May 01, 2013 6:01 PM
The four cuts at the top of this skull "are clear chops to the forehead," says Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley. Based on forensic evidence, researchers think the blows were made after the person died.

The four cuts at the top of this skull “are clear chops to the forehead,” says Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley. Based on forensic evidence, researchers think the blows were made after the person died.

Donald E. Hurlbert/Smithsonian

“First they ate their horses, and then fed upon their dogs and cats, as well as rats, mice and snakes.”

So says James Horn of the historical group , paraphrasing an account by colony leader George Percy of what conditions were like for the hundreds of men and women stranded in Jamestown, Va., with little food in the dead of winter in 1609.

They even ate their shoes. And, apparently, at least one person.

Scientists who have recovered human bones from the English colony at Jamestown announced Wednesday that they show the marks of cannibalism.

It’s long been debated whether the colonists resorted to eating each other during “the starving time” of 1609 to 1610. The weather was harsh, and the hostile Indians were even harsher. Only 60 colonists survived that winter. This new finding would be the first hard evidence of cannibalism.

Last summer, Jamestown’s chief archaeologist, , dug up a human skull and a few other bones, along with some food remains. But these bones were different from others he’d found.

This forensic facial reconstruction shows what the 14-year-old, nicknamed "Jane," may have looked like. Scientists say the remains found at Jamestown are evidence of cannibalism over the winter of 1609-1610.

This forensic facial reconstruction shows what the 14-year-old, nicknamed “Jane,” may have looked like. Scientists say the remains found at Jamestown are evidence of cannibalism over the winter of 1609-1610.

Donald E. Hurlbert/Smithsonian

“The damage to the skull, and finding it with the other food remains, brought on serious thoughts that this was, indeed, evidence of survival cannibalism,” Kelso says.

Kelso took the bones to the Smithsonian’s Douglas Owsley, a renowned forensic anthropologist who has solved numerous criminal cases, as well as archaeological mysteries, based on human bones. Owsley determined that the Jamestown bones belonged to a girl, aged 14. They don’t know anything about her, but have given her a name: Jane.

Owsley found numerous cut marks on the cranium and jaw, all apparently done after the girl had died. “There are clear chops to the forehead. They are very closely spaced,” Owsley says.

 

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