Jamestown was a gruesomely failed start to the English colonization of America. The people were malnourished and disease-ridden and too dumb to eat the bountiful fish and fruits all around them. Most of the settlers were dead within the first year, and in the second hungry winter of 1609-10, the starving survivors chopped open the skull of a newly dead 14-year-old girl and feasted upon her brains.
These are the delightfully terrible findings of Smithsonian anthropologists who discovered the girl's remains at the site of the failed colony. The fragments of her skull and bones were found in long-buried rubbish along with picked-over skeletons of horses and squirrels and dogs—all evidence of the hungry colonists eating whatever didn't run away.
While the first chops to the teenager's forehead were hesitant, the back of her skull and her legs were butchered in the professional style common to artisanal meat counters.
The Old Testament-style accounts of the miserable colony's founding and decline mention several episodes of cannibalism, but the discovery of the girl's shattered skull is the first physical proof that Jamestown's ill-suited adventurers ate their own people.
There were about 130 residents of Jamestown during that harsh winter, and by spring only 60 were still alive. The girl, variously described by anthropologists as a maidservant and a "high born" child because she apparently was well-fed back in England, would have been among the 70 corpses littering the awful encampment as the spring thaw began.
[Photo by Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian.]