Scholars find cannibalism at Jamestown settlement

May 01, 2013 by Brett Zongker
Doug Owsley, division head for Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, displays the skull and facial reconstruction of "Jane of Jamestown" during a news conference at the museum in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Scientists announced during the news conference 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 presenting the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl, "Jane" that show clear signs that she was cannibalized. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Scientists revealed Wednesday that they have found the first solid archaeological evidence that some of the earliest American colonists at Jamestown, Virginia, 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 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 Douglas Owsley said the human remains date back to a deadly winter known as the "" 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 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.

Strike marks are seen on the skull of "Jane of Jamestown" during a news conference at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Scientists announced during the news conference 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 presenting the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl, "Jane" that show clear signs that she was cannibalized. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

"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, named "Jane" by researchers, were discovered in the summer of 2012 and mark the fourth set of human remains uncovered at Jamestown outside of graves. 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.

Strike marks are seen on the skull of "Jane of Jamestown" during a news conference at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Scientists announced during the news conference 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 presenting the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl, "Jane" that show clear signs that she was cannibalized. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

"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.

Owsley, who has also done forensic analysis for police investigations, examined 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.

"This does represent a clear case of dismemberment of the body and removing of tissues for consumption," he said.

Doug Owsley, division head for Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, displays the skull of "Jane of Jamestown" during a news conference at the museum in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Scientists announced during the news conference 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 presenting the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl, "Jane" that show clear signs that she was cannibalized. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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

The bones show a bizarre attempt to open the skull, he said. Animal brains and facial tissue were desirable meat in the 17th century.

The archaeologists are publishing their findings in a new book but decided against waiting to announce the discovery.

The human skull will be placed on display at Jamestown, and a sign will warn visitors of the room's content. At the Smithsonian, curators will display a computer-generated 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. Through the remains, scientists traced her likely origin to the coast of southern England.

Numerous small knife cuts and punctures in the mandible of "Jane of Jamestown" are seen during a news conference at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Scientists announced during the news conference 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 presenting the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl, "Jane" that show clear signs that she was cannibalized. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

"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?"

At Jamestown, officials removed a large tarp covering the site where there remains were found for visitors to see. Tourists were told Wednesday of the discovery.

"Oh, wow," said Kim Reyes, who was on a field trip escorting fourth grade students from Alexandria, Virginia. "We all know the they were here in, but I didn't think it was that bad."

Pam Nagle's mouth dropped when she heard the announcement. She was visiting Jamestown with her children, ages 7 and 10, and her in-laws. Nagle said she had never heard any mention of cannibalism at Jamestown before.

"I was really curious whether it was pre- or post-mortem. I was really glad he said post-mortem," she said. "There was a level of desperation, but maybe perhaps it wasn't as severe as it could've been."

Explore further: Violent aftermath for the warriors at Alken Enge

More information: National Museum of Natural History: www.mnh.si.edu/
Jamestown Rediscovery Archaeological Project: historicjamestowne.org/

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Telekinetic
1.7 / 5 (6) May 01, 2013
"Virginia barbecue sauce evolved throughout the centuries in a way that reflected the prosperity of the times. Early on back in the 1600's, the English colonists in Virginia didn't like the gamy flavors of the native game so they used vinegar mixed with lard or butter on meat in order to cover up the gaminess."
panorama
5 / 5 (2) May 02, 2013
"Virginia barbecue sauce evolved throughout the centuries in a way that reflected the prosperity of the times. Early on back in the 1600's, the English colonists in Virginia didn't like the gamy flavors of the native game so they used vinegar mixed with lard or butter on meat in order to cover up the gaminess."


Too soon.
julianpenrod
1.3 / 5 (15) May 02, 2013
A telling example of the flimsy evidence even "science" devotees will buy in a scam, as long as the lies are told by "experts".
There were deer, winter birds, rabbits, fish. There is no excuse for starvation. People lived there is years afterward, many with severe winters.
And consider the prime and sole piece of "evidence. Who would try to get meat from a skull? There's too little there. And that is what the "cut marks" are intended to suggest. And the "evidence" the cuts were made after death is that the bone didn't heal up. But, by the time all metabolism had stopped, the body likely would be putrid.
The whole story of Jamestown appears a lie. This may even be a chance to try to downplay an Indian assault on the girl.
VendicarE
3.7 / 5 (7) May 02, 2013
The American Breed grew out of the low IQ, intellectual dregs of Europe.

