A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]Recent archaeological excavations on Cole's Hill in Plymouth, Mass., have turned up the bones of several Pilgrims, and have raised unsettling questions about how the early settlement there survived.
Team leader Stephen Holman of Taunton University was the first to inspect the bones.
"The first skeleton we found—we call him 'Edward Tilley' in the lab—was mostly complete but disarticulated, and the ribs and long bones bore unusual markings. It looked like something, or someone, had gnawed on them. The joints showed signs of deliberate butchering, perhaps with a hatchet."
Subsequent exhumations confirmed Holman's suspicions.
These findings call into question the accepted history of the Pilgrim's first winter of 1620-21, including accounts written by the Pilgrims themselves. In none of these works is there any mention of cannibalism—a fact which does not surprise anthropologist Mary Donner, also of Taunton University.
"Cannibalism is not something the Pilgrims would have been proud of, and it's not something the company's investors would have been thrilled to hear about. It's entirely likely that the colonists swore an oath never to speak of it. Call it the second Mayflower Compact."
Officers of the Society of Mayflower Descendants could not be reached for comment, but one long-time member wondered how this news would affect her membership.
"If my ancestor ate another Pilgrim," asked Dolores Bisbee of Wareham, "can I claim descent from both?"