“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,” Capt. John Smith
Just 38 of the first 104 Jamestown settlers survived the first few months of 1607. It was tough going as those early years were known as “the starving time”.
Many have speculated as to the extremes people were driven to in their weakened and starving state. However, there had been no tangible evidence other than documents and diary entries to prove our early ancestors were cannibals. That has all changed recently as a partial skull and jawbone with remnants of butchering has been found in a Colony grounds trash pit.
It was the remains of a 14 year old girl that has given researchers a more vivid picture of what actually transpired as the white man began to populate the eastern coast of the new world.
ABC News – Scholars Find Cannibalism at Jamestown Settlement
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 back 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, 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.
“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.
If any of you have ever visited our brethren in the UK, you know that they have what seems like odd preferences in food, but current standards would show that even they have their limits. Looking back to the 17th century, Andrew Zimmern would be right at home, as early English Americans favored the facial tissue and brain matter of animals. It came as no surprise that “Jane’s” remains give clues that similar delicacies were removed from her skull.
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.
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.
To read more on the future disposition of Jane, head over to ABC News for more.
For those of you who can’t read, here is a video report from CNN:
Cannibalism is thought of as gruesome and unthinkable, but it has happened more than I think we as humans care to admit. Personally, I have never been in a state of mind that comes with total starvation and I hope I never am.
The stages of starvation that might just drive you to cannibalism are as follows:
Catabolysis occurs. This is where the body consumes muscle and other tissue to keep vital systems functioning.
Victims become impulsive and irritable among other things.
Atrophy begins to set in as your body weakens feelings of hunger.
With atrophy comes dehydration as you lose your sense of thirst.
You begin to experience pain in every movement as your body is literally drying out.
Next you are unable to swallow as fungi grows under the esophagus.
Fatigue is a stage that renders you unable to react or move and you begin to lose touch with reality.
You lose your ability to fight disease as death is not far off now.
Considering the above, it’s logical that many would be driven to do the unspeakable. While we are all aware of the story “Alive”, few realize the historic frequency of cannibalism. There are plenty of accounts that stretch across every continent and plenty of evidence to back it up.
Now, here’s the question of the day: