Smithsonian study identifies first case of cannibalism during “starving time”
Jamestown, Virginia, is known for a lot of firsts. First settled in 1607, it is the first successful English colony in the New World. It was also the marked the beginning of the African slave trade in North America.
And now, a Smithsonian Institution research team has uncovered a grisly first—cannibalism.
During the winter of 1609-1610, settlers at Jamestown were isolated and starving. Repeated skirmishes with neighboring Powhatan Indians (whose land the settlers appropriated) forced the settlers to stay inside the small fort along the banks of the James River. This prevented them from growing enough food, and made hunting a practical impossibility. At the time, diseases became rampant. During this “starving time,” apparently the 200 settlers turned to eating one of their own—a dead 14-year-old girl.
Archaeologists discovered marks on the girl’s skull and bones that indicated the settlers were hacking off flesh, presumably to eat. Marks on her skull showed that axe-like instruments were used to get brain tissue.
Eventually, the Jamestown colony thrived (slavery was introduced in 1619). But this discovery in a mound of bones the colony used as a trash heap underscores the fear, desperation and bleakness of settling in a foreign place in the 17th century.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
colonialism in north america