A recent forensic analysis of 17th-century human remains proved cannibalism took place in historic Jamestown, during the winter 1609–1610 known as the “starving time,” announced, Douglas Owsley, Division Head in physical anthropology, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
The facial reconstruction of an actual 14 year old English girl, “Jane” will be on display in the National Museum of Natural History’s popular “Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th Century Chesapeake” exhibition, to include extra materials unearthed with descriptions on Smithsonian forensic science.
Jane’s skeletal remains will be on display at “Historic Jamestowne” near the discovery site on Jamestown Island. The cause of her death could not be determined from the remains, which are estimated to be less than 10 percent of the complete skeleton.
“The desperation and overwhelming circumstances faced by the James Fort colonists during the winter of 1609–1610 are reflected in the postmortem treatment of this girl’s body,” said Owsley.
“The recovered bone fragments have unusually patterned cuts and chops that reflect tentativeness, trial and complete lack of experience in butchering animal remains. Nevertheless, the clear intent was to dismember the body, removing the brain and flesh from the face for consumption.”
The incomplete human skull and tibia (shin bone), were unearthed by Jamestown archeologists in 2012, as part of their on-going 20-year excavation of James Fort.
Historian James Horn was the vice president of research and historical interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; however, each expert gave a presentation on the context of their discovery and the history of the site during their initially combined official presentation.
William Kelso, chief archeologist of “Jamestown Rediscovery Project” at Preservation Virginia, whose team of archaeologists worked closely with Owsley. They examined the colonists’ remains jointly to understand more fully the life and death of these colonials in Chesapeake, which 80 percent had died prematurely.
The remains of the 14-year-old girl uncovered in a home at James Fort in a cellar site filled with trash and various animal bones is an unusual location with extensive fragmentation.
Therefore, Kelso, as an archeologist first approached the Smithsonian’s forensic anthropologist for help with a comprehensive analysis; thus, presenting physical evidence of what appeared to be cannibalism and to document the proof.