver and a knife, which he characterized as telltale marks of cannibalism.

On Wednesday, Owsley and lead archaeologist William Kelso presented their findings at a press conference at the National Museum of Natural History. Using technology such as computer graphics and CT scanning, along with sculpture materials and demographics, they have been able to reconstruct what the girl’s head may have looked like. They believe she probably came to the colony on one of six supply ships that arrived in June of 1609. She might have been a maidservant, though an isotope analysis of her bones revealed that she had eaten a high-protein diet, suggesting that she was in fact a gentleman’s daughter, and one of the colonists. As the scientists found no evidence that she was murdered, it seems likely that her hungry fellows ate her after she died of natural causes.


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The historical record is chilling. Early Jamestown colony leader George Percy wrote of a "world of miseries," that included digging up corpses from their graves to eat when there was nothing else. "Nothing was spared to maintain life," he wrote.

In one case, a man killed, "salted," and began eating his pregnant wife. Both Percy and Capt. John Smith, the colony's most famous leader, documented the account in their writings. The man was later executed.

"One amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered her, and had eaten part of her before it was known, for which he was executed, as he well deserved," Smith wrote. "Now whether she was better roasted, boiled or carbonado'd (barbecued), I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of."

Archaeologists at Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia were somewhat skeptical of the stories of cannibalism in the past because there was no solid proof, until now.

"Historians have questioned, well did it happen or not happen?" Owsley said. "And this is very convincing evidence that it did."

Owsley has been working with William Kelso, the chief archaeologist at Jamestown, since their first burial discovery in 1996.

The remains of the 14-year-old girl, discovered in the summer of 2012, mark the fourth set of human remains uncovered at Jamestown outside of graves. Researchers named her "Jane" to give her an identity for a book explaining her story. Her remains were found in a cellar at the site that had been filled with trash, including bones of horses and other animals consumed in desperation, according to archaeologists.

The discovery detracts from the happier mythology of John Smith and Pocahontas that many associate with Jamestown. The vice president of research at nearby Colonial Williamsburg, which oversees excavations of the original Jamestown site, said visitors will have a fuller view of a terrible time in early American history.

"I think we are better served by understanding history warts and all because I think it gives us a better understanding of who we are as a people," James Horn said. "It gives us a better sense of the sacrifices that people made, ordinary people like Jane, to survive in the new world."

Owsley, who has also done forensic analysis for police investigations, analyzed the girl's remains and how the body had been dismembered, including chops to the front and back of the head. The girl was likely already dead at the time. There was a cultural stigma against killing someone for food.

But it was clear to Owsley immediately that there were signs of cannibalism.

"It is the evidence found on those bones that put it within the context of this time period," he said. "This does represent a clear case of dismemberment of the body and removing of tissues for consumption."

It was the work of someone not skilled at butchering, Owsley said. There was a sense of desperation.

The bones show a bizarre attempt to open the skull. Animal brains and facial tissue would be considered accepted and desirable meat in the 17th century, Owsley said.

The human remains will be placed on display at Jamestown to explain the horrid conditions early settlers faced. At the Smithsonian, curators will display a digital reconstruction of the girl's face in an exhibit about life at Jamestown.

Owsley said archaeology is helping to fill in details from a time when few records were kept -- details that won't likely be found in history books.

Kelso, whose archaeology team discovered the bones, said the girl's bones will be displayed to help tell a story, not to be a spectacle.

"We found her in a trash dump, unceremoniously trashed and cannibalized, and now her story can be told," Kelso said. "People will be able to empathize with the time and history and think to themselves, as I do: What would I do to stay alive?"

The Smithsonian and Jamestown archaeologists are publishing their findings in a new book but decided against waiting to announce the discovery through a peer-reviewed journal.

"In a lot of ways, I say Jane is us," Kelso said. "She brings the past to the present."


Cannibalism at Jamestown evidence unearthed

Archaeologists and forensic scientists working with human remains recovered at Historic Jamestowne last summer reported Wednesday that their follow-up studies have turned up the gruesome first physical evidence of the cannibalism that took place during the Starving Time of 1609-10.

