London: Newly discovered human bones have proven that the first permanent English settlers in North America became cannibals to deal with the cruel winter of 1609-10, US researchers have said.
Scientists said that they discovered unusual cuts consistent with butchering for meat on human bones that were dumped in a rubbish pit.
The four-century-old skull and tibia of a teenage girl in James Fort, Virginia, were excavated from the dump last year.
James Fort, which was founded in 1607, was the earliest part of the Jamestown colony.
Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, said that the evidence is absolutely consistent with dismemberment and de-fleshing of the body, the BBC reported.
Written documents had previously suggested that the desperate colonists had resorted to cannibalism - but the discovery of the 14-year-old girl`s remains has offered the first scientific proof.
Smithsonian researchers believe that the child became food for a community struggling to survive the harsh winter of 1609-10, known to historians as the Starving Time .
Owsley said that there were numerous chops and cuts - chops to the forehead, chops to the back of the skull and also a puncture to the left side of the head that was used to essentially pry off that side and the purpose was to extract the brain.
The cut marks also indicated that the tongue and facial tissue had been removed.
He said that the intent was to remove the facial tissue and the brain for consumption.
Owsley asserted that these people were in dire circumstances, so any flesh that was available would have been used.
The cuts to the girl`s bones also indicated that the work was hesitant, as whoever performed the dismemberment was not a skilled butcher.