A “Starving Time” Tragedy

In 2012, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists working in a 1608 James Fort cellar discovered the mutilated skull and severed leg bone of an English teenage girl. She was found among butchered animal bones and other food remains discarded by the Jamestown colonists during the “starving time” winter of 1609-1610. A butchered horse and dogs were found in the same deposit, signs that they were discarded during a desperate winter that began with 300 settlers crowded inside James Fort and ended with only 60 emaciated survivors to greet an arriving ship the next spring.

Dr. Douglas Owsley, chief forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, determined that the skull had undergone multiple blows and slices from at least three different sharp-edged metal implements. He concluded that these marks were made during a concerted effort to separate soft tissue and the brain from bone. Months of intensive scientific testing led Owsley to conclude that this treatment is clear evidence of cannibalism — the first forensic evidence of survival cannibalism at any early European colony in North America.


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