The findings by Smithsonian scientists dig up the dynamics of daily life in the first permanent British settlement in the colonies.
One of the bodies was just 5 feet 5 inches long, and missing its hands, most likely from four centuries of deterioration. It had been jostled during burial, so the head and shoulders were scrunched long before the wooden coffin lid and the weight of the dirt above had collapsed on it. Flesh no longer held the jaw shut; when this skeleton was brushed free late in 2013, it looked unhinged, as if it were howling.
The bones, now labeled 3046C, belonged to a man who had come to the New World on the first trio of ships from England to the spot called Fort James, James Cittie or, as we know it, Jamestown. He survived the first wave of deaths that followed the Englishmen’s arrival in May of 1607. Over the next two years, he conspired to take down one leader and kill another. This man had a murderous streak. He died, along with hundreds of settlers—most of the colony—during the seven-month disaster known as the "starving time."
Jamestown’s original fort is perhaps the most archaeologically fertile acre in the United States. In 1994, Bill Kelso, a former head archaeologist at Monticello, put his shovel in the clay soil here and began unearthing the first of two million artifacts from the early days of the settlement. His discoveries, all part of a project known as Jamestown Rediscovery, include everything from full-body armor, a loaded pistol and a pirate’s grappling pike to children’s shoes and tools from such a broad array of trades (blacksmith, gunsmith, mason, barber, carpenter, tailor and more) that it is clearly a myth that the settlers arrived unprepared. One firecracker revelation after another is now filling in the history of the first successful English colony in America. Kelso and his team captured international attention two years ago when they reported finding the butchered remains of a teenage girl, clear evidence that the settlers cannibalized their dead to survive during the famine.
The team named the girl “Jane” and, along with Doug Owsley and the forensic anthropology lab at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, reconstructed her skull and digitally recreated her face, thus populating this early dark chapter in American history. In another major find, a few years back, the team uncovered the foundation of the fort’s original church, built in 1608—the earliest known Protestant church in the Americas, where Pocahontas married Virginia’s first tobacco farmer, John Rolfe, and brought the warring natives and settlers to a temporary truce.
Three more skeletons, labeled 2993B, 2992C and 170C, have been pulled from beneath the chancel. All date to around the same time as 3046C, and though one was in a simple shroud, the other two also had splendid coffins. Who were these men? Why were they buried, not in nearby fields with the other settlers, but beneath the floor of the church’s altar? Kelso and Owsley have marshaled an army of experts who have dedicated thousands of hours of scientific and archival scrutiny to the task of matching the remains with the historic record.
Now they are ready to unveil the identities of these latest Jamestown discoveries. Each has its part in the larger story of life on the edge of a New World.
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/new-archaeological-research-jamestown-reveals-identities-four-prominent-settlers-discovery-180956028/#3AvkpeOG8DGLD2Ej.99
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