Remains of 14-year-old girl suggest that starving settlers had to go to extreme lengths to survive harsh winter of 1609
Gruesome archaeological evidence has emerged revealing how some of the first settlers of America survived a period of famine. The vicious winter of 1609, dubbed the Starving Time by historians, saw the colonists at Jamestown, Virginia, who had consumed every scrap of food in the settlement, turn to cannibalism. When help and supplies finally arrived the following spring, only 60 of the original 300 settlers were still alive. The skull of a 14-year-old girl, excavated last year from a rubbish dump at James Fort, has revealed a mass of cut marks, at first tentative, then fiercely smashing the skull apart to extract the brain and other soft tissue for food.
Her skull has been reconstructed by forensic artists to reveal a delicately pretty face. Although her bones give the first solid evidence of rumoured cannibalism, she is unlikely to have been the only victim.
Her bones prove accounts from those who spoke to some survivors that corpses were eaten: one husband was executed when it was claimed that he had killed his wife and salted and stored her body.
Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, who worked with archaeologists at the site, told the BBC: “There were numerous chops and cuts: chops to the forehead, chops to the back of the skull, and also a puncture to the left side of the head that was used to essentially pry off that side. The purpose was to extract the brain.”
“In 17th century recipes the brain is included in food — certainly not human, but it is very common with animal brains,” he said. “These are desperate people, and they’re very short of food.” The first cuts were hesitant and unskilled and clearly made when the girl was dead, he said.
The site will mark the 406th anniversary on May 11 of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in America. A complete breakdown of relations with the initially friendly local people, who had originally helped with food supplies, was part of the cause of the winter of starvation. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013