An Archaeological Project of Historic Jamestown, Virginia
By Kaamna C. Mirchandani
Historic Jamestown, Virginia is renowned as America’s birthplace and the first permanent English settlement dating back to 1607. A charter group from London, the Virginia Company, initiated and funded by King James I, set sail to establish an English settlement in North America. The settlers were attacked by Powhatan Indians almost immediately after arrival. The creation of James fort protected the settlement from Spanish ships cautious of English settlement in North America. Although some trade was maintained amongst the Powhatan Indians and the colonists; attacks, disease, famine and erratic leadership critically reduced the survival of the settlers. Food supply shortages lead to devastating survival tactics, such as cannibalism and the digging of corpses for consumption. Arrival of supply ships accompanied by Lord De La Ware brought hope and much needed satiation back to the colonists; moreover, halting the plan to abandon the North American settlement altogether.
In 1613, daughter of Wahunsenacawh, revered Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom by the English. Pocahontas chose to remain with the English and converted to Christianity. After her marriage to English tobacco grower, John Rolfe, she took the name Rebecca Rolfe. In 1614 they were wed in a church on James fort. The union between Pocahontas and John Rolfe brought transient peace between the Native Americans and the English. Prior to and after the wedding, Pocahontas acted as a mediator amid the English and Powhatan Indians. Excavations by Jamestown Rediscovery resurge the life of Pocahontas and continuously progress historical teachings about her time period. In 2010, Jamestown Rediscovery revealed the church site of her wedding.
The launch of Jamestown Rediscovery in 1994 had an intent to further excavate and study the remains of the site of the first settlement and James fort. Preservation of 22.5 acres of Jamestown Island was initiated by Preservation Virginia. Since 1994 Jamestown Preservation successfully unearthed 1.5 million artifacts; 30,000 artifacts during the first year, and established the location of James fort. Landmarks, buildings, unique tools, weapons, currency, burials and fossils reveal much previously unknown about our settlers. Each artifact contributes to advancing knowledge of the first settlement and our forefathers. Findings have taught behaviors, habits, cultural rituals, as well as the extent of cultural transfer amongst the Virginia Indians and English settlers.
Exciting excavations continue at Jamestown Rediscovery even today. There remains more to learn about our ancestors and the birth of our nation. In 2013, a relic found during a recent excavation posed a problematic dilemma. Found in the Jamestown church, gravesite to our earliest settlers, a silver box was buried with one of the four individuals buried at this site. Names of the buried persons were later identified as Reverend Robert Hunt, Sir Ferdinando Wainman, Captain Gabriel Archer and Captain William West. Handling the welded-shut silver reliquary would result in rattling sounds. Archaeologists knew uncovering the contents could potentially illuminate a historically momentous discovery. Being found in the gravesite of a church, could hypothetically reveal religious rituals of the early settlers. The markings and contents on the hexagonal box had potential to identify and demonstrate specifics about the individual buried. But how would one uncover the possibly delicate fragments within a solid metal box and maintain their specific configurations? Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists generated 2D images at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) lab. However, these images only revealed 2 dense objects. Uncovering the details of all the contents required additional advances. Jamestown Rediscovery then approached Micro Photonics, a national distributor of MicroCT equipment and imaging services. Employing their specialized team and MicroCT technology, the contents of the box were ultimately exposed. To read about particulars and historical revelations about this discovery please Click Here. Societal notability and historical significance about this relic will be detailed at the Smithsonian Museum of American History on Thursday, July 30th, 2015 during a national press release.
The committed preservation efforts and excavations of Jamestown Rediscovery continue to illuminate and disclose details of the celebrated birth of the United States. Visit their website ( Jamestown Rediscovery) for further illumination, tours and events.