Early settlers resorted to cannibalism at Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, researchers said after unveiling forensic analysis on the bones of a 14-year-old girl.
Facing a period of starvation in the winter of 1609 to 1610 when about 80 percent of the colonists died, some apparently tried to dig into the brain of a child who had already died, said anthropologists at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
The girl’s skull showed signs of awkward attempts to extract the brain matter, said Douglas Owsley, the Smithsonian forensic anthropologist who analyzed the skull and tibia of the girl who came to Virginia from England.
“The bone fragments have unusually patterned cuts and chops that reflect tentativeness, trial and complete lack of experience in butchering animal remains,” said Owsley. “Nevertheless, the clear intent was to dismember the body, removing the brain and flesh from the face for consumption.”
The bones were excavated in 2012, and were considered unusual because of the high degree of fragmentation. The girl’s teeth and parts of her skull were found as part of an excavation that included butchered horse and dog bones.
The remains provide the first physical evidence that cannibalism did occur at Jamestown.