From the laugh-to-keep-from-crying files, the BBC is reporting on scientific proof that Jamestown settlers practiced cannibalism during what it calls “the cruel winter of 1609-10.”
The evidence uncovered by Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian’s natural history museum, is a 400-year-old skull and tibia of a teenage girl found in a James Fort, Va., excavation site.
An excerpt from the BBC article:
“The Starving Time was one of the most horrific periods of early colonial history. The Fort James settlers were under siege from the indigenous Indian population and had insufficient food to last the winter.
First they ate their horses, then dogs, cats, rats, mice and snakes. Some, to satisfy their cruel hunger, ate the leather of their shoes. […]
Relief came in the form of Lord De La Warr, who sailed into the settlement with food and new colonists. After six months of siege and starvation, only 60 of the original 300 settlers had survived.
“It’s somebody doing what they had to do,” said Dr Owsley of the cannibalism.”
Accusations of cannibalism have long been a European colonialist technique for dehumanizing indigenous peoples in what is now known as North and South America, in Asia and in Africa. In the contemporary United States context, films, cartoons, television shows and artifacts have reinforced the written accounts of a range of European explorers.
A recent Smithsonian magazine article explores “European hypocrisy” on the topic.
In medieval times, cultural enemies—not military or religious heroes—were commonly depicted as cannibals or giants, “especially in narratives of territorial invasion and conquest,” argues Geradine Heng, in Cannibalism, The First Crusade and the Genesis of Medieval Romance. “Witches, Jews, savages, Orientals, and pagans are conceivable as—indeed, must be—cannibals; but in the 12th-century medieval imaginary, the Christian European subject cannot.”
Smithsonian also notes that the word “cannibal” first entered the English language in the mid-16th century by means of Spanish explorers.
For more on what we refer to as scientific racism, check out “American Science’s Racist History Still Haunts the World” by Michelle Chen, and “The Pseudoscience of ‘Black Women Are Less Attractive” by me.