Analyzing the skull of a 14-year-old English girl found in a refuse pit filled with butchered horse and dog bones, they discovered multiple evidence of sharp cuts and chopping blows aimed at the woman's cranium, cheeks and mandible.

The location and number of the marks are consistent with the flesh and brain being removed, most likely for consumption.

"This person did not know how to butcher an animal. What we see is hesitancy and lack of experience," said forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

"But they were clearly interested in the cheek meat, the muscles of the throat and tongue and the brain."

Of about 300 English settlers living at James Fort in the winter of 1609, only about 60 survived disease, woefully inadequate food supplies and a persistent Indian siege that lasted into the spring.

Numerous accounts of cannibalism among the survivors surfaced soon after the arrival of a relief expedition. But the reliability of the accounts and the exact nature of what took place as the settlers struggled to find sustenance inside the fort's palisade walls have been debated by historians for years.

When the butchered skull was unearthed this past summer — found in a jumbled context of similarly uncommon butchered horse and dog bones — it provided the first physical evidence of the starving colonists' desperate efforts to stay alive.

"[Colonist] George Percy wrote that 'nothing was spared to maintain life and to do those things which seem incredible — as to dig up dead corpses out of graves and to eat them,'" said historian and Colonial Williamsburg Vice President James Horn who is an expert on Jamestown's history.

"How many were cannibalized is unknown. But we don't believe this young woman was a lone case."

The discovery of the partial skull and mandible inside a cellar in the center of the fort was not the first time Jamestown archaeologists have unearthed human remains in contexts other than conventional burials.

They also have found butchered horse and dog bones in the past, including a huge deposit in a 1608 well that was filled in with refuse from the fort immediately after the Starving Time ended.

That sober association made Jamestown Rediscovery Archaeology Director William M. Kelso and his team doubly alert when the first fragments of unusual bones began to emerge from a trash-filled cellar last summer.

"Clearly, this sort of thing would only be done in times of hunger," he said, describing the colonists' forced decision to kill their horses and dogs.

"And when we found the human skull, the context of the discovery, the visible damage to the skull and the marks on the bones immediately made us realize it was unusual."

Shielded from public view, the remains were excavated and then sent to Owsley's lab, which has worked closely with the pioneering Jamestown excavation for nearly 20 years.

There, the renowned forensic anthropologist determined that the marks left by multiple cuts and chops to the bone differed significantly from the wounds that would be inflicted by scalping or errant shovels.

He also concluded that a second and more professional hand may have been at work in the clean, quick severing of a leg bone associated with the skull.

"Nobody saw anybody eat this young lady," Owsley said, noting that the victim was already dead from disease or starvation when she was butchered.

"But given the context in which the skull was found — and the multiple, multiple cuts that were made — there's not much doubt."

Exactly who the hapless young colonist was is still unknown.

But continuing research has turned up several clues and pointed the way for further study of a person who is literally giving a new face to the colonists' struggle to plant a permanent settlement at Jamestown.

"We're calling her 'Jane,'" Horn said, during the Wednesday morning presentation at the Smithsonian.

"We wanted to give her a name."

Of some 60 women and children who arrived at the fort in 1609, most of the females were wives, daughters and maid servants, said Jamestown Rediscovery curator Beverly Straube.

But only a few left names and records that can be studied for evidence of a link to the skull.

Still, isotopic analysis of the bone at the Smithsonian has revealed not only that the victim was English but also that she likely came from the south coast. Owsley's team also found evidence of a high-protein diet, physically marking the young woman as someone of high social and economic status.

Using the mended skull and extensive computer modeling, the team has reconstructed the woman's face, too, conjuring up a vision from Jamestown's tragic past that has affected many of the scientists and historians there deeply.

Along with the skull and other material, it will go on view at Historic Jamestowne's Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium Friday morning.

"So many people who came to Jamestown just arrived and died — and you just don't hear anything more about them. But now we've brought Jane back," Straube says.

