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Researchers have not yet uncovered any potential wine pairings.
May 24, 2013 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Skeleton of teenage girl confirms cannibalism at Jamestown colony.

“Historians have to decide whether this type of thing happened,” said Owsley, who has examined thousands of skeletal remains, both archaeological and forensic. “I think that it did. We didn’t see anybody eat this flesh. But it’s very strong evidence.”

(images attached to the article are of bones and bone fragments but are not particularly gruesome)
posted by elizardbits (64 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
(ugh, this came too late to submit to the Sleep Of Reason horror anthology, but now I have my theme for the NEXT one, thanks)
posted by The Whelk at 8:45 AM on May 24, 2013


This will significantly color future viewings of Disney's Pocahontas.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:47 AM on May 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


Happy Thanksgiving.
posted by seemoreglass at 8:48 AM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


There was a great article in the National Geographic a few years ago about Jamestown, and all the great archeological work that's being done there. One part of the story described the natives' reaction to the settlers' ill-conceived attempts to survive, basically saying "are they out of their frickin' minds?!" Thanks for posting this.
posted by Melismata at 8:49 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's stories like this that make me want to go back and reread American history. They certainly never told us about things of this nature in 5th grade.
posted by blurker at 8:50 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blurker - Crash Course U.S History is pretty good at filling in the holes in your education
posted by The Whelk at 8:51 AM on May 24, 2013 [23 favorites]


Researchers have not yet uncovered any potential wine pairings.

I'd have to go with "Virginia Dare" muscadine wine.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:51 AM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


The first comment is gold:

It just goes to show that people will be innovative and industrious in supporting themselves if we can just get rid of this safety net.

Sincerely,

Paul Ryan

posted by The Card Cheat at 8:51 AM on May 24, 2013 [68 favorites]


Researchers have not yet uncovered any potential wine pairings.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Umm... Too soon, man... Too soon.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:53 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's stories like this that make me want to go back and reread American history.

That there might have been cannibalism at Jamestown is mentioned in Zinn's People's History, IIRC. So only the confirmation, such as it is, is news.
posted by seemoreglass at 8:53 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, the promotions for Hannibal are just getting more and more intricate.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Umm... Too soon, man... Too soon.

Yeah. Clearly we're thinking about Memorial Day barbecue here....
posted by eriko at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was thinking Jonestown for some reason and thinking of an entirely different Owsley. I was reading an entirely different conversation. I prefer mine.
posted by cmoj at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


A teenage girl, you don't say, probably the most vulnerable person in the whole group, wow, shocker.
posted by bleep at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


this reminds me to get my SO to watch the movie ALIVE. He's never seen it.
elizardbits, I know he'll thank you.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 8:59 AM on May 24, 2013


Man if it wasn't for horrible diseases they had no resistance to utterly demolishing the native population the story of the European conquest of the Americans would've been quite different (seriously, none of the colonies you read about in Early U.S history where in ANY way prepared to actually make a living, it's insane)
posted by The Whelk at 8:59 AM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


A teenage girl, you don't say, probably the most vulnerable person in the whole group, wow, shocker.

Wouldn't the "most vulnerable" person by definition be the one they eat?
posted by DU at 8:59 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually QueerAngel, you should watch Ravenous
posted by The Whelk at 9:00 AM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


reports of corpses being exhumed and eaten

Teryucken
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:00 AM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


Also, the Colonial Williamsburg Journal cited in the linked article is full of really interesting stuff.
posted by elizardbits at 9:00 AM on May 24, 2013


But I thought teenage girls were the villains who got innocent men convicted of witchcraft! That's what we learned in 11th-grade English class, anyway.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 9:02 AM on May 24, 2013


The victim identified?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:03 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


It would seem that this is also evidence of four hundred year old murder. It would also seem unlikely there will be justice for the victim.
posted by three blind mice at 9:07 AM on May 24, 2013


NO DOXXING!

"this reminds me to get my SO to watch the movie ALIVE. He's never seen it.
elizardbits, I know he'll thank you.

posted by QueerAngel28

No he won't. Trust me.
posted by marienbad at 9:08 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


*cancels Mars One ticket*
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:09 AM on May 24, 2013 [40 favorites]


It would also seem unlikely there will be justice for the victim.

