(NEW YORK) — Colonists at the oldest settlement in America, Jamestown, may have resorted to cannibalism during the winter of 1609, archaeologists said Wednesday.
Archaeologists had previously discovered evidence that settlers had resorted to eating livestock during that winter, known as the “starving time” due to drought and famine.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, a new discovery, the dismembered remains of a 14-year-old English girl, mark the first hard evidence that desperate times led settlers to resort to cannibalism.
The colony was founded with 104 settlers in 1607, and by 1609 more than half of the population had succumbed to drought, disease or hostile relations with Native Americans, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The remains were found in the summer of 2012, amidst a deposit that also contained the bones of butchered animals. According to lead archaeologist William Kelso, livestock were only butchered “in times of extreme hunger.”
Further excavation revealed human teeth and a partial human skull. Analysis of the bones pointed to dismemberment and cannibalization.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, many of the details of the case remain uncertain, including whether the girl was murdered or died of natural causes. It is also unknown whether the cannibalism was the action of one person or multiple.
An exhibition dedicated to the discovery will open at the Historic Jamestown site on Friday, according to USA Today.
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