Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Skull confirms stories of U.S. cannibalism

  • Print
Doug Owsley shows the skull of 'Jane,' which confirms acts of cannibalism in Jamestown, Va. in 1609-1610.

CAROLYN KASTER / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Doug Owsley shows the skull of 'Jane,' which confirms acts of cannibalism in Jamestown, Va. in 1609-1610.

THE early American settlers called it "the starving time," and accounts of the winter of 1609-1610 were so ghastly, and so morbid, scholars weren't sure if the stories were true.

George Percy, then president of the English settlement of Jamestown in Virginia, wrote that settlers ate horses, then cats and dogs, then boots and bits of leather, and, finally, one another.

"One of our colony murdered his wife, ripped the child out of her womb and threw it into the river, and after chopped the mother in pieces and salted her for his food," wrote Percy, who then ordered the man executed.

"Now whether she was better roasted, boyled or carbonado'd (barbecued), I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of," added the famed settler John Smith. "This was that time, which still to this day we called the starving time; it were too vile to say, and scarce to be beleeved, what we endured."

Until now: Researchers said Wednesday they have found forensic proof that cannibalism happened at Jamestown during one of its darkest periods.

The announcement was presented by Douglas Owsley, the division head for physical anthropology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History; chief archaeologist William Kelso from the Jamestown Rediscovery Project at Preservation Virginia; and historian James Horn, vice-president of research and historical interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg.

But the biggest name involved with the announcement was "Jane," the nickname given to the remains of a 14-year-old girl found last year in settlement trash from the starving period.

Archaeologists did not find much of Jane -- just part of her skull and part of her leg, or 10 per cent of her body -- but said those remains showed that someone tried to eat her, apparentlyafter she had died of an undetermined cause.

Someone made four small chops to Jane's forehead before an ax or cleaver broke open the back of her skull, the researchers said. There were also small knife cuts on her jaw and cheek.

"The desperation and overwhelming circumstances faced by the James Fort colonists during the winter of 1609-1610 are reflected in the postmortem treatment of this girl's body," Smithsonian anthropologist Owsley said in the announcement. "The recovered bone fragments have unusually patterned cuts and chops that reflect tentativeness, trial and complete lack of experience in butchering animal remains. Nevertheless, the clear intent was to dismember the body, removing the brain and flesh from the face for consumption."

"The 'starving time' was brought about by a trifecta of disasters: disease, a serious shortage of provisions, and a full-scale siege by the Powhatans that cut off Jamestown from outside relief," Colonial Williamsburg's researcher Horn said. "Survival cannibalism was a last resort; a desperate means of prolonging life at a time when the settlement teetered on the brink of extinction."

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2013 B7

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Glenn January won't blame offensive line for first loss

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005
  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local-(Standup photo)- A wood duck swims through the water with fall refections in Kildonan Park Thursday afternoon.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you like Gord Steeves’ idea to sell four city-owned golf courses to fund road renewal?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google