Potential Cache of Arms and Armor Discovered in Ancient Jamestown Pit
JAMESTOWN, Virginia -- Archaeologists at Historic Jamestowne recently unearthed what appears to be the leading edge of a cache of arms and armor discarded by Jamestown colonists 400 years ago in a trash pit that may be an early well inside the north corner of the 1607 James Fort.
Archaeologists Mary Anna Richardson (left) and Luke Pecoraro carefully begin excavating a potential cache of arms and armor that so far includes a broad sword with a basket hilt (sword part that protects the hand) and blade, tasset lames (armor that protects the thigh) and a rapier hilt, discovered recently at Historic Jamestowne inside the 1607 James Fort site in what may be an early well.
Viewed by Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to the site May 4, the objects currently under excavation include tasset lames -- armor used to protect the thigh, a nearly complete broad sword with an intact basket hilt (sword handle), a rapier hilt and an iron pole.
"It may be like the tip of an iceberg. We expect that these exciting artifacts may be buried with many other related finds. We'll see as we uncover more of it in the next few days," said Dr. William Kelso, APVA director of archaeology.
According to historical accounts, in June 1610 after the "Starving Time" winter, the colonists buried unneeded military equipment before they left to seek supplies and passage back to England on fishing ships off the coast of New England. Instead, they returned to Jamestown the following day after they met Lord De La Warre's fleet at the mouth of the James River.
The objects were partially excavated last Friday about 3 ft. below the 17th-century ground level inside a 19 x19 ft. pit. "Because of the way the layers of debris are slumping toward the center of the pit, we think this may be a well that went foul and later became a trash pit. The sides seem to have eroded outward, which may be why the feature is so large. So far, we know it's at least 6 feet deep. We haven't found the bottom or a well shaft yet," Kelso said.
The pit is below the foundation to a 1617 addition to the governor's house, and the latest artifact is a 1613 English farthing found near the top. If it is a well, this could be the first well that was dug by John Smith in 1608-1609," he said.
Rich with artifacts, the pit has yielded glass trade beads, baubles, chess pieces, iron objects, and pottery sherds that date to the early years at James Fort. Virginia Indian artifacts have also been unearthed including a grinding stone, a bone needle and finished and unfinished shell beads. Archaeologists have also found oysters, sturgeon scutes, crab claws, and fish, bird, turtle, deer and goat remains. Danny Schmidt, APVA senior archaeologist, said the faunal remains include more wild than domesticated animals, another sign that this is an early pit.
Curator Michael Lavin displays recent finds from a pit that may be an early well inside the 1607 James Fort site at Historic Jamestowne including: a Virginia Indian bone needle, ivory chess pieces, a 1613 English farthing, Virginia Indian shell beads, glass trade beads and copper baubles -- used to decorate hair and clothing.
Archaeologists are also digging in an area near a 1607 graveyard in the west corner of the fort near the James River. They've uncovered an undisturbed area about 15 to 20 ft. between a grave that was recently unearthed and the 1607 graves. Schmidt said the gap may indicate that there was a building there. Archaeologists are hoping to find the remains of the first church somewhere in the area as they continue digging toward the center of the fort. "It would make sense to find the church near the graveyard," Schmidt said. Further excavation this season will reveal more evidence. He noted that the area will be exposed quickly after the six-week summer field school begins June 4.
In anticipation of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the APVA Preservation Virginia launched the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological project in 1994 to identify and interpret the remains of the 1607 James Fort and town site. When archaeologists announced that they had discovered the fort site in 1996, they dispelled the long-held belief that the fort was lost to the James River. Since then, archaeologists have found the outline of the fort including the remains of palisades, bulwarks, buildings, pits and wells. In addition, they've uncovered and analyzed the remains of the last Jamestown statehouse. Over one million objects reflective of life at James Fort have been unearthed so far, as well as the burials of over 70 colonists including the remains of a high-ranking colonist, possibly Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, the principal organizer and administrator of the early Jamestown effort.
New findings from the research have inspired and informed new interpretive experiences at Historic Jamestowne and elsewhere. Open daily, to the public, Historic Jamestowne in Jamestown, Virginia, is interpreted by Colonial National Historical Park and the APVA Preservation Virginia. Visitors can explore exhibits in the new visitor center and experience a new multi-media orientation film in the immersion theater. On site, they can share the moment of discovery with archaeologists, see artifacts in the Archaearium exhibition facility, tour the original 17th-century church tower and reconstructed 17th-century Jamestown Memorial Church, take a walking tour with a park ranger through the original settlement along the scenic James River, and watch costumed glassblowers at the Glasshouse. Driving tours explore the lush natural setting where visitors regularly see bald eagles, heron, osprey, deer and other wildlife. Located at the western end of the Colonial Parkway near Williamsburg, admission is regularly $10; youth 15 and under are admitted free. Special rates are in effect for Anniversary Weekend, May 11 -13. Call (757) 229-1733.