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.
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.