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Appalachian professorís research finds no evidence of cannibalism at Donner Party campsite
ASU News ^ | 15 April 2010 | ASU News

Posted on 04/15/2010 2:20:18 PM PDT by Palter

Research conducted by Dr. Gwen Robbins, an assistant professor of biological anthropology at Appalachian State University, finds there is no evidence of cannibalism among the 84 members of the Donner Party who were trapped by a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the mid-1840s.

Remains from the Donner party’s Alder Creek campsite were excavated by a team of archaeologists from the University of Montana and the University of Oregon Museum. A sample of bones from the campsite hearth was analyzed by Robbins and Kelsey Gray, an Appalachian graduate. They will present the results of this project this week at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Albuquerque, N.M.

During the excavation of the Donner Party’s campsite, 16,000 burned, fragmented bones were found. Many of the bones also had butchery and boiling marks. Robbins, an osteologist who specializes in bone biology and microstructure, examined the bones with three questions in mind: Are there any human bones in the hearth, which would provide material evidence for cannibalism? What kinds of other animals are present in the assemblage of bone fragments? and, What did the starvation diet look like?

The Donner Party has long been infamous for reportedly resorting to cannibalism after becoming trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California for months during the winter of 1846-1847. The party, originally 84 men, women and children, became stranded after a series of bad decisions and misfortunes caused numerous delays on their westward migration route and left them attempting to cross the mountains into California just as the first snows were falling in early October 1846.

In 2003, archaeologists Kelly Dixon (University of Montana) and Julie Schablitsky (then of the University of Oregon Museum) uncovered a hearth during the excavation of the Donner family’s campsite. Within the hearth, they found thousands of tiny burned fragments of bone, most measuring less than a quarter inch in diameter.

In 2004, Robbins, who was then a graduate student completing her PhD at the University of Oregon, was asked to determine whether the bones were human. A preliminary analysis of the bones was completed in 2006, after Robbins returned to the United States from dissertation research in India. This early analysis of 30 specimens indicated that there were no human bones from the hearth.

Upon joining the faculty at Appalachian, Robbins continued her research on the remains. With a team of undergraduate students, she pored through the tiny fragments looking for remains that could withstand further testing. The majority of bone fragments were so small and so delicate that they would crumble if subjected to thin sectioning, but there were about 250 larger, sturdier pieces of bone that showed evidence of cutting, chopping and boiling. Of these, 55 additional fragments were studied.

The team produced thin sections from these specimens and examined them using a microscope, measuring each basic structural unit and characterizing the tissue types. From this work, they determined that humans were not among the food refuse examined. A power analysis indicated that, statistically, Robbins and Gray can be 70 percent confident that if cannibalism made up a small fraction of the diet (less than 1 percent) at the site in the last few weeks of occupation, and if humans were processed in the same way animals were processed, at least one of the 85 bone fragments examined would be human.

So, what did the Donner family eat during that winter? Robbins’ team identified the remains as cattle, deer, horse and dog. While the historical record had indicated that cattle were the principle means of subsistence during that winter, there was previously no record that the Donner family also successfully hunted deer despite the 20 to 30 feet of snow on the ground that winter. The historical record does indicate that relief parties in February brought horses to the camps and that a few were left behind. There was no record of the horses being consumed and no mention of eating dog.

The legend of the Donner party was primarily created by print journalists, who embellished the tales based on their own Victorian macabre sensibilities and their desire to sell more newspapers. In all, 47 people lived to tell the tale: 11 men and 36 women and children. The survivors fiercely denied allegations of cannibalism and one man even filed a defamation suit immediately upon reaching Sutter’s Fort near Sacramento. Although the court ruled in his favor, he was forever known to local residents as Keseberg the Cannibal. The voices of the survivors of the Donner Party ordeal have long been overwhelmed by the spectacular imagery of a legend that swiftly took on a life of its own. Their descendants are still today affected by the stigma of this tale.

The archaeological record provides a new picture of the party’s activities. In the trash and debris left around the hearth in the spring of 1847, archaeologists found pieces of slate and shards of broken china. These pieces of slate and crockery around the hearth suggest an attempt to maintain a sense of a “normal life,” a family intent on maintaining a routine of lessons, to preserve the dignified manners from another time and place, a refusal to accept the harsh reality of the moment, and a hope that the future was coming.

