Chronology of Jamestown Archeology


1861 Confederate forces constructed earthworks on Jamestown Island and discovered fragments of armor and weaponry.
1897 APVA (Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities), which owned 221/2 acres of Jamestown, explored the church foundations.
1901-1902 John Tyler, Jr. conducted excavations at the church and cemetery. Discoveries included the 1617 cobblestone foundation of the wooden church.
1903 Colonel Samuel H. Yonge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officer who in 1901 supervised construction of the concrete seawall built to prevent further erosion of the riverbank at Jamestown, located the foundations of the country house, the Ludwell house, and the third and fourth statehouses. Yonge asserted that the discoveries made by the Confederate forces in 1861 indicated the close proximity of the fort to the present site of the Confederate earthwork at the western end of the island.
1934-1936 National Park Service acquired remaining 1,500 acres of island not owned by APVA. John T. Zaharov, H. Summerfield Day, Alonzo W. Pond and W.J. Winter directed the Civilian Conservation Corps excavators, although stratigraphic documentation was lost.
1936-1941 J.C. Harrington was assigned to Jamestown and began work on the island in 1937. He refined the methodology in use and established Jamestown as a pioneering effort in historical archeology.
1948-1949 National Park Service archeologists, under direction of J.C. Harrington, excavated the Jamestown Glasshouse site.
1954-1956 In preparation for the 350th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, John L. Cotter was made supervisory archeologist at the park. Thirteen acres of the town site were explored by six miles of trenches, three feet wide each, on a 50-foot interval grid; 100-foot squares (or lots) were excavated meticulously. Joel Shiner conducted an intensive search on APVA property for the fort. His work neither proved nor disproved that the fort was located at the western end of the island. However, he located an early 17th century armorer's forge, indicating that the fort probably was nearby. He also documented Native American occupation on the island prior to 1607. Louis Caywood excavated the 17th century plantation "Green Spring" a few miles to the north. Cotter's report on the excavations at Jamestown was extensive and still serves as the major source on Jamestown archeology.
1992-1996 In preparation for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the National Park Service signed a cooperative agreement with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) and the College of William and Mary (W&M) to conduct a five-year archeological assessment of Jamestown Island. This project brought together a multidisciplinary team of archeologists, historians, geologists, geophysicists, computer scientists, librarians, and environmental specialists to develop a revised understanding of the entire human history of the island.

The main goals for this assessment were as follows:

1. Determine the geological and topographical appearance of the island over the last 12,000 years.

2. Determine land use practices of American Indians and early European inhabitants.

3. Locate all archeological sites on the island, including possible prehistoric settlements, outlying 17th century farms and plantations, and 18th through 20th century features.

4. "Reconstruct" the town site through computer mapping.

5. Assemble documentary, cartographic, archeological, architectural, and artifactual information about Jamestown Island for future research and interpretation to include published technical reports and materials for public use.

Andrew Edwards and Audrey Horning from CWF supervised the field work in the "New Towne" area. They investigated various sites previously excavated in the 1930s and 1950s to answer specific questions dealing with structures' appearances, functions and use. They also dug test pits to search for new features such as a possible brewhouse. Another important part of the field work was to obtain previously uncollected "ecofacts" from seeds and pollen which explained changes in the environment and how the colonists altered the landscape of the island.

Dennis Blanton and Patty Kandle from W&M conducted the first systematic survey for sites of all kinds on the entire island. By digging nearly 6,000 small test holes at 20m intervals, 60 previously unknown sites were identified covering the range from prehistoric to modern times. These 60 new sites explain a great deal about the way the people used and settled the island for nearly 12,000 years.

Reports from the several assessment teams are in progress. Once this valuable new information is available, it will change the way we think about the history of the island and its inhabitants from prehistoric times to the present.
1994 - Present The Jamestown Rediscovery Project, initiated by The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), was undertaken to find archaeological evidence of the 1607 Jamestown Settlement Fort. To date they have recovered over 200,000 artifacts many dating to the first half of the 1600's and many to the earliest years of that first Jamestown settlement. Excavations have uncovered the soil stain footprint of an upright log barrier, undoubtedly the remnants of a palisade dating to the early 17th century, footprints of at least one post-hole building and the possible skeletal remains of one of those earliest settlers. For additional information link to their web site: Jamestown Rediscovery.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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