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Our Forefathers Had One Another for Breakfast

Posted on May 1, 2013
Leo Reynolds (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Once upon a time it was the American Way. During the cruel winter of 1609-1610, starvation drove English settlers in North America to cannibalism, newly excavated bones suggest.

Scientists found cuts consistent with butchering marks on human bones dumped in a colonial trash pit in the settlement of Fort James, the earliest part of the Jamestown colony. Six months of siege and starvation left only 60 of the original 300 settlers.

“The evidence is absolutely consistent with dismemberment and de-fleshing of this body,” said Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

“There were numerous chops and cuts—chops to the forehead, chops to the back of the skull and also a puncture to the left side of the head that was used to essentially pry off that side,” he continued. “The purpose was to extract the brain.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


Little is known about the victim apart from her age and the fact she was English. Her origin has been confirmed by comparative studies on bones in Cambridge.

Further analysis indicates she was at one time well-nourished and ate a lot of meat, a diet consistent with richer classes.

… The Starving Time was one of the most horrific periods of early colonial history. The James Fort settlers were under siege from the indigenous Indian population and had insufficient food to last the winter.

First they ate their horses, then dogs, cats, rats, mice and snakes. Some, to satisfy their cruel hunger, ate the leather of their shoes.

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