She is remembered and cared for. Her perpetrators are mere shadows and dust.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:09 AM on May 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's also possible that she died of natural causes and was then eaten, rather than murdered.

A man was tried and executed for doing the same thing to his wife in Jamestown after she died naturally, IIRC.
posted by Avenger at 9:12 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


She is remembered and cared for. Her perpetrators are mere shadows and dust.

Full of win - so well stated.
posted by PuppyCat at 9:15 AM on May 24, 2013


Skeleton of teenage girl confirms cannibalism at Jamestown colony.

The phrasing suggests a Harryhausenesque skeleton calling a press conference to address allegations.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:19 AM on May 24, 2013 [20 favorites]


I'm not saying cannibalism didn't happen, but that article is certainly, um, variant in how certain it is:
What’s certain is that some members of that desperate colony resorted to cannibalism to survive...
They include reports of corpses being exhumed and eaten, a husband killing his wife and salting her flesh (for which he was executed), and the mysterious disappearance of foraging colonists...
“Historians have to decide whether this type of thing happened,”...
So just as in other cases of cannibalism I've read about casually (the Donner Party), it's actually not certain at all, and a chopped up body ("butchered" seems like a term that pre-biases the evidence to point to cannibalism) isn't much more conclusive than what we already know.

Other sources from the time period mention the man who "killed and salted his wife":
“There was one of the companie who mortally hated his Wife, and therefore secretly killed her.” To conceal the crime, the husband “cut her in pieces and hid her in divers parts of his house.” When other members of the colony noticed her missing, they searched the man’s house and discovered the body parts. Gates said the man claimed “that his Wife died,” and “hee hid her to satisfie his hunger, and . . . fed daily upon her” merely to excuse himself from the capital crime of murder. Gates had good reason to question the man’s claims of starvation because a search of the house revealed “a good quantitie of meale, oate-meale, beanes and pease.”
posted by muddgirl at 9:24 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


“a good quantitie of meale, oate-meale, beanes and pease”

Not to mention all the extra "e"s.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:27 AM on May 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yeah CMOJ, I read Jonestown at first too and was then surprised by the blithe nature of the title. Makes more sense this way.
posted by Carillon at 9:27 AM on May 24, 2013


The flagship, Sea Venture, wrecked on Bermuda. Most of the passengers and crew escaped to the island, an event that became the kernel of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

"Hey Prospero, magic us up some Milanese, we're hungry."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:28 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The story states that the marks on her bones show that she was dead when her flesh was taken off her bones. There's no definitive way of knowing if she died naturally, but given the number of bodies there would have been, I'm going to give the settlers the benefit of the doubt on that one.
posted by epj at 9:40 AM on May 24, 2013


The Terrence Mallick movie The New World doesn't really click as a whole, but the scenes of the colony enduring the winter are brutal and all too believable. Where there's people starving, there's every possibility of ...
posted by philip-random at 9:42 AM on May 24, 2013


Also, "Timothy" is running through my head.
posted by Melismata at 9:49 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


One similarity between Donner Party cannibalism stories and Jamestown cannibalism stories is no one (except, I guess, the dude who killed is wife) steps up and says, "Yeah, I totally ate some folks! I was starving!" It's always, like, rich people claiming that the poor folk were digging up the dead, or poor folk claiming that their neighbor went off into the woods and came back looking less hungry. It really is a little bit like a witch hunt.
posted by muddgirl at 9:49 AM on May 24, 2013


Where there's people starving, there's every possibility of ...

Horse d'oeuvres?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:49 AM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Man if it wasn't for horrible diseases they had no resistance to utterly demolishing the native population the story of the European conquest of the Americans would've been quite different (seriously, none of the colonies you read about in Early U.S history where in ANY way prepared to actually make a living, it's insane)

Yeah, if you look at the death rates, it's pretty much reminiscent of early urbanization in Europe: people who went to the cities (or the Americas) died at horrific rates, but enough peasants/immigrants kept flowing in to make the project viable.

