Human bones prove the first permanent English settlers in North America turned to cannibalism over the cruel winter of 1609-10.

Written documents had previously suggested the desperate colonists resorted to cannibalism – but the discovery of the 14-year-old girl’s bones offers the first scientific proof.

Smithsonian researchers believe the dead child became food for a community struggling to survive the harsh winter of 1609-10, known to historians as the Starving Time.

“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,” Dr Owsley said. “The purpose was to extract the brain.”

Someone told me they ate children because it was easier to kill children than adults, they ate girls because it was easier to kill girls than boys, they ate girls because they hated girls.

Is it true? Just curious!


  1. busterggi says

    I hope it was just that she had already died of starvation herself. O/w it a bit too much like ‘The Lottery’.

    One really odd thing I found in the contemporary writings was the claim that the settlers ate snakes. Snakes? In the middle of a snowy winter? Where did they get snakes which would have been hiding somewhere in deep hibernation probably under the ground which was under the snow?

    • fork says

      “I hope it was just that she had already died of starvation herself.”
      Well, if they followed that misogynist practice of feeding males before females, that’s hardly reassuring. That a girl would be the first to die of starvation might not be a random chance event , but the result of thinking that girls are expendable.

  2. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Someone told me …
    they ate children because it was easier to kill children than adults,

    they ate girls because it was easier to kill girls than boys,
    they killed and ate girls because they hated girls.

    Why don’t you ask that “someone” what data made them come to that conclusion. This is the first skeleton found that shows marks of butchering, so the someone is coming to conclusions based on a sample size of one.

    @1 … The food shortage lasted longer than just the winter. They were beseiged by the local Indians for 6 months, and were scavenging anything edible all the previous summer and fall. they were also in a poor place for planting and hunting.

    It was made worse by the Englishmen raiding the Indian villages and stealing corn from them. One of my ancestors is mentioned in a diary as having raided several villages, burnt the houses and returned with several bushels of corn … the downside to his short-term solutiuon was that no one wanted to trade with them because they were theives and village destroyers.

  3. lorn says

    Having lived in coastal Virginia I can say that there isn’t much snow in winter. Snakes were, in my time, not all that hard to find, even in winter. If you are willing to root through the deep leaf litter, brush piles, and turn over rocks and logs you can usually find a snake or three in an afternoon. Of course, once you harvest snakes in an area that food source is gone for the better part of a year. I suspect that saying that they ate snakes was a way to dramatize how desperate they were. Good, God fearing people would resist eating snakes until other options were expended.

    On another site there was a closer view of the girl’s skull and it looked to me that she had a pretty good size abscess on her lower jaw. That was, as I understand it, pretty common for people at the time. But it suggests that she wasn’t in good health. You also have to remember that scurvy, lack of vitamin-C (they didn’t know about vitamin-C) and mercury poisoning, many commonly used medicines at the time were based on mercury compounds, might have further burdened her weakened body. Low level lead poisoning is also possible as the pewter dishes and mugs, and lead based glazes, often contaminated food.

    All that in addition to the water supply being brackish at best, and likely contaminated with sewage. And the fort being surrounded by a swamp that, even to this day, has enough mosquitoes to form visible clouds.

    You take a bunch of people who know very little about disease and medicine, set them up on the corner of a swamp, time their residence to coincide with the worse drought in a very long time, and surround them with Amer-Indian tribes for them to compete and be in conflict with over the few remaining resources. No surprise they dropped like flies. The wonder is that any survived.

    Without any evidence to back the claim I think it is premature to speculate that she was slaughtered for meat when so many other were recorded as dying from disease, starvation, and conflicts with the indians.

  4. Pen says

    I doubt they needed to kill people very often and the Guardian article where I first heard of this suggested there was evidence this girl was dead before she was butchered:

    “The first cuts were hesitant and unskilled and clearly made when the girl was dead”

    Quite possibly she was eaten by a family who had loved her but were now desperate to live? However it also says of another case:

    “one husband was executed when it was claimed that he had killed his wife and salted and stored her body.”

    Two reasons why it seems this scenario could be more likely than the other way round: 1) it is possibly easier for a man to kill a woman than vice versa, though everyone has to sleep sometime 2) a single man was in a rather better position in that historical situation than a single woman, though both were in pretty deep shit, let’s face it.

  5. says

    Not for nothing was I taught as an archaeologist to be highly sceptical of claims for cannibalism. Not only do they tend to be somewhat sensationalized but there are so many reasons why cut marks can appear…particularly on such ritualized a significant body part as the head…that are not related to being eaten. All that said, cut marks on a skull in an ostensibly Christian context is interesting and makes for a ritualistic interpretation being less likely.

  6. Cuttlefish says

    According to the Church of Euthanasia, younger people are more tender…

    It is VERY IMPORTANT to remember that animals raised for slaughter are kept in tightly controlled environments with their health and diet carefully maintained. Humans are not. Thus not only is the meat of each person of varying quality, but people are also subject to an enormous range of diseases, infections, chemical imbalances, and poisonous bad habits, all typically increasing with age. Also as an animal ages, the meat loses its tenderness, becoming tough and stringy. No farm animal is ever allowed to age for thirty years. Six to thirteen months old is a more common slaughtering point. You will obviously want a youthful but mature physically fit human in apparently good health. A certain amount of fat is desirable as “marbling” to add a juicy, flavorful quality to the meat. We personally prefer firm caucasian females in their early twenties. These are “ripe”. But tastes vary, and it is a very large herd.

    And no, I do not think this is a serious site. I certainly hope it is not.

  7. Francisco Bacopa says

    I can see why you might think this is just another case of “girls are expendable”. I do agree that such things happen, dowry killings and female infanticide prove that. But when we look at the Donner Party, we see that single males were the first victims. It is widely believed that they were killed first because they had no natural social connections. I think the victim in this case was either dying or already dead.

    BTW, in response to the comment above mine. Humans do not have marbled fat. Human muscle tissue is very similar to the darker cuts of pork.

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