Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Starving time"

The first permanent English settlement in the Americas was established at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 by 104 settlers who arrived aboard 3 ships. Because of harsh weather, crop failure, and other issues, only 38 remained after the first 9 months – and they faced an increasingly harsh existence. Fewer than 20% of the original colonists lived through the winter of 1609–1610, which became known as the "Starving Time." George Percy, the president of Jamestown during that period, wrote a letter 16 years later describing the miserable situation which he was lucky to survive:
Haveinge fedd upon our horses and other beastes as longe as they Lasted, we weare gladd to make shifte with vermin as doggs Catts, Ratts and myce…as to eate Bootes shoes or any other leather. And now famin beginneinge to Looke gastely and pale in every face, thatt notheinge was Spared to mainteyne Lyfe and to doe those things which seame incredible, as to digge upp deade corpes outt of graves and to eate them. And some have Licked upp the Bloode which hathe fallen from their weake fellowes.”
Now archaeologist William Kelso and physical anthropologist Douglas Owlsley of the Smithsonian Institution have presented hard physical evidence to back up the textual references to survival cannibalism. An excavated skull, which allowed them to reconstruct the face of the 14-year-old English girl depicted above, also bore the cut marks that indicate she was butchered and consumed.

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