The team discovered, and then excavated, the graves of a dozen men, women and infants, all buried in under four feet of sandy soil in a remote waterfront knoll. The remains proved to be remarkably well preserved, considering that they had been buried since the 1600s.
Team leader, Dr. Douglas Owsley, one of America’s leading forensic anthropologists suggested that the long-forgotten graveyard might contain as many as 20 other individuals – some of whom might have been ‘first-off-the-boat’ settlers from Europe.
Owsley now plans to study the bones in his lab in Washington, D.C. He and other scholars are undertaking a unique study of nearly 300 sets of skeletons gathered from Colonial-era burial sites in Virginia and Maryland. Owsley wants to include any new data about these settlers in the study.
The research will be featured in an exhibition organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in 2007. This falls on the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
Owsley is excited by this discovery because written records about early settlers, particularly indentured servants and Africans, are rare and incomplete. Bones, said Owsley, can give up their secrets when examined using modern technology to analyse carbon and nitrogen isotopes and other mineral components. They reveal all sorts of hidden information about health, lifestyle, and nutrition.
Although it is currently thought that the remains found on the Eastern Coast are those of servants who were so poor that they worked for someone else to pay for their voyage to the New World, they were wrapped in shrouds and buried in wooden coffins. Evocatively, this indicates that someone cared about them.
This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 8. Click here to subscribe