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Jamestown Settlers Resorted To Cannibalism, Study Suggests

11:52 AM, May 1, 2013   |    comments
  • This April 2013 photo shows a forensic facial reconstruction produced by StudioEIS of Brooklyn, N.Y., in consultation with William Kelso of the Jamestown Rediscovery Project. Douglas Owsley and Kelso announced that the remains are proof of survival cannibalism during the "starving time" in historic Jamestown.(Photo: Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian)
  • This August 2012 photo shows four shallow chops to an incomplete skull excavated in James Fort, Jamestown, Va., by William Kelso, of the Jamestown Rediscovery Project. On May 1, Douglas Owsley, of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and Kelso announced that the remains were evidence of survival cannibalism during the winter of 1609-10 in historic Jamestown.(Photo: Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian)
    
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Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

Jamestown's colonists resorted to cannibalism during the "starving time" winter of 1609-10, archaeologists reported Wednesday.

In a presentation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, archaeologist Doug Owsley presented the reconstructed skull of a 14-year-old English girl "Jane" discovered at the site of the fort bearing the marks of butchery.

The starving time was a period in which 80% of the colonists died. Only 60 of 300 survived the winter.

Owsley, division head for physical anthropology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, reported on the forensic analysis of 17th century human remains, including part of a human skull and tibia (shin bone). They had been excavated by Jamestown archaeologists in 2012 as part of a 20-year excavation of James Fort.

A press release on the findings says Owsley and his research team identified a number of features on the skull and tibia that indicated the individual was cannibalized. "Four shallow chops to the forehead represent a failed first attempt to open the skull. The back of the head was then struck by a series of deep, forceful chops from a small hatchet or cleaver. The final blow split the cranium open. Sharp cuts and punctures mark the sides and bottom of the mandible, reflecting efforts to remove tissue from the face and throat using a knife," the release says.

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