Jamestown “Jane” is back in the spotlight as the editors of “Archaeology” magazine have named her one of the top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2013.
“Colonial Cannibalism” is one of three U.S. discoveries on the “Archaeology” magazine’s top 10 discoveries list, joining discoveries in England, Republic of Georgia, Italy, Peru, Ireland, Cambodia, Egypt and Germany.
The magazine, produced by the Archaeological Institute of America, has recognized Historic Jamestowne in the past. In 2010, the uncovering of the 1608 church site and the likely site of Pocahontas’ wedding to John Rolfe both made the top 10 discoveries list.
“To me it means that Jamestown is a world-class site. To make a discovery that makes that top 10 … it’s pretty incredible that we are seen as that level and that Jamestown is significant,” said Dr. Bill Kelso, chief archaeologist of the Jamestown Rediscovery Project. “It’s a very significant archaeological site. So I’m excited about that.”
Jamestown has been listed in “National Geographic” and “Smithsonian” magazines, but neither is specifically geared toward archaeology.
“The original site of Jamestown is extremely important to American society. Anything that will remind people of that is certainly a welcome event,” Kelso said.
Kelso, also a historian, had read several documents about survival cannibalism and Jamestown years ago, but did not mention them when he wrote his own book, “Jamestown: The Buried Truth.”
Kelso said until the latest discovery, he believed the mentions of survival cannibalism in historical accounts of life at Jamestown were not real and were politically motivated.
Since the 17th century there have been rumors about cannibalism at Jamestown, but no concrete proof had ever been uncovered. That changed in 2012 when scientists uncovered skeletal remains of a 14-year-old English girl they nicknamed “Jane.”
“Even though the story is pretty grim, it shows what windows archaeology can open on whatever aspect of history you’re looking at,” Kelso said, referencing “The tragic as well as the triumphs.” With Jane’s listing, Jamestown has now made the top 10 discoveries in “Archaeology” for a tragedy and a triumph.
“The story has become much clearer because of that … as a historian, I probably would say this has been the most significant find because it answers what had been an enigma about Jamestown,” Kelso said.
Jane’s discovery has provided credibility to accounts of those living at James Fort in the 17th century — that was something the documents previously lacked. Kelso said he can now fully believe in the veracity of the documents.
Additionally, finding proof of survival cannibalism illustrated how close Jamestown came to failing.
“Had it failed, and I don’t do what-if history, I just think the English would have given up trying,” Kelso said. Instead, the English would likely have gone on to the West Indies, leaving America open to being settled by the French, Spanish or Dutch.
The discovery of Jane’s remains was kept from the public until May, when the findings were revealed. Pieces of Jane’s skull, jaw bone, tibia and teeth were found in a trash pit as a 1608 building was excavated. The bones bore several cut marks.
Four clear-cut marks on Jane’s skull were in close proximity to each other, indicating they were not accidental but a sign of butchery; Jane was determined to be dead prior to being butchered. Jane’s skull had been split from behind and her left temporal bone showed cut marks from a knife being shoved into the head to extract the brain.
“Who knows what happened to the rest of this poor girl?” Kelso asked.
Despite not knowing, the archaeologists at Jamestown are not searching for Jane. There is an excavation plan in place that has an overarching goal to find out how the fort was built, how it was expanded and how people were living in different areas of the fort. For 20 years, archaeologists have been working toward achieving this goal.
In addition to Jane, the other discoveries on “Archaeology” magazine’s top 10 discoveries list were: