Jamestown’s Jane, Eaten

3 May

Victim of Cannibalism in 17th Century JamestownReconstruction of 14-Year Old Victim of CannibalismOne of the amazing aspects of European ventures to colonize America is how little the participants reflected on how difficult surviving in a new place might be. I’m sure this poor girl would never have contemplated being protein-rich nutritional material for her compatriots.

[Douglas Owsley, the division head for physical anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History], and his research team identified a number of features on the skull and tibia that indicated the individual was cannibalized. Four shallow chops to the forehead represent a failed first attempt to open the skull. The back of the head was then struck by a series of deep, forceful chops from a small hatchet or cleaver. The final blow split the cranium open. Sharp cuts and punctures mark the sides and bottom of the mandible, reflecting efforts to remove tissue from the face and throat using a knife.

“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.”

Through specialized scientific analyses, Smithsonian scientists determined details about the life and story of this 14-year-old girl from England. By analyzing the dental development of the third molar and the growth stage of her shin bone, the research team determined that “Jane” was approximately 14 years old when she died. The cause of death could not be determined from the remains, estimated to be less than 10 percent of the complete skeleton.

I do wonder, though, how to determine if these marks were inflicted by Native Americans or English settlers. Either this young woman is the victim of the collision between ignorant cultures, or naive opportunists.

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