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Jamestown Burial Site To Be Studied

June 6, 2000

JAMESTOWN, Va. (AP) _ The winter of 1609-1610 is known as the ``Starving Time,″ when only one out of every four colonists at Jamestown survived hunger, disease and Indian attacks.

Archaeologists this summer will begin excavating an unmarked burial ground to try to learn more about that winter _ and the early, often desperate years of America’s first permanent English settlement.

The project will help expand the limited knowledge of the beginnings of the country, Roxane Gilmore, Virginia’s first lady, said at a news conference Tuesday at the dig site.

``Seventeenth-century America is basically a lost century,″ said Gilmore, honorary chairwoman of the planned commemoration in 2007 of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s founding.

Jamestown began as a business venture with the landing of three ships with 100 men and four boys on a small island near the mouth of the James River. The first representative government in America was established in Jamestown in 1619, and Jamestown was the capital of Virginia until 1699.

The burial site to be studied is near the foundation of a large building that was used as a statehouse from the 1640s until 1699.

In the mid-1950s, archaeologists discovered a cemetery at the site, 200 yards from the original 1607 James Fort. Of the estimated 300 graves there, researchers will excavate and study about 50, said William Kelso, who is directing the archaeological work at Jamestown.

Researchers also will study the foundation to determine what the building looked like, Kelso said.

The cemetery predates the building, since some graves are beneath the foundation, he said. And since the graves are arranged haphazardly and appear to have been dug hastily, it’s likely many date from the Starving Time, he said.

During that winter, according to written accounts, many settlers died from starvation, disease and Indian attacks. By the spring of 1610, only 60 of the 215 people at the fort were still alive.

There also are theories that the settlers died from civil unrest, saltwater poisoning or famine brought on by drought. Analysis of the burial sites may yield more information about how they died, Kelso said.

Archaeologists also may be able to determine sex, age at death, diet, ancestry, general health and possible cause of death by studying individual remains.

``Bones are biographies of the human life,″ said Douglas Owsley, a forensic osteologist at the Smithsonian who will be in charge of the analysis of the remains.

Any remains will be handled with respect and eventually will be reburied at a site to be determined later, Kelso said.

``If there are ghosts, they’re friendly ghosts,″ Owsley added.

The work is part of the Jamestown Recovery Project, launched in 1994 by the Richmond-based Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities to find the remains of the 1607 fort.

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On the Net: Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities site: http://www.apva.org

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