Tales of the Donner Party, a group of 19th century American pioneers who were trapped in the Sierra Nevadas, have become the stuff of popular legend. The Donner Party supposedly resorted to cannibalism in order to survive the harsh winter conditions.
However, new research suggests that no cannibalism occurred.
Gwen Robbins, an assistant professor of biological anthropology at Appalachian State University, and her team studied the bones from the hearth at the Donner site. They were determined to be non-human.
"What we have demonstrated is that there is no evidence for cannibalism," said Robbins. "If the Donner Party did resort to cannibalism, the bones were treated in a different way (such as buried), or they were placed on the hearth last and could have since eroded."
Victorian Era journalists, who embellished the accounts provided by the 47 survivors, largely fueled the legend of the Donner Party cannibalism. The survivors, 11 men and 36 women and children, fiercely denied the allegations. Although one man, Louis Keseberg, filed and won a defamation suit, he was still forever known as Keseberg the Cannibal.
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