"When you see her face, it just takes your breath away. She's so young and beautiful. Some people have actually started to cry when they see her."


Skeleton of teenage girl confirms cannibalism at Jamestown colony

The first chops, to the forehead, did not go through the bone and are perhaps evidence of hesitancy about the task. The next set, after the body was rolled over, was more effective. One cut split the skull all the way to the base.

“The person is truly figuring it out as they go,” said Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution.

In the meantime, someone — perhaps with more experience — was working on a leg. The tibia bone is broken with a single blow, as one might do in butchering a cow.

That’s one possible version of an event that took place sometime during the winter of 1609-1610 in Jamestown. What’s certain is that some members of that desperate colony resorted to cannibalism to survive.

That cannibalism occurred during the colony’s “starving time” was never in much doubt. At least a half-dozen accounts, by people who lived through the period or spoke to colonists who did, describe occasional acts of cannibalism that winter. They include reports of corpses being exhumed and eaten, a husband killing his wife and salting her flesh (for which he was executed), and the mysterious disappearance of foraging colonists.

The proof comes in the form of fragments of a skeleton of a girl, about age 14, found in a cellar full of debris in the fort on the James River that sheltered the starving colonists. The skull, lower jaw and leg bone — all that remain — have the telltale marks of an ax or cleaver and a knife.

“Historians have to decide whether this type of thing happened,” said Owsley, who has examined thousands of skeletal remains, both archaeological and forensic. “I think that it did. We didn’t see anybody eat this flesh. But it’s very strong evidence.”

James Horn, head of research at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and a historian on the colony, said the discovery “adds a significant confirmation to what was reported to have occurred at Jamestown.” Further, it’s the only physical evidence of cannibalism of Europeans in any New World colony, although, as with Jamestown, there are written accounts of the practice in others.

“I tend to be sparing in the use of words like ‘unique.’ But I think this is one of those finds that literally is,” Horn said.

About 300 people inhabited the fort in November 1609. By spring, there were only 60. The girl, most likely a maidservant but possibly the daughter of a colonist, was one of the casualties.

Her bones were unearthed last August as part of the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological project begun in 1994. About 18 inches of fill remain in the cellar, so it’s possible more of her skeleton will be found. Enough of her skull exists, however, to imagine what she might have looked like, using CT scanning, computer graphics, sculpture materials and demographic data.

The bones, the reconstruction of her head and the story were presented Wednesday at an event at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The remains will be displayed at the Archaearium, the museum at the Jamestown fort archaeological site, starting this weekend. A warning sign at the room’s entrance notes that human remains are on view. There are no depictions of bodies being butchered, cooked or consumed.

The starving time nearly ended the colony, which was riven by internal dissent, under attack by Powhatan Indians and short of food almost from its founding in 1607. A resupply fleet of nine vessels had left Plymouth, England, on June 2, 1609. Aboard, including crew, were 500 people, of which perhaps three dozen were women and girls. The fleet was struck by a hurricane on July 23, 1609. One ship sank. The flagship, Sea Venture, wrecked on Bermuda. Most of the passengers and crew escaped to the island, an event that became the kernel of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Among the survivors was the colony’s incoming lieutenant governor, Thomas Gates. (The marooned fashioned two boats from the wreck’s remains and miraculously sailed into Jamestown the next May.)

The seven other ships, scattered and damaged, sailed on. Six arrived in mid-August, with the girl, whom the researchers have named “Jane,” almost certainly on one of them. The seventh ship arrived in October.

The new arrivals — about 300 people — proved to be as much a drain on the colony as a relief.

The ships’ crews hoarded provisions. The summer corn crop was enough to feed only about 50 people for a year. The colony’s military leader, Capt. John Smith, sent two groups of colonists upstream and downstream to fend for themselves. He was badly wounded in what was probably an assassination attempt and in October sailed home with the ships. By then, people were already going hungry.

The girl’s bones were found mixed with those of a horse, dogs and squirrels — testament to the extreme food sources the colonists turned to that winter. They were part of the trash collected in a fort-wide cleanup and dumped in the cellar before the arrival of the colony’s governor, Lord De La Warr, the following June.