Have to wonder if that's what the "settle Mars" folks are depending on. Just pour morons onto the deadly red sands until enough finally survive to make it viable.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:51 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


and a chopped up body ("butchered" seems like a term that pre-biases the evidence to point to cannibalism)

The term butchered is used intentionally; I read another reference to this story elsewhere early in the week (will try and find the link) with more quotes, where the scientists directly compared the marks found on the bones to those made by butchers on animal carcasses, both contemporary and historical IIRC - and found the tool marks to be extremely similar.

So she was very likely butchered into cuts of meat after death, similar to animal butchery. Whether they ATE those cuts is of course conjecture, but does fit with the other evidence, including how many died in the colony due to starvation and illness.
posted by ArkhanJG at 9:51 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Far the most part, cut marks consistent with butchering are a pretty reliable indication of the possiability someone was eaten.
Have they looked at the ends of the bones? There are types of marks consistent with being cooked in a stew, which they should be looking for as well.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:56 AM on May 24, 2013


Let's say I have a dead body in my house, and I can't bury it (because there are rumors that the poor folk are digging up buried bodies and eating them, or because I'm a murderer and I want to hide the body so I don't get executed). I've also butchered animals before (because this is the 1600s and I can't just buy my meat from the supermarket), so I know how to easily break a body down. If I then break down the human body the same way I break down an animal body, does that mean I ate it? Again, if we find a "butchered" body in a modern basement, do we claim that cannibalism was involved?

The knife marks indicating stripped flesh seems more compelling.
posted by muddgirl at 10:06 AM on May 24, 2013


The knife marks indicating stripped flesh seems more compelling.

Butchering. As in, getting the tasty and big bits of meat. Tongue and brains and the like.

Again, if we find a "butchered" body in a modern basement, do we claim that cannibalism was involved?

It depends, was there a famine involved? Is the body butchered in a way consistent with someone actually wanting to eat the flesh? Were there reports of cannibalism? Then yes.

I really don't see how someone butchering a body in order to preserve the choice bits of flesh from being desecrated by others (here's the tongue and the thighs, now lets bury them somewhere) makes more sense than that there was cannibalism during an incredibly harsh winter during which cannibalism was reported.
posted by tychotesla at 10:20 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The Terrence Mallick movie The New World doesn't really click as a whole"


Every where I go there are gentlemen and ladies complaining about my Pocahontas Movie! What I think people misunderstand is what a big step forward it was in filmmaking! It was always supposed to be a remake of the Walt Disney Movies "Pocahontas" and I think it turned out pretty well for a cartoon! But some people (not naming names ROGER EBERT lol!) didn't even notice that it was a cartoon! I blame my friend Robert Zemeckis. His motion captured computer cartoons are so good! You can't even tell that every person in "The New World" is played by Andy Serkis (except Christopher Lee because he's a VAMPIRE).
posted by "Doctor" Terence Malick at 10:26 AM on May 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


> The story states that the marks on her bones show that she was dead when her flesh was taken off her bones.
The tentative cuts to the front of the skull and the deeper ones to the back are close together — evidence that she was dead, not squirming, when they were made.
If that's their standard for determining that she was dead prior to the butchering, it's not very conclusive. She could have just as easily been unconscious, though that's has the grim implications others have alluded to. If the cut marks are clearly peri, not post, mortem, then all we can really say is that they occurred when she was still, um, fresh.
posted by Panjandrum at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2013


> Man if it wasn't for horrible diseases they had no resistance to utterly demolishing the native population the story of the European conquest of the Americans would've been quite different

Indeed, there's a reason former colonies in India and Africa are still filled with Indians and Africans, as opposed to the situations in the Americas and Australia. The early Europeans settlers in America were basically playing with a cheat code, and still almost botched the whole thing.
posted by Panjandrum at 10:52 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


and still almost butchered the whole thing.

FTFY
posted by tychotesla at 11:13 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


If that's their standard for determining that she was dead prior to the butchering, it's not very conclusive.

Yeah but that's not all the evidence. When I saw this story (didn't it come out last month?), it was noted that cannibalism was reported in written accounts of that winter in Jamestown. Also, considering that only 60 of 300 settlers survived that winter, it would seem there were plenty of dead bodies to go around.
posted by torticat at 11:14 AM on May 24, 2013


Seconding Ravenous.
posted by homunculus at 4:41 PM on May 24, 2013


Let's say I have a dead body in my house, and I can't bury it (because there are rumors that the poor folk are digging up buried bodies and eating them, or because I'm a murderer and I want to hide the body so I don't get executed).

