Famed Smithsonian Institution forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley contributed indispensable expertise to the study of many sets of human remains unearthed at Historic Jamestowne. (KENNETH D. LYONS / DAILY PRESS / September 12, 1996)
Famed Smithsonian Institution forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley, whose study of cannibalism and Native American scalping rituals made him indispensable to confirming the first physical evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown last week, has contributed to Hampton Roads history many times before.
His passion for exploring the early history preserved in bones has taken him to Jamestown frequently in the past, including the late 1996 discovery of human remains believed to be those of early colony leader Batholomew Gosnold.
He later helped organize and work on an extensive examination of scores of early 17th-century burials centered on what is now the Historic Jamestowne Archaearium.
Owsley gained his expertise through his work on such high-profile projects as the Jeffrey Dahmer murder, mutilation and cannibalism cases. As part of his work with the Smithsonian, he has overseen the forensic examination of more than 13,000 skeletons and human remains originating from contexts spanning over 10,000 years.
Central to his interest in early Jamestown and the Hampton Roads region is the information to be gleaned from the distinctive nutritional signatures found in the chemistry of the earliest settlers' bones.
"We think we may be able to tell if someone was an American - or came here from England - based on these signatures," he said, in a 1997 interview.
"But we need to do a little more work before we can say for sure."
Owsley also came to St. Luke's Church in Isle of Wight in 2007 to take samples from the crypt of the early 17th-century church's founder.
The project was designed to fill another hole in what has become a career-long puzzle.
"There are a lot of things that you can't get at any other way besides looking at bones," He explained at the time.
"We do have a few gentry from Jamestown. But most of what we have from Virginia are unidentified indentured servants -- and that's where Joseph Bridger comes in. He was one of the 10 wealthiest men in the colony. He was the richest landholder south of the James. And it looks like he's going to provide us with a lot of information."
Here's a link to that story: -- Mark St. John Erickson