The cause of her death isn’t known. The tentative cuts to the front of the skull and the deeper ones to the back are close together — evidence that she was dead, not squirming, when they were made. The temporal bone was pried off to reach the brain. There are dozens of cuts to the jaw, suggesting that muscle was stripped from it.

Could the marks have been left by animals?

“Not a chance,” Owsley said. “I deal with this all the time. Not a chance.” In fact, he says with confidence that the dissector or dissectors were right-handed.

Chemical analysis of the bone reveals an enriched “nitrogen profile,” evidence of lots of protein in the girl’s diet. That, in turn, suggests she was a member of a high-born family or at least lived in such a household for much of her life.

She wouldn’t have gone to Jamestown alone. Whoever accompanied her was probably dead by the time she became food for the starving. “If she’d had a family to protect her — after death as well as before — this probably wouldn’t have happened,” Horn said.

Learning who she was will be difficult. Complete passenger lists for the voyages don’t exist. Research into the Virginia Company’s sponsors in Plymouth might reveal a family with a girl born in 1595 or 1596 who went to America. There may be extractable DNA in the bone fragments, but at this point, there are no descendants to compare it with.

Even the appearance that Owsley and his collaborator, Kari Bruwelheide, gave the girl is to some extent guesswork.

They used the thickness of facial tissue seen among girls in contemporary southern England to gauge Jane’s. They gave her consensus hair — light brown — not the red or blond of other latitudes and regions. They also chose not to depict her as she undoubtedly was before death — gaunt and emaciated.

“But I didn’t make her look like a healthy, plump teenager either,” Owsley said. “I’m putting her in her circumstances.”

Those include dirt on her face and a thousand-yard stare, but not, alas, her name.


Scientists find evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown colony

Scientists revealed Wednesday that they have found the first solid archaeological evidence that some of the earliest American colonists at Jamestown, Va., survived harsh conditions by turning to cannibalism.

For years, there have been tales of people in the first permanent English settlement in America eating dogs, cats, rats, mice, snakes and shoe leather to stave off starvation. There were also written accounts of settlers eating their own dead, but archaeologists had been skeptical of those stories.

But now, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and archaeologists from Jamestown are announcing the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl that show clear signs that she was cannibalized. Evidence indicates clumsy chops to the body and head of the girl, who appears to have already been dead at the time.

Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley said the human remains date to a deadly winter known as the "starving time" in Jamestown, from 1609 to 1610. Hundreds died during the period. Scientists have said the settlers likely arrived during the worst drought in 800 years, bringing severe food shortages for the 6,000 people who lived at Jamestown between 1607 and 1625.

The historical record is chilling. Early Jamestown colony leader George Percy wrote of a "world of miseries," that included digging up corpses from their graves to eat when there was nothing else. "Nothing was spared to maintain life," he wrote.

In one case, a man killed, "salted," and began eating his pregnant wife. Both Percy and Capt. John Smith, the colony's most famous leader, documented the account in their writings. The man was later executed.

"One amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered her, and had eaten part of her before it was known, for which he was executed, as he well deserved," Smith wrote. "Now whether she was better roasted, boiled or carbonado'd (barbecued), I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of."

Archaeologists at Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia were somewhat skeptical of the stories of cannibalism in the past because there was no solid proof, until now.

"Historians have questioned, well did it happen or not happen?" Owsley said. "And this is very convincing evidence that it did."

Owsley has been working with William Kelso, the chief archaeologist at Jamestown, since their first burial discovery in 1996.

The remains of the 14-year-old girl, discovered in the summer of 2012, mark the fourth set of human remains uncovered at Jamestown outside of graves. Researchers named her "Jane" to give her an identity for a book explaining her story. Her remains were found in a cellar at the site that had been filled with trash, including bones of horses and other animals consumed in desperation, according to archaeologists.

