Who Ate Jane?

A discovery beneath a cellar in a historic house from the early colony has historians examining the Jamestown’s cannibalistic legends.

Portions of a skull and shin bone belonging to a 14-year-old girl, nicknamed Jane, were discovered in trash buried 2.5 feet below the cellar floor. The girl was well-nourished before her death, possibly the daughter or maid of a wealthy family, and was from the southern coast of England.


Photo Credit: Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian

A 3-D reconstruction of what Jane looked like from the available skull fragments.

Jane died during the “Starving Times” of Jamestown, about 1609-1610, a period where lack of supplies, leadership, and war with the Powhatan tribe isolated and stressed the struggling new colony. The winter began with 300 colonists and ended with 60.

Jane may have died of natural causes before she was eaten. The knife marks on her skull do not indicate murder, just post-mortem attempts to crack open the skull with a meat cleaver.


Photo Credit: Peretz Partensky

According to Doug Owsley, head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the cuts to her skull indicate “they were clearly interested in cheek meat, muscles of the face, tongue, and brain,” and that her hair had not been removed.

The rest of Jane’s body has not been found. Her skull and shin bone may have been moved to their resting place in a later attempt to clean up the trash accumulation in Jamestown.

George Percy, the colony’s temporary leader after John Smith returned to England, said “nothing was spared” to maintain life, including digging up corpses for food and licking up spilled blood.


Photo Credit: Colonial Fort, Jamestown, Virginia by Beth

A recreation of the fort where Jane, and those who ate her, lived. 

Despite the desperation of the times, Jamestown stood its ground and became the first permanent English colony in the Americas. Still, the question lingers, was it God’s choice or man’s that Jane didn’t live to see 1611?

Dapper (1)

What are the long-lasting psychological consequences of desperation cannibalism, and would you do it if you had to?


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