Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jamestown Colonists Survived by Eating Their Own

The winter of 1609-10 was exceptionally brutal and the colonists of Jamestown were not equipped to survive. They had alienated their Native American neighbors early on by raiding villages for food and supplies and violently taking over land the natives considered their own. So when the settlers began to run out of food, their neighbors would not only not help them, but laid siege to James Fort to prevent supplies from reaching the colony. That winter became known as “the starving time.” As many as 200 of the original 300 settlers died and others were left severely weakened by hunger, disease and cold.

Now, it seems that some of the settlers found a way to survive. They resorted to cannibalism.

Rumors had circulated almost from the start that the colonists had eaten one another, but until recently, no one had found evidence to support the stories. Now, however, that has changed with the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl whose skull and tibia show the distinctive marks of butchery. Even more telling, perhaps, was that her bones were found in a trash site located in the cellar of one of the original homes.

Who was she? Researchers say that she was European and believe she may have arrived a few months before winter began in 1609. Forensic scientists have recreated her face and experts are researching documents and other materials in an attempt to identify her. No one knows at this time whether she was murdered or whether she died of natural causes. Researchers have named her “Jane.”

The surviving settlers were rescued at least when a group of settlers who had been shipwrecked in Bermuda finally arrived in May 1610 with fresh supplies.

There’s more detailed information, along with a photo of “Jane,” at

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