The discovery detracts from the happier mythology of John Smith and Pocahontas that many associate with Jamestown. The vice president of research at nearby Colonial Williamsburg, which oversees excavations of the original Jamestown site, said visitors will have a fuller view of a terrible time in early American history.

"I think we are better served by understanding history warts and all because I think it gives us a better understanding of who we are as a people," James Horn said. "It gives us a better sense of the sacrifices that people made, ordinary people like Jane, to survive in the new world."

Owsley, who has also done forensic analysis for police investigations, analyzed the girl's remains and how the body had been dismembered, including chops to the front and back of the head. The girl was likely already dead at the time. There was a cultural stigma against killing someone for food.

But it was clear to Owsley immediately that there were signs of cannibalism.

"It is the evidence found on those bones that put it within the context of this time period," he said. "This does represent a clear case of dismemberment of the body and removing of tissues for consumption."

It was the work of someone not skilled at butchering, Owsley said. There was a sense of desperation.

The bones show a bizarre attempt to open the skull. Animal brains and facial tissue would be considered accepted and desirable meat in the 17th century, Owsley said.

The human remains will be placed on display at Jamestown to explain the horrid conditions early settlers faced. At the Smithsonian, curators will display a digital reconstruction of the girl's face in an exhibit about life at Jamestown.

Owsley said archaeology is helping to fill in details from a time when few records were kept — details that won't likely be found in history books.

Kelso, whose archaeology team discovered the bones, said the girl's bones will be displayed to help tell a story, not to be a spectacle.

"We found her in a trash dump, unceremoniously trashed and cannibalized, and now her story can be told," Kelso said. "People will be able to empathize with the time and history and think to themselves, as I do: What would I do to stay alive?"

The Smithsonian and Jamestown archaeologists are publishing their findings in a new book but decided against waiting to announce the discovery through a peer-reviewed journal.

"In a lot of ways, I say Jane is us," Kelso said. "She brings the past to the present."
___


Cannibalism evidence found at Jamestown settlement

WASHINGTON Scientists said Wednesday that they have found the first solid archaeological evidence that some of the earliest American colonists at Jamestown, Va., survived harsh conditions by turning to cannibalism.

For years, there have been tales of the starving English settlers resorting to eating dogs, mice, snakes and shoe leather at Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. There were also written accounts of settlers eating their own dead, but archaeologists had been skeptical of those stories.

Numerous small knife cuts and punctures in the mandible of "Jane of Jamestown", Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Washington, May 1, 2013. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

But now, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and archaeologists from Jamestown are announcing the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl that show clear signs that she was cannibalized. Evidence indicates clumsy chops to the body and head, and it appears the girl was already dead at the time.

Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley said the human remains date back to a deadly winter known as the "starving time" in Jamestown from 1609 to 1610. Hundreds of colonists died during the period. Scientists have said the settlers likely arrived during the worst drought in 800 years, bringing a severe famine for the 6,000 people who lived at Jamestown between 1607 and 1625.

The historical record is chilling. Early Jamestown colony leader George Percy wrote of a "world of miseries," that included digging up corpses from their graves to eat when there was nothing else. "Nothing was spared to maintain life," he wrote.

In one case, a man killed, "salted," and began eating his pregnant wife. Both Percy and Capt. John Smith, the colony's most famous leader, documented the account in their writings. The man was later executed.

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"One amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered her, and had eaten part of her before it was known, for which he was executed, as he well deserved," Smith wrote. "Now whether she was better roasted, boiled or carbonado'd (barbecued), I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of."

Archaeologists at Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia were somewhat skeptical of the stories of cannibalism in the past because there was no solid proof, until now.

"Historians have questioned, well did it happen or not happen?" Owsley said. "And this is very convincing evidence that it did."

Owsley has been working with William Kelso, the chief archaeologist at Jamestown, since their first burial discovery in 1996.

The remains of the 14-year-old girl discovered in the summer of 2012 marks the fourth burial of human remains uncovered at Jamestown. Her remains were found in a cellar at the site that had been filled with trash, including bones of animals that had been consumed, according to archaeologists.