Robbins’ research will be published in the July issue of the journal American Antiquity. The archaeology team also is finishing a book manuscript for University of Oklahoma Press to be released in 2011.


TOPICS: History
KEYWORDS: cannibalism; donnerparty; napl; sierranevada

1 posted on 04/15/2010 2:20:18 PM PDT by Palter
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To: Palter

Other than the bibs with people on them instead of lobsters.


2 posted on 04/15/2010 2:22:30 PM PDT by Darkwolf377 (Conservative Bostonian, atheist pro-lifer, mocker of the clueless)
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To: Palter

3 posted on 04/15/2010 2:29:59 PM PDT by KentTrappedInLiberalSeattle (http://www.conservatives4palin.com/)
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To: Palter

Donner Party Survivors: "Well, I preferred white meat, but my wife went nuts for bone marrow..."


4 posted on 04/15/2010 2:31:51 PM PDT by JoeProBono (A closed mouth gathers no feet)
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To: Palter
According the accounts of the survivors, during the height of the famine the Native American guides attempted to sneak away, but their footwear was bad and they left bloody foot prints in the snow. So the guides were tracked down, killed and eaten.

Does it only counts as cannibalism if you eat a white?

5 posted on 04/15/2010 2:32:46 PM PDT by allmendream (Income is EARNED not distributed. So how could it be re-distributed?)
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To: Palter
The legend of the Donner party was primarily created by print journalists, who embellished the tales based on their own Victorian macabre sensibilities and their desire to sell more newspapers.
6 posted on 04/15/2010 2:33:14 PM PDT by UCANSEE2 (The Last Boy Scout)
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To: Palter

maybe they just really cleaned up their plates


7 posted on 04/15/2010 2:35:04 PM PDT by bigbob
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To: Palter

This is not what Jack Torrance told me.


8 posted on 04/15/2010 2:43:11 PM PDT by mowowie
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To: Palter; Revolting cat!; Daffynition; Slings and Arrows

Donner Part of 12, now seating... Donner Party of 12


9 posted on 04/15/2010 2:44:37 PM PDT by a fool in paradise (VP Biden on Obamacare's passage: "This is a big f-ing deal". grumpygresh: "Repeal the f-ing deal")
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To: Palter; Revolting cat!; Daffynition; Slings and Arrows

Donner Part of 11, now seating... Donner Party of 11


10 posted on 04/15/2010 2:44:48 PM PDT by a fool in paradise (VP Biden on Obamacare's passage: "This is a big f-ing deal". grumpygresh: "Repeal the f-ing deal")
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To: Palter; Revolting cat!; Daffynition; Slings and Arrows

Donner Part of 9, now seating... Donner Party of 9


11 posted on 04/15/2010 2:44:56 PM PDT by a fool in paradise (VP Biden on Obamacare's passage: "This is a big f-ing deal". grumpygresh: "Repeal the f-ing deal")
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To: Palter

The eyewitness accounts of the survivors say otherwise.


12 posted on 04/15/2010 2:45:28 PM PDT by Virginia Ridgerunner (Sarah Palin has crossed the Rubicon!)
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To: Palter

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evExHXFtNfQ

Cannibalism has been almost entirely eradicated from the Royal Navy.


13 posted on 04/15/2010 2:56:23 PM PDT by Snickering Hound
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To: Virginia Ridgerunner

I read a book called “In the Heart of the Sea” about a whaling ship, the Essex, that was sunk by a whale and formed the basis of “Moby Dick.” There is a long dissertation in that book about resorting to canabalism to survive and that it was pretty common. In the Essex matter, a few survivors in a whaling boat actually chose lots to decide who would be eaten and then they chose lots to see who would kill that person. Pretty interesting stuff, albeit grim.


14 posted on 04/15/2010 2:56:24 PM PDT by lawdave
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To: Palter

Next, the cannibalism by the soccer team in the Andes plane crash.


