July 10: Jamestown: things have changed in 25 years

A view along the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Jamestown.
A view along the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Jamestown.

Today was sorta surreal. Jamestown is one of the places I have the strongest memories of from being here in 1991 with my ex. I remember wandering around, looking at the foundations of the buildings of the town, some statuary, and that was about all that was there.

Things changed in Jamestown when an archaeology professor came to visit in the early 90s and asked where the fort was. When he was told that the fort site had been lost to erosion and was out in the river, he said, I bet I can prove you were wrong. They gave him permission to dig and told him he had ten years. He found the foundation of the fort in less than one, and they’ve been excavating it ever since.

The result is that there’s so much more to Jamestown than there was when I was here last time, and the scale of things (they’ve literally found thousands of artifacts) and the knowledge they’ve gained is just amazing. I took a tour led by a young woman who works for Preservation Virginia (the non-profit that is in charge of the excavations, which are adjacent to the NPS land, but not on it), who told the story, and about the excavations, and what they’ve found and how they found it, and was spellbinding in spite of the heat, and in spite of the fact that the supposed 45-minute tour ended up lasting almost an hour and a half. I would not have missed this for the world.

The obelisk I saw from the ferry the other day.  Turns out it was constructed to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the settling of Jamestown in 1607.
The obelisk I saw from the ferry the other day. Turns out it was constructed to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the settling of Jamestown in 1607.
One of the excavations.  This was a cellar with a well in it, and apparently what the settlers did when the wells went bad (which happened regularly that close to the brackish river) was use them as garbage dumps, aka archaeological treasure troves.
One of the excavations. This was a cellar with a well in it, and apparently what the settlers did when the wells went bad (which happened regularly that close to the brackish river) was use them as garbage dumps, aka archaeological treasure troves.
Part of the remains of Jamestown's first church, with four graves at the front, the people inside of which they've been able to identify.
Part of the remains of Jamestown’s first church, with four graves at the front, the people inside of which they’ve been able to identify.

Then, after a very pleasant lunch in the café on site, I went to the museum, where I saw some of the artifacts she told us about. It made it all so real.

This is Jane (they don't know who she actually was, so they just gave her the name).  Her skull proved definitively that yes, the Jamestown settlers did practice cannibalism during the "starving times" during the first winter.  That's her skull on the left, and a conception of what she might have looked like on the right.  Apparently this discovery was *huge* in archaeological circles when she was found a few years ago.
This is Jane (they don’t know who she actually was, so they just gave her the name). Her skull proved definitively that yes, the Jamestown settlers did practice cannibalism during the “starving times” during the first winter. That’s her skull on the left, and a conception of what she might have looked like on the right. Apparently this discovery was *huge* in archaeological circles when she was found a few years ago.
This tiny (three inches maybe?) silver box is a Catholic reliquary, found in one of the graves in that church above.  Which was Anglican.  The story that went with that is too long to detail here, but it was really fascinating.
This tiny (three inches maybe?) silver box is a Catholic reliquary, found in one of the graves in that church above. Which was Anglican. The story that went with that is too long to detail here, but it was really fascinating.

I think even Emerson would have approved.

Deer in the swamp between Jamestown and the visitor center.
Deer in the swamp between Jamestown and the visitor center.
Another view of the swamp and the deer.  There's a very nice jugwalk causeway over it, thank goodness.  Oh, and I've never seen so many dragonflies in one place before.  Too bad none of them would hold still long enough for a photo.
Another view of the swamp and the deer. There’s a very nice jugwalk causeway over it, thank goodness. Oh, and I’ve never seen so many dragonflies in one place before. Too bad none of them would hold still long enough for a photo.
Wooden causeway along the Jamestown Island Road, which was a pretty drive with lots of historical signs.
Wooden causeway along the Jamestown Island Road, which was a pretty drive with lots of historical signs.

There was another museum in the NPS visitor center, but my brain was on overload by then, so I decided to take the little drive around the island, which let it rest a bit (and let me sit in the AC), then I decided to come on back to the motel, since it was getting late in the afternoon already.

Tomorrow I’m going back out to see the museum I missed, then go to the living history museum across the road, and I think I’m going to end up spending a fourth night here, and head for the eastern shore on Tuesday after a morning at Yorktown. I don’t have to be in Baltimore till Thursday, so there’s plenty of time. It’s just that there’s so much to do here!