Owsley, who has also done forensic analysis for police investigations, analyzed the girl's remains and how the body had been dismembered, including chops to the front and back of the head. The girl was likely already dead at the time. There was a cultural stigma against killing someone for food, Owsley said.

It was the work of someone not skilled at butchering, Owsley said. There was a sense of desperation.

But it was clear to him immediately that there were signs of cannibalism.

"It is the evidence found on those bones that put it within the context of this time period," he said. "This does represent a clear case of dismemberment of the body and removing of tissues for consumption."

The bones show a bizarre attempt to open the skull. Animal brains and facial tissue would be considered accepted and desirable meat in the 17th century, Owsley said.

The human remains will be placed on display at Jamestown to explain the "starving time" and the horrid conditions early settlers faced. At the Smithsonian, curators will display a digital reconstruction of the girl's face to explain the discovery in an exhibit about life at Jamestown.

The Smithsonian and Jamestown archaeologists are also publishing their findings in a book but decided against waiting to announce the discovery through a peer-reviewed journal.

Owsley said archaeology is helping to fill in details from a time when few records were kept — details that won't likely be found in history books.

"It provides a more personal glimpse into the lives and events that these people experienced," he said. "When you're dealing with 17th century sites like Jamestown, I think it really enhances what we know about these people."

First published on May 1, 2013 / 2:06 PM

© 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Photo Evidence of cannibalism discovered


The skull of a 14-year-old girl. (Photo: BBC)

"We see a lot of cuts and cuts - on the forehead, behind the skull - and a puncture on the left side of the skull. The purpose of the cuts is to break the skull. her face was split, " commented Doug Owsley, an anthropologist of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in the US.

Some documents have documented the cannibalistic behavior of long-term British settlers in the United States in the 17th century. But this is the first time scientists have found concrete evidence of such behavior.

Owsley and colleagues believe that a 14-year-old teenage girl is the food of a community in the harsh winter of 1609-1610. Historians call this period "hunger period" , one of the most terrible periods in the process of America's formation. In 1609 and 1610, aboriginal warriors (whom Americans call Indians), besieged Fort James, caused white men inside the fortress to be in a state of extreme distress due to lack of food.

"Obviously one or more people have taken her meat and brains to eat. They face a very dangerous situation and are willing to do it," Owsley commented.

The team did not know what caused her to die, but they insisted that cutting the bones took place immediately after her death.


Evidence of cannibalism found at orginal Jamestown settlement

(CNN) — The winter of 1609 to 1610 was treacherous for early American settlers. Some 240 of the 300 colonists at Jamestown, in Virginia, died during this period, called the “Starving Time,” when they were under siege and had no way to get food.

Desperate times led to desperate measures. New evidence suggests that includes eating the flesh of fellow colonists who had already died.

Archaeologists revealed Wednesday their analysis of 17th century skeletal remains suggesting that settlers practiced cannibalism to survive.

Researchers unearthed an incomplete human skull and tibia (shin bone) in 2012 that contain several features suggesting that this particular person had been cannibalized. The remains come from a 14-year-old girl of English origin, whom historians are calling “Jane.”

There are about half a dozen accounts that mention cannibalistic behaviors at that time, although the record is limited, said Douglas Owsley, division head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian National Museum of National History.

The newly analyzed remains support these accounts, providing the first forensic evidence of cannibalism in the American colonies.

What we know from the bones

Jane’s remains were found in a 17th-century trash deposit at the former site of James Fort. William Kelso, chief archaeologist at the Jamestown Rediscovery Project said at a briefing Wednesday that the fort was built in 1607, but has been washed away. Kelso and colleagues began digging in 1994 and have been excavating the site on Jamestown Island ever since.

Owsley and colleagues can tell quite a bit about what happened to Jane when at least one starving settler in the fort apparently tried to feed off of her.
If it’s any consolation, it appears that she was already dead at the time.

Researchers say it looks like someone had tried, but failed to open the skull with four shallow chops to the forehead.

The back of the skull contains markings that could have been made by a small hatchet or cleaver striking it. The cranium cracked open from the last hit. Forensic experts say it appears the person striking the skull was right-handed.