15 posted on 04/15/2010 3:07:04 PM PDT by lonestar (Better Obama picks his nose than our pockets!)
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To: Palter

Don’t bother watching the movie, “Donner Party.” It’s very creepy and unrealistic. Not....not that I’ve had any personal experience in the matter. (Looks over shoulder.) The movie just seemed...um...wasteful. lol


16 posted on 04/15/2010 3:07:35 PM PDT by TNdandelion
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To: Palter

This article is a bit deceptive. The Alder Creek campsite belonged to the extended Donner family, who were only about one-fourth of the total “Donner Party”. There is plenty of first hand testimony to cannibalism among those who camped at the other site.


17 posted on 04/15/2010 3:07:45 PM PDT by Notary Sojac (Mi Tio es infermo, pero la carretera es verde!)
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To: TNdandelion

If you are talking about the PBS/Ric Burns film I beg to differ...I think it’s one of the best historical documentaries I’ve ever seen.


18 posted on 04/15/2010 3:09:13 PM PDT by Notary Sojac (Mi Tio es infermo, pero la carretera es verde!)
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To: Palter

‘Cause it were all et up.


19 posted on 04/15/2010 3:13:42 PM PDT by DManA
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To: Palter
What about the sign:

CORPSICLES HERE!
FORM A LINE
NO PUSHING!

20 posted on 04/15/2010 3:14:31 PM PDT by Deb (Beat him, strip him and bring him to my tent!)
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To: Palter

Assumption:

“and if humans were processed in the same way animals were processed”

I would say, offhand, this is a faulty assumption.


21 posted on 04/15/2010 3:15:45 PM PDT by Jewbacca (The residents of Iroquois territory may not determine whether Jews may live in Jerusalem.)
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To: Notary Sojac

I think the answer is pretty simple, the Donnor party members weren’t just throwing out human remains with other animals. They’re probably all buried at another site.


22 posted on 04/15/2010 3:18:24 PM PDT by Raymann
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To: a fool in paradise

23 posted on 04/15/2010 3:54:16 PM PDT by Daffynition ( In the span of one man's lifetime, only the individual has any potential - not the collective.)
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To: TNdandelion

Try watching RAVENOUS with Robert Carlyle (before The Full Monty), Neal mcDonough (The Catholic actor recently ousted from Desperate Housewives), Jeremy Davies (Daniel from Lost’) and Guy Pearce (Count of MonTecristo, LA cONFIDENTIAL)...

about a govt soldier who investigates a base camp that resorted to cannibalism right after the Civil War but there’s a twist...


24 posted on 04/15/2010 5:04:56 PM PDT by max americana
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To: JoeProBono

That is so mean. :-)


25 posted on 04/15/2010 5:26:57 PM PDT by heye2monn
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To: Notary Sojac

No...this was a 2009 movie with Crispin Glover and a bunch of other people I didn’t know. It was available on Netflix instant play.


26 posted on 04/15/2010 6:37:45 PM PDT by TNdandelion
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To: a fool in paradise; MeekOneGOP; Conspiracy Guy; DocRock; King Prout; Darksheare; OSHA; ...
Some jokers just have to ruin it for the rest of us.


27 posted on 04/15/2010 6:54:09 PM PDT by Slings and Arrows (FUBO! FUNP! FUHR! FUBS!)
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To: SunkenCiv

Ping - thought this might be something the list might be interested in. :)


28 posted on 04/15/2010 8:55:40 PM PDT by LibertyRocks (http://libertyrocks.wordpress.com ~ Anti-Obama Gear: http://cafepress.com/NO_ObamaBiden08)
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To: Virginia Ridgerunner

Yes, VR, that is exactly what I was going to say.


29 posted on 04/15/2010 9:08:00 PM PDT by 1951Boomer
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To: lawdave

Yep, I actually have that book on my shelf. Thanks!


30 posted on 04/16/2010 3:45:24 AM PDT by Virginia Ridgerunner (Sarah Palin has crossed the Rubicon!)
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To: LibertyRocks

I wonder what kind of evidence this (obviously pro-cannibal) professor expected to find, or would accept *as* evidence? :’) Thanks LibertyRocks.


31 posted on 04/16/2010 4:53:00 PM PDT by SunkenCiv ("Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others." -- Otto von Bismarck)
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