Kelso, William M. Jamestown: The Buried Truth.

Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006.

A couple of years ago, I read (and reviewed) Ivor Noël Hume’s The Virginia Adventure, published in 1994, in which he surveyed archaeological research carried out at the site of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. It was an interesting and well-written book — but it’s also now somewhat out of date.

Kelso, also an experienced archaeologist with a particular interest in colonial America, undertook a reexamination of the site, using newly available technology, in anticipation of Jamestown’s 400th anniversary, and answered a number of the unsolved problems outlined in the earlier book.

James Fort, it turns out, which was once thought to have been almost entirely washed away by the shifting James River, was located in a slightly different spot very close by and the remains of the palisades, interior buildings, warehouses, and storage pits were discovered — with artifacts, including coins that date the construction to 1607-8. Several hundred thousand artifacts have since been uncovered, from helmets and breastplates to glass trade beads and religious icons. Several burials were found, including a young man killed by a musket ball. (What was the story behind that, one wonders?) This led to a reinterpretation of events, especially the very high mortality rate, traditionally attributed to the colonists sheer ineptitude and laziness. The alternative explanation is far more nuanced and the author explains the whole investigative process in understandable, only slightly technical prose. An intriguing book for anyone with an interest in this country’s earliest colonial history.

Published in: on 12 June 2015 at 5:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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