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Smithsonian Anthropologist Owsley to Discuss Jamestown Cannibalism

March 27, 2014 — Research indicating that Virginia’s Jamestown colonists resorted to cannibalism to survive the harsh winter of 1609 will be discussed by Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley Friday, April 4, at 4 p.m. at the University of Wyoming College of Education auditorium.

Owsley, who heads the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Division of Anthropology, will discuss “A Skeleton’s Story from Jamestown's Starving Time" during UW’s annual William Mulloy Lecture in Anthropology.

Historians have long speculated that Jamestown colonists might have been desperate enough to eat other humans and, perhaps, even commit murder to do so. Owsley is studying bones that some anthropologists believe tell the story of the dismemberment and cannibalization of a 14-year-old English girl.

A 1973 UW graduate, Owsley is recognized as one of the university’s notable alumni. During his career, he has been involved in nationally recognized projects, including identifying the crew of the Civil War Confederate submarine CSS Hunley and determining whether Kennewick Man, a 9,600-year-old skeleton discovered in Washington state, was a direct ancestor of an existing Native American tribe.

In 2005, Smithsonian Magazine included him, along with software pioneer Bill Gates, astronaut Sally Ride and filmmaker Steven Spielberg, among "35 Who Made a Difference." The magazine recognized artists, scholars and scientists who have enriched American life.

The Mulloy Lecture, sponsored by UW's Department of Anthropology, honors the late William Mulloy, the university's first anthropologist. He fostered the "four-field" approach, which integrated archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology into a unified program at UW.

This is a mock-up of the young girl who may have been cannibalized at Jamestown Colony in 1609. (Smithsonian Museum of Natural History)

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