A gruesome discovery in a trash deposit at Jamestown points to cannibalism.

A forensic facial reconstruction of the 14-year-old victim of cannibalism at Jamestown during the winter of 1609.

Archaeologists have discovered the first physical evidence of cannibalism by desperate English colonists driven by hunger during the Starving Time of 1609-1610 at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

The announcement was made by a team of researchers from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Historic Jamestowne, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

There are five historical accounts written by or about Jamestown colonists that reference cannibalism, but this is the first time it’s been proven, said William Kelso, director of archeology at Historic Jamestowne.

“This is a very rare find,” said James Horn, vice president of research for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “It is the only artifactual evidence of cannibalism by Europeans at any European colony—Spanish, French, English, or Dutch—throughout the colonial period from about 1500 to 1800.”

Portions of the butchered skull and shinbone of a 14-year-old girl from England, dubbed “Jane” by researchers, were unearthed by Jamestown archaeologists last year. They found the remains about 2.5 feet (0.8 meters) down in a 17th century trash deposit in the cellar of a building built in 1608 inside the James Fort site.

Kelso then asked Doug Owsley, head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, to examine the remains and determine if she was killed or cannibalized.

Kelso said he hadn't believed previous historical accounts regarding cannibalism. He thought they were politically motivated, intended to discredit the Virginia Company—the stockholders who provisioned and financed the settlement.

"Now, I know the accounts are true," he said.