The skull’s mandible contains cuts all over it and inside, which experts say reflect an attempt to take tissue off of the face and throat with a tool such as a knife. The cheek area reflects a “sawing action” of a tool going back and forth, Owsley said. There are also sharp passages of a knife.

At some point in the process, the head was removed, Owsley said.

The damage done to these remains indicates that whoever inflicted it was not a skilled butcher, he said.

“Instead, what we see is hesitancy, trial, tentativeness and an absolute total lack of experience.”

The shin bone that archaeologists recovered also appeared to have been chopped, but in a way that more resembles classic butchering techniques, Owsley said.

“The person doing this was clearly interested in, based on what would have been accepted cuisine in the 17th century, in cheek meat, muscles of the face — that area — and tongue, and also in terms of 17th century traditional cuts, would also include the brain,” he said.

It is possible that more than one person was involved in this, given the disparity in butchering practices seen in the head compared to the shin bone.

What we know about the colonists

In the summer of 1609, the settlers experienced two significant setbacks, said James Horn, vice president of research and historical interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg.

The first was that a large fleet bringing supplies and settlers to Virginia was scattered. It had been carrying 500 settlers from Plymouth along with provisions.

“The fleet represented a new beginning for Jamestown, which had struggled over the previous two years,” Horn said.

A hurricane scattered the ships a week before they were supposed to arrive. The flagship with the leaders of this pack ended up in Bermuda. Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” takes its inspiration from this event.

Six ships reached Jamestown in August 1609, with spoiled or depleted food, and many settlers in poor health. “On one of those ships was Jane,” Horn said.

At the same time, the relationship between the Jamestown colonists and the native Powhatan Indians had broken down. The existing settlers were already experiencing disease and a shortage of food, and the demands they made on the Powhatans strained their relations.

That was the environment into which 300 additional settlers arrived at the James Fort.

One of the leaders of the group, Captain John Smith — the same one who was famously friends with Pocahontas — returned to England in October 1609 because he was injured, Owsley said, leaving a leadership vacuum.

In the fall, the Powhatans waged war against these colonists, and launched a siege against the fort.

With no way to get food from the outside, the colonists resorted to eating horses, dogs, cats, rats, mice and snakes, Horn said, according to the accounts of George Percy, who was the president of Jamestown during this time. There are even accounts of people eating their shoes and any other leather that could be found. Anyone who left to try to scrounge for roots in the woods was killed by the Powhatans.

Percy wrote, according to the Smithsonian, “thatt notheinge was Spared to mainteyne Lyfe and to doe those things which seame incredible, as to digge upp deade corpes outt of graves and to eate them. And some have Licked upp the Bloode which hathe fallen from their weake fellowes.” In other words, cannibalism.

It&aposs not clear how many deceased colonists were cannibalized. Only 60 of 300 of the original colonists survived, described as “looking like skeletons,” Horn said.

In May of 1610, the settlers finally arrived who had been shipwrecked in Bermuda, effectively saving the colony. Lord Delaware brought even more colonists and enough provisions to last a year.

There are still more pits at the fort to be excavated, and only 10% of Jane’s body has been recovered, Owsley said.

“I think there’s going to be other examples,” Owsley said. “Whether that will be found — with archeology you never know what’s going to be under the next shovel.”

A special exhibition will begin at the Smithsonian about Jamestown and Jane’s story on Friday.


Bones Tell Tale Of Desperation Among The Starving At Jamestown

The four cuts at the top of this skull "are clear chops to the forehead," says Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley. Based on forensic evidence, researchers think the blows were made after the person died. Donald E. Hurlbert/Smithsonian hide caption

The four cuts at the top of this skull "are clear chops to the forehead," says Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley. Based on forensic evidence, researchers think the blows were made after the person died.

Donald E. Hurlbert/Smithsonian

"First they ate their horses, and then fed upon their dogs and cats, as well as rats, mice and snakes."

