An Icy Conquest

“We are starved! We are starved!” the sixty skeletal members of the English colony of Jamestown cried out in desperation as two ships arrived with provisions in June 1610. Of the roughly 240 people who were in Jamestown at the start of the winter of 1609–1610, they were the only ones left alive. They suffered from exhaustion, starvation, and malnutrition as well as from a strange sickness that “caused all our skinns to peele off, from head to foote, as if we had beene flayed.” Zooarchaeological evidence shows that during those pitiless months of “starving time” they turned to eating dogs, cats, rats, mice, venomous snakes, and other famine foods: mushrooms, toadstools, “or what els we founde growing upon the grounde that would fill either mouth or belly.” Some of the settlers reportedly ingested excrement and chewed the leather of their boots. Recent discoveries of human skeletons confirm the revelation of the colony’s president, George Percy, that they also resorted to cannibalism.

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