The Skull of a 14-Year-Old Girl Believed to Be a Victim of Cannibalism at the Jamestown Colony in the Winter of 1609

Uncovering Jamestown’s Dark Secret: The Human Face of Desperation

In the quiet, marshy peninsula of 17th-century Jamestown, a tale of survival unraveled into a grim reality that still echoes through the annals of history. Recent forensic findings have unearthed the chilling evidence of cannibalism, shedding light on the harrowing struggles faced by the early English settlers during the infamous “starving time” of 1609-1610.

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The skull of a 14 year-old girl believed to be a victim of cannibalism at the Jamestown colony in the winter of 1609. Butchery marks can be seen on forehead.

Meet Jane, not just a name lost to history but a haunting reminder of the lengths humans will go to in times of desperation. At the tender age of 14, Jane became a victim of circumstances beyond her control, her fate entwined with the cruel whims of nature and the harsh realities of colonial life.

The discovery of Jane’s remains, meticulously analyzed by a team of dedicated scientists, paints a vivid picture of the desperation that gripped Jamestown during its darkest hours. Led by William Kelso and James Horn, the excavation project unearthed more than just bones; it unearthed a chilling narrative of survival amidst unimaginable hardship.

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A forensic facial reconstruction of the 14-year-old victim of cannibalism at Jamestown during the winter of 1609.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY DON HURLBERT, SMITHSONIAN; ART BY STUDIOEIS

The forensic examination of Jane’s skeletal remains revealed a gruesome tale of cannibalism etched into the very bones of the settlement. Marks of dismemberment, tentative yet purposeful, tell a story of desperation and despair. From shallow cuts across the forehead in a futile attempt to access the brain to the meticulous scraping of flesh from the jawbone, every mark speaks of a community on the brink of collapse.

Douglas Owsley, an expert in physical anthropology, elucidates the grim reality of Jane’s fate. The markings on her bones, he explains, reflect not the actions of skilled butchers, but rather the frantic efforts of individuals driven to extreme measures by hunger and deprivation. Jane’s story is not one of malice, but of sheer survival in the face of insurmountable odds.

The historical context surrounding Jamestown further illuminates the depths of the settlers’ plight. Plagued by droughts, food shortages, and strained relations with the indigenous Powhatan people, the settlers found themselves teetering on the edge of oblivion. The once-promising colony descended into chaos as resources dwindled and hope faded.

Dennis Blanton, director of the Centre for Archaeological Research at the College of William and Mary, paints a stark picture of the “starving time.” It was a period defined by desperation, where every meal became a struggle for survival and every day brought the colony closer to the brink of collapse.

But amidst the darkness, there are glimmers of hope. The ongoing efforts of modern-day researchers to unravel the mysteries of Jamestown offer a beacon of light in the shadows of history. Through meticulous analysis and innovative techniques, we honor the memory of Jane and all those who perished in the crucible of colonial America.

As we gaze upon the reconstructed visage of 14-year-old Jane, we are reminded not only of the horrors of the past but also of the resilience of the human spirit. Her face, brought to life through the marvels of modern science, serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by those who came before us.

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Strike marks on the skull (AP / Carolyn Kaster)

In the heart of Jamestown, amidst the ruins of a bygone era, Jane’s story endures as a testament to the enduring power of the human will. Though her name may have been lost to history, her legacy lives on in the collective memory of a nation forged in the crucible of adversity.

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