So says James Horn of the historical group Colonial Williamsburg, paraphrasing an account by colony leader George Percy of what conditions were like for the hundreds of men and women stranded in Jamestown, Va., with little food in the dead of winter in 1609.

They even ate their shoes. And, apparently, at least one person.

Scientists who have recovered human bones from the English colony at Jamestown announced Wednesday that they show the marks of cannibalism.

It's long been debated whether the colonists resorted to eating each other during "the starving time" of 1609 to 1610. The weather was harsh, and the hostile Indians were even harsher. Only 60 colonists survived that winter. This new finding would be the first hard evidence of cannibalism.

Last summer, Jamestown's chief archaeologist, William Kelso, dug up a human skull and a few other bones, along with some food remains. But these bones were different from others he'd found.

This forensic facial reconstruction shows what the 14-year-old, nicknamed "Jane," may have looked like. Scientists say the remains found at Jamestown are evidence of cannibalism over the winter of 1609-1610. Donald E. Hurlbert/Smithsonian hide caption

This forensic facial reconstruction shows what the 14-year-old, nicknamed "Jane," may have looked like. Scientists say the remains found at Jamestown are evidence of cannibalism over the winter of 1609-1610.

Donald E. Hurlbert/Smithsonian

"The damage to the skull, and finding it with the other food remains, brought on serious thoughts that this was, indeed, evidence of survival cannibalism," Kelso says.

Kelso took the bones to the Smithsonian's Douglas Owsley, a renowned forensic anthropologist who has solved numerous criminal cases, as well as archaeological mysteries, based on human bones. Owsley determined that the Jamestown bones belonged to a girl, aged 14. They don't know anything about her, but have given her a name: Jane.

Owsley found numerous cut marks on the cranium and jaw, all apparently done after the girl had died. "There are clear chops to the forehead. They are very closely spaced," Owsley says.

These vertical cuts are evenly spaced and regular, and thus, he says, not the kind of wound you see in a struggle, but more likely made on a corpse. "There are four chops to the back of the cranium," Owsley says — apparently, they were made as the assailant was trying to open her skull. It was done in a very unskillful way, Owsley notes. Then, there was a final chop that completely fractured the skull open.

Owsley also found marks on the jaw that looked like the result of sawing with a sharp object, and also compression fractures made by a knife point. On the only fragment of leg bone the researchers had, there were more cut marks.

Markings on the lower side of the jaw look like they were sawed with a sharp object, says forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley. Donald E. Hurlbert/Smithsonian hide caption

Markings on the lower side of the jaw look like they were sawed with a sharp object, says forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley.

Donald E. Hurlbert/Smithsonian

Forensic scientists usually can differentiate marks left by gnawing animals from those made by sharp instruments. Along with the written accounts, Owsley says the evidence points to cannibalism. "Given the context of all of this put together, and the multiple, multiple cuts," he says, "this is not anything that is done out of spite or vengeance or anything like that. It is, I think, a very clear intent."

The team has glued the skull back together and also sculpted a re-creation of what Jane would have looked like in the flesh, which they displayed today at the press conference: English, high cheekbones, regular features, pretty.

Smithsonian anthropologist Kari Bruwelheide was on the team. "When you have evidence of an event that's written down and recorded and talked about by survivors 400 years ago, it added weight to history. I mean, it truly is kind of a special kind of case," she said.

It's special also because archaeologists are skeptical about claims of cannibalism. Jonathan Haas at the Field Museum in Chicago says "cannibalism science" demands several types of evidence. The opening of the skull and the historical accounts are two good ones, but he says the other cut marks don't prove cannibalism, but only severe violence done to a girl's body.

Haas says scientists need a suite of several lines of evidence, all pointing to the same conclusion. "If I find cut marks showing the defleshing from the long bones, if I see cracking of the long bones, if I see cooking, then I can begin to much more definitively say that there was cannibalism being practiced," Haas says. He says archaeologically, more proof is still needed.

Given that this was England's first successful colony in the New World, and the nature of the claim, it's likely that the cannibalism finding will generate a lively scientific debate.


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