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What can scientific investigation tell us about Jane and cannibalism?

Simple magnification is one of the most useful tools that a forensic anthropologist has. Magnifying glasses, stereo zoom microscopes, and scanning electron microscopes (SEM) see what the natural eye cannot. Although the form of some microscopes hasn't changed in centuries, the modern technology of automation and digital imaging has transformed microscopes into precise instruments that illuminate unseen evidence.

Under intense magnification, Jane's mandible told a big part of the forensic story. Knife cuts on the jaw showed that the cutting was done in quick sawing motions without a clear pattern -- as if the cutter was tentative and inexperienced. Knife jabs to the bottom of the jaw clearly indicated an intent to remove flesh.

How did Dr. Douglas Owsley and his team at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution know that post-mortem butchering of the skull and leg is evidence of cannibalism?

  • Four chops to the middle forehead represent a tentative, failed attempt to open the cranium.
  • Bone in the back of the head shows a series of deep chops; these forceful blows fractured the cranium along its midline.
  • Bone below the right eye socket (maxilla) has a series of small, fine cuts from a knife being used to remove cheek muscles.
  • Numerous small knife cuts and punctures in the mandible reflect attempts to remove tissues from both the inside and outside of the lower jaw.
  • The left temporal bone was punctured by a small, rectangular tool. The narrow tip of the tool caused this compression fracture as it pried the bone from the side of the head to gain access to the brain.
  • The right tibia bone has a chop halfway through its shaft. The blade entered the leg bone below the knee and from behind, breaking the shaft and exposing the marrow. Fine cuts indicate a sharp knife was also used to remove the leg.
Jane Forensics Investigations

Cuts in the skull fragments indicated the female colonist was a subject of cannibalism.

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