"There were deer, winter birds, rabbits, fish. There is no excuse for starvation." - Julian

But insufficient intellectual capacity to use those resources.

Your response is proof that the intellectual inferiority continues in the American Breed.
Telekinetic
4.1 / 5 (9) May 02, 2013
C'mon julianpenrod, there's a written historical record by the colony's leader. Then again, her skull may have been smashed by a windmill vane as she passed by to do her chores.
julianpenrod
1.6 / 5 (14) May 02, 2013
Note how the non argument methodologies of the New World Order shills work against them. VendicarE declaims my statement by insisting that intellectual inferiority is endemic in the "American Breed". Does VendicarE then attack Jack Horner or Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan? And does VendicarE downgrade Edwin Hubble, Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers? Along with the evident shills who dutifully gave my statement only 1's, as an attempt to dilute and diminish higher ratings by others, and the shill who gave VendicarE a 5, VendicarE only goes to show what a rag PhysOrg has turned into.
julianpenrod
1.3 / 5 (12) May 02, 2013
And Telekinetic displays the gullibility the New World Order depends on. Just because there's a "written record" doesn't mean it's true! If there was a struggle for control and many were killed, how many of the survivors would want to necessarily admit that they slaughtered the remainder for personal profit? Again, every claim of famine is completely undone by the fact that food supplies were plentiful, even in winter, there. To say nothing of the likelihood of traffic from other settlements or colonies. And, remember, the Indians were able to survive there for thousands of years!
Skepticus
3.5 / 5 (11) May 02, 2013
Ah, the lies and defamations! Canibalism only occurs amongst the savages like Papua New Guineans, Africans, Asians , their brethren and cousins. Good Xtians would have starved themselves to death with faith and dignity..! Those marks were....marks of paying personal respects to the dead..!
VendicarE
3.9 / 5 (7) May 02, 2013
11 knife cuts on the jaw bown and racist JulianTard thinks it was assault by Indians.

"New World Order shills " - JulianTard

Scratch a Republican, expose a low IQ Racist.
VendicarE
3.9 / 5 (7) May 02, 2013
"Just because there's a "written record" doesn't mean it's true!" - JulianTard

Absolutely. History is meaningless, Denialist Conservative Liedeology is the only path to true free thinking enlightenment.
julianpenrod
1.6 / 5 (14) May 02, 2013
VendicarE is of the ilk who has no point to make and thinks nothing of tossing around loaded words like "racist" to try to work around the fact they can't raise an argument. Again, there is not enough meat on the skull to make a difference. And what meat there is on the jaw would not require eleven knife cuts to remove.
Note VendicarE doesn't try to explain the "starvation" in the presence of plentiful food supplies that Indians lived on for thousands of years.
But note VendicarE's declaration that all "written records" are absolutely true and reliable.
Telekinetic
2.7 / 5 (7) May 02, 2013
From the article: "The bones show a bizarre attempt to open the skull, he said. Animal brains and facial tissue were desirable meat in the 17th century."

