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Jamestown cannibalism confirmed by girl's skeleton


A stone cross marking the grave of a 17th century settler is seen at the archaeological site of Jamestown, Va., on Nov. 22, 2011. Jamestown is the first permanent English settlement in America.



It's long been speculated that Jamestown colonists turned to eating each other when food ran out in harsh conditions, but archaeologists have been quick to dismiss the stories for lack of evidence.

Now, they have it.

Recently unearthed bones of a 14-year-old English girl show clear signs of cannibalism, according to Jamestown archaeologists and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

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“The chops to the forehead are very tentative, very incomplete,” Douglas Owsley, a Smithsonian forensic anthropologist who analyzed the bones, told Smithsonian Magazine.

“Then, the body was turned over, and there were four strikes to the back of the head, one of which was the strongest and split the skull in half. A penetrating wound was then made to the left temple, probably by a single-sided knife, which was used to pry open the head and remove the brain.”

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The cannibalism occurred sometime during the winter of 1609-10, often referred to as the "starving time" due to drought and severe famine.

At least a half-dozen accounts of occasional acts of cannibalism exist from that winter, including one man who "salted" and began eating his pregnant wife.

The human remains will be placed on display at Jamestown. At the Smithsonian, curators plan to display a digital reconstruction of the girl's face in an exhibit about life in the colony.