Survival Cannibalism at Jamestown, Virginia: A Case Study in Interdisciplinary Historical Archaeology

Part of: Society for Historical Archaeology 2014

In 2012, a mutilated human skull and severed leg bone were found in a trash deposit that partially filled an early 17th century cellar at Jamestown, Virginia. This session will examine in detail the three interdisciplinary sources of evidence that determined that this find uniquely proves that cannibalism was practiced at Jamestown during the Starving Time winter of 1609/1610.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-10 of 10)

  • Documents (10)

  • Archaeological Context of Jamestown’s Starving Time (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only William Kelso.

    In 2012, a mutilated human skull and severed leg bone were found in a trash deposit that partially filled an early 17th century cellar at Jamestown, Virginia. This find put into motion inductive reasoning based on three sources of evidence: archaeological context, forensic science and historiography. This paper will focus on defining the archaeological context, how it contributed to determining that the human remains were found in associated deposits inside the confines of the original James...

  • Beyond Jane: A Tightly Dated Context of the Early Seventeenth Century (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Merry Outlaw. Bly Straube.

    As a result of extensive excavations and long-term documentary research since 1994, the Jamestown Rediscovery Project has gathered significant data on early seventeenth century material culture. Sealed, completely excavated, closely dated, and large subsurface features were repositories for objects used and discarded by the inhabitants on an entire, enclosed (palisaded) town. One such feature, the ‘Jane” kitchen cellar, contained refuse that reflects the occupation of James Fort between 1607...

  • Cannibalism at James Fort, Jamestown, Virginia: The Bone Evidence (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Douglas Owsley. Karin Bruwelheide.

    Excavation of a cellar during Jamestown Rediscovery’s 2012 field season produced an unusual find ‘ a partial human skull and leg bone. They were among discarded butchered animal bones and artifacts dating to the ‘starving time’ winter of 1609-1610. Multiple methodologies were used in studying the bones including computed tomography, bone chemistry, and stereozoom and scanning electron microscopy. Unlike skeletal injuries related to the cause of death, the bones of this English girl, about 14...

  • Contextualizing “Jane”: The Robert Cotton Tobacco Pipe (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David Givens.

    Within the first few years of settlement, a diverse set of industries was attempted at James Fort to turn a profit for the Virginia Company and to provide a sustainable economic base for future growth. This paper explores one such industry, a distinctive type of local clay tobacco pipe produced in great numbers from 1608 to 1610. The discovery of a multitude of these discarded pipes aids in contextualizing The Starving Time and the remains of the cannibalized English girl, Jane.

  • The Display of Human Skeletal Remains at Jamestown (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michael Lavin.

    The Jamestown Rediscovery team has always sensitively excavated, researched and on occasion displayed human skeletal remains. Obviously this was especially required in the case of Jane, the cannibalized English girl. We felt that being a public museum, the often complicated scientific analysis of her remains had to be interpreted in the most understandable and yet respectful way possible. We also knew that while display of Jane’s disarticulated bones would appear more scientific , mending...

  • In a Land of “Abundance”, Why did the Jamestown Colonists Starve During the Winter of 1609-1610? (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Danny Schmidt.

    Numerous early James Fort period features backfilled shortly after the winter of 1609-1610 have shed light on the troubles the colonists faced. The faunal assemblages from these features coupled with the historic record reveal what food resources were and weren’t available. Recent scientific studies focusing on the terrestrial and marine environment in and around Jamestown have further advanced our knowledge of the starving time. This presentation aims to explain how and why the colonists...

  • Putting the Pieces Together: Forensic Facial Reconstruction of “Jane” (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Karin Bruwelheide. Douglas Owsley. Stephen Rouse.

    As part of its analysis, a partial, fragmented skull, identified as evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown, Virginia, was scanned using computed tomography. Digitally created bone models of the disassembled pieces were oriented in anatomical position and missing portions of the skull were created through mirror imaging of the recovered bone. Technology used in medicine and industry to create bone models for surgeons, called additive manufacturing or 3D printing, was applied to create a complete...

  • Scientific and Historical Analysis of Dis-articulated Human Skeletal Remains from James Fort, 1607 - (1615?) (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jamie May. Karin Bruwelheide.

    The Jamestown Rediscovery Project has investigated early colonial burials, but the vast majority of Jamestown graves remain unexcavated. However, the continuous and evolving occupation of the site throughout and beyond the James Fort period means that disarticulated human bones are periodically discovered within sealed, fort-period contexts that are not graves. The fill layers of a fort bulwark trench, an early fort well, and the cellar of an early work building all yielded partial human...

  • A “Sharp Prick of Hunger”: Defining Famine Food (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Susan Trevarthen Andrews. Joanne Bowen.

    Excavations in and around James Fort, have produced what are arguably the most significant series of faunal assemblages ever recovered from this region. Dating from the earliest period of ‘The Starving Time’ of 1609-1610, some of the assemblages bear testimony to the hardships that the colonists faced during the initial years of settlement, revealing what has previously only been read about in the documentary records. Analysis of these faunal assemblages, such as the one associated with the...

  • “A Worlde of Miseries”: The Starving Time and Cannibalism at Jamestown (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James Horn.

    ‘Now all of us att James Towne beginneinge to feele the sharpe pricke of hunger w[hi]ch noe man [can] trewly descrybe butt he w[hi]ch hathe Tasted the bitternesse thereof. A worlde of miseries ensewed . . .’ So wrote George Percy, temporary (and reluctant) president of the Jamestown colony during one of its darkest periods. In the light of the recent discovery of human remains (‘Jane’) that confirms the existence of survival cannibalism at Jamestown, this paper will reexamine Percy’s...