I've also heard that the palms of the hand are considered to be succulent- from all of that praying, I'm sure.
Skepticus
3 / 5 (6) May 02, 2013
Golden Rod:
To be gristly factual about it: People can't eat bones, and beggars can't be choosy. They were starving to death. So they would have extracted everything they can swallow. To break the thigh bones for the marrow would be nearly beyond the strength of starving people, so they tried to break the thinner skull instead, trying not to disfigure it beyond necessity, probably out of remaining respects for one of their kind. Hell, they could have smashed it with a hammer or a rock. As for the clumsy knife works, humans are not pigs nor chicken, they were no surgeons, the "game" is unfamiliar, and they were probably crying, shaking and guilty as hell while butchering one of their own.
As for plentiful food supplies that Indians eat, they were new comers in a strange land, with strange vegs, nuts and fruits that will take time to experiment on so they stick to what they knew. The Indians wouldn't have been too keen to trade foods to the new land grabbers either...
Skepticus
2.6 / 5 (5) May 02, 2013
cont.
To raid the Indians, a highly mobile and disperse foe for their food supply, they would need speed and strength, that means they need to eat ..more non-existent food for battle!
Certainly not all historical writings are absolutely true and factual, but why the writers thought it would be highly amusing to sit down and penned fictions that slur the characters of their fellow dead and dying God-fearing Xtians around them?
(Sorry Vendi for hijacking your thread, I couldn't resist. As a somewhat versatile cook and sometime A-Z butcher, i got annoyed by armchair butchers!)
julianpenrod
1.3 / 5 (12) May 03, 2013
Part of Skepticus' "proof" of the "truth" of the claims in the article is to state simply that the settlers were starving, without proof.
There is no proof provided, outside of written accounts which can be fake, that the settlers were starving.
And, again, more than ample proof that they cannot have been starving is that, even in winter, it is possible to catch a great deal of fish where they were. And to say they couldn't shoot a deer, or catch wild turkey, muskrats, rabbits is laughable. And, again, the fact that Indians did live there for centuries is more than sufficient disclaimer for any assertion that the settlers were starving.
And "animal brains and facial tissue were desirable meat in the 17th century" means they were delicacies. Delicacies are not prized for nutritional value, and almost never for their plentifulness, but only for their taste or maybe simply their rarity. There never is enough brain tissue in any raised herd of animals or acquired g
julianpenrod
1.3 / 5 (14) May 03, 2013
And "animal brains and facial tissue were desirable meat in the 17th century" means they were delicacies. Delicacies are not prized for nutritional value, and almost never for their plentifulness, but only for their taste or maybe simply their rarity. There never is enough brain tissue in any raised herd of animals or acquired game to be a growth industry for mass nourishment.
VendicarE
3.4 / 5 (5) May 03, 2013
I note that JulianTard is lying when he claims that no explanation was given.

"Note VendicarE doesn't try to explain the "starvation" in the presence of plentiful food supplies that Indians lived on for thousands of years." - JulianTard

The explanation was provided. American Stupidity.
VendicarE
3.9 / 5 (7) May 03, 2013
"There is no proof provided, outside of written accounts which can be fake" - JilianTard

The research discussed in the article counter's JulianTard's denialist claim, as does the evidence.

Of course JulianTard can only justify his position by claiming that not only is the above research wrong, but that historians are in on some kind of science conspiracy.

JulianTard offers the same kind of Moronic tripe that all Conservative denialists do.

Filth.
Skepticus
4 / 5 (8) May 03, 2013
Part of Skepticus' "proof" of the "truth" of the claims in the article is to state simply that the settlers were starving, without proof... And to say they couldn't shoot a deer, or catch wild turkey, muskrats, rabbits is laughable. .

May be you missed this part:
"Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley ...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."
So iyho, Douglas Owsley lied through his teeth, no drought, fishes,game and ammo were plenty. Your proofs? Xtians may believe they are a choice cut above the rest and made in their God's image, but they are mortal all the same, with an unholy stomach that demands food. You have never experienced the eternal feeling of extreme hunger for months on end, do you? or hallucinating and dreaming about food?
Skepticus
4 / 5 (8) May 03, 2013
And "animal brains and facial tissue were desirable meat in the 17th century" means they were delicacies. Delicacies are not prized for nutritional value, and almost never for their plentifulness, but only for their taste or maybe simply their rarity. There never is enough brain tissue in any raised herd of animals or acquired game to be a growth industry for mass nourishment.

Know your biochemistry and anatomy. The brain is mostly fat, which is highest in calories per weight measure, more than meat or anything else. An average humans brain is around 3.5 lbs, or1.4 kg of fat, which may keep 1 person alive for a month, or 30 for a day. I wouldn't call it slim picking or delicacy in desperate times! And brain and other tissues are not a "17 century delicacy". They have been eaten for as long as humans started butchering, but need to be prepared the right way to be palatable. You obviously know pitifully little about the art!
geokstr
1.4 / 5 (13) May 03, 2013
All the commenters here who hate the US fail to note how Jamestown (and Plymouth) pulled out of their difficult first few years, where there was no private property and no incentives to produce, i.e., socialism.

"Common property's disincentives produced terrible results in both colonies. Shirking was so severe at Jamestown that Thomas Dale noted that much of the survivors' time was devoted to playing rather than working, despite the threat of starvation."
http://www.ocregi...own.html

"In addition to creating private property, it made the marginal tax rate on most of colonists' efforts zero, turning indolence into industry."

Amazing how those capitalist traits of being responsible for yourself, responding to economic principles of the free market, and owning your own property and the fruits of your own hard work actually make things better for everyone.