First, be smart from the very beginning.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:16 PM on May 24, 2013


As a native Virginian, it's a bit of pride to have Jamestown as part of the state's historic legacy. Not so much that it beats the well known Plymouth Colony by a number of years, but that it has the makings of one great movie, (crazy English captain who takes command of a colony spiraling out of control, starvation, a 14 year old girl who saves the colony, and the man who became her husband who becomes rich off a gamble over a few seeds, not to mention set against the background of the recent consolidation of the region's Native American tribes under the powerful Powhatan Confederacy).*


*Yet to be made.
posted by Atreides at 6:28 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a pretty good intro to archaeological evidence for cannibalism here, including a bibliography with such winners as "Breakage patterns of human long bones" and the extremely good title "Widespread prehistoric human cannibalism: easier to swallow?"

If that whetted your appetite, there's also "Consuming Passions: Reviewing the Evidence for Cannibalism within the Prehistoric Archaeological Record" and to finish it out, "Ancient Human Feces Points to Cannibalism."

boy I can't wait to see what my Google ads look like after this
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:54 PM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


lots of hannibal and williams-sonoma adverts for me these days
posted by elizardbits at 8:10 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


" maybe it's the marscapone .....or maybe it's people."
posted by The Whelk at 8:16 PM on May 24, 2013


For what does "settler" imply, if not the willingness to settle? To settle for a meal of human flesh if my thoughts on the subject are to be believed!
posted by pernoctalian at 8:18 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well then, when they burned "witches" at the stake, was it barbeque? Will this turn out to be the real origin of the term sandwich (sandwitch?) Could this have been the ultimate projection, women too evil to live, but not too bad with some salt?
posted by Oyéah at 11:18 AM on May 25, 2013


It was the Puritans of the New England colonies that made a toasty art of witch trials and what not. Colonial Virginians, while worried, were not nearly as fervent.
posted by Atreides at 12:47 PM on May 25, 2013


Wine pairings? That is pretty offensive, especially considering the circumstance of her death.
posted by caddis at 2:45 PM on May 25, 2013


three blind mice: "It would seem that this is also evidence of four hundred year old murder. It would also seem unlikely there will be justice for the victim."

Even though it was a missing white girl?
posted by Samizdata at 3:11 PM on May 25, 2013


homunculus: "Seconding Ravenous."

Nthing Ravenous. Great cast, interesting story.
posted by Samizdata at 3:14 PM on May 25, 2013


Thou still unroasted bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of stewing with some thyme,
Jamestown historian, who canst thus express
A casserole more sweetly than our rhyme

posted by Joe in Australia at 8:32 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


FTA:
"Chemical analysis of the bone reveals an enriched “nitrogen profile,” evidence of lots of protein in the girl’s diet. That, in turn, suggests she was a member of a high-born family or at least lived in such a household for much of her life."

Eat the rich?
posted by rmless at 5:03 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It just goes to show that people will be innovative and industrious in supporting themselves if we can just get rid of this safety net.
What kind of double-irony is it when someone makes a statement which is intended to be ironic but which is actually literally true? Jamestown originally had communal property, the ultimate safety net, and the subsequent starvation didn't turn into surplus until after people were allowed to start individually keeping the results of their efforts.
posted by roystgnr at 8:31 AM on May 27, 2013


An interesting theory, but don't you think the hypothetical socialist lethargy of the first group of settlers (nearly all of whom perished) might equally be accounted for by the documented effects of a drought, lack of agricultural skills, war with native Americans, a catastrophic fire, and the arrival of 300 further colonists without accompanying provisions.

After the mass starvation of 1609-1610 the colony was reinitiated with settlers who were better chosen, better equipped, and better supplied. This makes it hard to compare the new settlers' capitalist vigor (who ate government rations while working their government-bestowed plots using government bestowed tools and government-bestowed seed) with the idle slothfulness of their unfortunate predecessors.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:22 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


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