Saturday, May 11, 2013

Jamestown Cannibalism

It's the middle of a cold, cold winter. I have no food. I'm on the brink of death. Would I chow down on a human to sustain my life? You bet your ass I would. Bet your arm and leg also, because I'll eat them too. Jamestown, the first permanent home to English settlers in North America, has been the center of historical conversation lately. The remains of a 14 year old girl were found at a dig site of the colony with butcher marks that could only mean one thing - she became dinner.

The colonial settlement of Jamestown, Virginia was established in 1607, 13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Captain John Smith took over the colony in 1608 and established a working relationship with the native Powhatan tribe. After Smith returned to England in the autumn of 1609, the Starving Times began. It was one of the most horrific periods of early colonial history. The James Fort settlers were under siege from the Native American population and had insufficient food to last the winter. They ate horses, dogs, cats, rats, mice, snakes and even leather to satisfy their hunger. After six months of siege and starvation, only 60 of the original 300 settlers had survived.

Excavated from a dump last year, the four-century-old skull and tibia were found and had unusual cuts consistent with butchering for meat on human bones. Written documents had suggested the colonists resorted to cannibalism during the winter but these bones offer the first scientific proof. There were chops to the forehead, back of the skull, and a puncture to the left side of the head that was used to pry off the side. The purpose was to extract the brain. The marks indicate that the tongue and facial tissue were removed. The cuts to the girl's bones also indicate the work was hesitant - whoever performed the dismemberment was not a skilled butcher of animals. 

How the girl died is unknown.

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