I heard Vendi is moving to the Marxist utopia of North Korea. I hope so, anyway.
VendicarE
4 / 5 (4) May 04, 2013
Geokster's quotes comes from the Orange County Register, a notoriously Republican county in California that went bankrupt when Republican commissioners decided to gamble tax money on "rare coins".

Billions were lost and the Socialist state of California had to save them from their Financial Disaster.

Republicans are incapable of learning from their failures.
d_robison
5 / 5 (3) May 04, 2013
The American Breed grew out of the low IQ, intellectual dregs of Europe.

"There were deer, winter birds, rabbits, fish. There is no excuse for starvation." - Julian

But insufficient intellectual capacity to use those resources.

Your response is proof that the intellectual inferiority continues in the American Breed.


Broad generalizations are a great way to show your own intelligence.

Everyone else, please stop feeding the cesspool inhabitants, acknowledging them is what gives them their jollies.
julianpenrod
1.4 / 5 (10) May 04, 2013
Again, the legitimacy of a proposition is demonstrated by the legitimacy of its defenses.
VendicarE declares "American Stupidity" to be a legitimate explanation for mass starvation at Jamestown. Then why did other settlements survive? Being brighter is not generally credited by anthropologists with making game suddenly appear. So why did the Indians have enough to eat?
VendicarE also touts "the research discussed in the article" as disproving what I said. Note, though, that VendicarE has not proved that that "research" is legitimate and truthful.
And Skepticus' "proof" that the research is true is the statement that "the settlers likely arrived during the worst drought in 800 years". In other words, the "research" is true because conditions must have been right to make the "research" have been true.
Note, again, the fact that drought never reduces the amount of fish in nearby seas and that no one opposing my statements even tries to address that fact.
VendicarE
3.8 / 5 (4) May 04, 2013
In fact, it is the only legitimate explanation.

"VendicarE declares "American Stupidity" to be a legitimate explanation for mass starvation at Jamestown." - JulianTard

Fortunately they had a supply of 14 year old girls they could murder and eat.
VendicarE
4.2 / 5 (6) May 04, 2013
As usual, you heard wrong.

"I heard Vendi is moving to the Marxist utopia of North Korea. I hope so, anyway." - geokstr

You are also false in asserting that North Korea is a Marxist Utopia.

Why do you feel a need to lie about such things?

Is it your Conservative nature that drives you to be maximally dishonest?

JohnGee
2.9 / 5 (12) May 05, 2013
Wow. It's not as if I came to this topic expecting commenters to call Europeans a bunch of savages. This would not have been appropriate, but it at least would have made more sense than invoking a Big Science conspiracy in order to blame native Americans.
And the "evidence" the cuts were made after death is that the bone didn't heal up. But, by the time all metabolism had stopped, the body likely would be putrid.
Julianpenrod

What? You're either trying to say that there is sufficient metabolism after medical death that bone will appreciably heal itself, or you are saying a body putrefies faster than one can crack open a skull. Both are absurd.

Way to make a bunch of idiotic comments without even getting your evidence right. By the way, your comments would still have looked stupid even if you were correct.
malapropism
5 / 5 (4) May 06, 2013
@julianpenrod
Normally I wouldn't bother getting involved in an argument like this one (it's not my history; I don't really care one way or the other) but in this case I'm actually interested to find out what, for you, would constitute a reasonable proof of some historical occurrence?

In the article here, it's stated that there is an historical account of cannibalism by the leader of the colony. This seems to be backed up by the findings that are reported in the article. It is reported that there was a major drought that I assume adversely affected land-based wild-food food availability. The alleged cannibalism occurred over the winter when presumably fishing is more difficult and for whatever reason it seems trade with other colonists wasn't attempted. In a different journal I've also read, alongside another account of this research, that the local Indian population were laying siege to Jamestown at this time and may explain the lack of hunting.

So what would be an acceptable proof?
Neinsense99
3 / 5 (8) Jun 04, 2013
@julianpenrod
Normally I wouldn't bother getting involved in an argument like this one (it's not my history; I don't really care one way or the other) but in this case I'm actually interested to find out what, for you, would constitute a reasonable proof of some historical occurrence?

.

So what would be an acceptable proof?

The same amount of proof he would accept for global warming/climate change, etc. Nothing.