Starving Settlers in Jamestown Colony Resorted to Cannibalism- page 2 | History | Smithsonian
Detail of cut marks found on the girl’s jaw, or lower mandible in a stereo-microscopic photo. (Smithsonian Institution / Don Hurlbert)

Starving Settlers in Jamestown Colony Resorted to Cannibalism

New archaeological evidence and forensic analysis reveals that a 14-year-old girl was cannibalized in desperation

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It appears that her brain, tongue, cheeks and leg muscles were eaten, with the brain likely eaten first, because it decomposes so quickly after death. There’s no evidence of murder, and Owsley suspects that this was a case in which hungry colonists simply ate the one remaining food available to them, despite cultural taboos. “I don’t think that they killed her, by any stretch,” he says. “It's just that they were so desperate, and so hard-pressed, that out of necessity this is what they resorted to.”

Kelso’s team of archaeologists will continue to excavate the fort, searching for other bodies that might help us learn about the conditions faced by some of the country’s first European colonists. This might be the first specimen that provides evidence for cannibalism, but Owsley is pretty sure there are more to come. Percy’s letter also describes how, as president of the colony, he tortured and burned alive a man who had confessed to killing, salting and eating his pregnant wife—so the remains of this woman, along with other victims of cannibalism, may still be waiting to be found underground. “It’s fairly convincing, now that we see this one, that this wasn’t the only case,” he says. “There are other examples mentioned here and there in the literature. So the only question is: Where are the rest of the bodies?” 

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