This was still one of the best moments of my life.
Researchers claim they have definitive proof of how Jamestown settlers survived the “Starving Time” – cannibalism.
Experts at Preservation Virginia, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institute have been working together on a collaborative archaeological and forensic project – called the Jamestown Rediscovery – at the site of James Fort, one of the earliest settled regions of Jamestown in the Virginia Colony.
The initial rediscovery project began in 1994. Although much of the area and its remains were thought to have eroded beneath the wake of the James River, several historically significant artifacts were retained.
The foundation of the James Fort was discovered in 1996, and an assiduous process of excavation has been underway ever since to probe and preserve the historical area. James Fort was first founded in May 1607 and considered the first permanent English settlement.
Recently, it has been determined, as many had already suspected, that permanent settlers of Jamestown in Colonial America ultimately resorted to cannibalism in order to survive the harsh conditions of the 1609-1610 winter – commonly referred to as the Starving Time.
The Starving Time was an especially brutal period of starvation from 1609-1610 where all but 60 of the near 500 colonists perished.
The initial settlers did not plan to grow their own food, but assumed they’d establish trade with the local Native Americans’ Powhatan Confederacy – a Virginia confederation of Indian tribes. They assumed this tactic would adequate supply them between the arrivals of ships from England.
The growing season of 1609 incurred an ill-timed drought, leaving the fields barren. When fleets did arrive from England, often months behind schedule, they would come with new colonists but without a surplus of supplies.
A lack of regular rations, inconsistent access to water limited agricultural production, and a failure to establish trade with the locals eventually led to dire measures.
Archaeologists have found evidence that colonists ate cats, dogs, horses, and rats. In was also suggested, based on some credible evidence, corpses were dug up and human flesh was eaten. Some people have even inferred the survivors went as far as murder and then cannibalized their victims.
Previous written accounts suggested the desperate measures undertaken by the colonists, but no physical evidence had been found until recently. Based on the forensically studied physical findings – a mutilated skull of a teenage girl scattered amongst the debris of a cellar room at the site of James Fort – archaeologists unquestionably believe the first settlers were cannibals.
The 14-year-old – whose skull and additional fragmented remains were deposited among other butchered animal parts within proximity to two cellar ovens – was given a reconstructive likeness as to how she might have appeared. She has been named Jane, Jane of Jamestown.
Tool marks marred along key points of the skull reveal aborted attempts to pry into the vault where the brain would have been as well as multiple cut impressions along the maxilla indicative of cannibalism.
Disturbingly, “the evidence is absolutely consistent with dismemberment and de-fleshing of this body,” according to Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Per the written accounts of the chilling ordeal, both Captain John Smith and colony leader George Percy scribed of a “world of miseries,” detailing the exhumation of corpses which were feasted upon when there was nothing else. Or how in one case a man killed his pregnant wife, “powdered (salted) her,” and ate her. The man was later executed according to Smith’s account.
Archaeologists at Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and several other experts and historians were somewhat skeptical of the exaggerated cannibalism lore until now.
Someone made it rain.