Despite numerous archaeological studies of Native American sites over the years, the excavation responsible for unearthing one of the largest collections of material from a vanished way of life is the 20-year-old dig exploring the first permanent settlement planted by the English.
Since pushing their first shovel into the ground in 1994, the archaeologists of the Jamestown Rediscovery project have recovered tens and tens of thousands of Indian artifacts -- including nearly 50,000 pieces of pottery alone -- mixed among some 2 million objects left by the settlers.
But not until the completion of a new
"The new exhibit represents one-fifth of the museum -- so it's substantial change for us," Jamestown Rediscovery Conservator Michael Lavin says, describing the scale of the effort aimed at helping mark the 400th anniversary of the marriage of Powhatan Indian princess
"And when you consider everything we've found here, it's a change that was long overdue."
Saved by shovels
Superior technology made all the difference in
For more than four centuries, the relative depth of these subterranean features made them largely secure from the disrupting blades of hoes and plows, which regularly erased the traces of native life deposited so much closer to the surface.
"The English dug deep holes -- and the Indians didn't," Jamestown Rediscovery director
"So most of what the Indians left in the ground has been scraped away except for sites like this."
A previously unrecognized alliance between the settlers and the Indians played a vital part in the
As many as 40 or 50 of the settlers took Indian brides, Kelso said, and these women and their families then brought a constant stream of native materials and practices inside the fort's walls.
Then there were the trading relationships that developed between the English and the surrounding world, which led not just to the exchange of European and Indian-made goods but also to the founding of various in-fort shops manufacturing such things as mussel-shell beads.
"We've found evidence of the entire process taking place here," Lavin says, "with complete mussel shells, hammered mussel shell fragments, still smaller pieces and then pieces with drilled holes.
"And we have not just the finished beads but the actual stone drills."
In addition to nearly 2,000 mussel shell beads, the archaeologists have recovered many other examples of traditional Powhatan Indian practices and technology, including cutting and pounding stones known as celts and various kinds of stones used to crack and grind nuts and corn.
Scores and scores of stone projectile points have emerged from the features in and around the fort, too, including some fabricated from mineral sources located hundreds of miles away from
Still other points made from European flint reflect the interaction between the Indian and English cultures, with the Powhatans adopting a new material for a traditional purpose.
The same sort of hybrid rethinking can be seen in the instructive number of points hewn by hand from deer antlers.
"The Indian women would cut off the tips of the antlers to make the points," archaeologist
"But if you look carefully you can see they were doing the cutting with an English saw."
The settlers became adept at adapting and borrowing, too, as demonstrated by the way the natives' clay tobacco pipes inspired the hallmark examples fashioned at the fort by settler
So similar are their forms -- if not their distinctive decoration -- that even May has found herself confused by the resemblance.
"One time I found a pipe and became very excited -- because I thought it was a
The enterprising English potter adapted other native objects to guide his work, too, including the woven baskets that served as forms for some of his own clay vessels.
And it takes a sharp eye to distinguish the resulting Anglo-Indian pots from the originals.
"What's so interesting and surprising about the quantity and variety of the contact-period Indian artifacts we've found is the way they're making us rethink our ideas about the relationship between the settlement and the surrounding world," Kelso said.
"The Indians were supposed to have been the enemy. They were supposed to have been way out there beyond the walls of the fort. But now we're seeing that things weren't that simple."
Erickson can be reached at 757-247-4783. Find more
"The World of Pocahontas Unearthed"
Where: Voorhees Archaearium at Historic Jamestowne, on
Cost: Included in park admission of
Information: 757-856-1259 or 757-229-4997, Ext. 100. http://www.historicjamestowne.org
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