The National Endowment for the Humanities Helped Archaeologist William Kelso and His Team Find Jamestown

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Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund important programs.

It is probably the greatest archaeological discovery in American history. For over two hundred years historians and archaeologists had assumed that Jamestown, the first successful English colony in America, was decaying somewhere at the bottom of the James River.  Archaeologist William Kelso had other ideas.  In 1994 he took a shovel and started digging.  With the help of over $300,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities he found the fort!

Here is a small taste of the story, courtesy of the NEH website:

…Soon joined by a rotating team of scientists, curators, and volunteers, Kelso began to uncover postholes (pits that once held upright structural timbers), old cellars, and all sorts of cultural detritus: ceramic shards, tobacco pipes, food scraps, and pieces of European armor, some of which had been modified for New World combat. By 1996, the team was confident enough in their finds to announce publicly the rediscovery of James Fort, the first settlement’s first structure, and begin aligning the physical evidence they had gathered with the sparse written records of Smith and others who lived there.

The story that the documentary and archaeological evidence tells is one of hope and industry set against the brutal realities of life in the New World. The colonists built impressive fortifications but struggled for power among themselves (the first grave found at the site contained an Englishman likely killed by a musket ball). They manufactured glass and copper beads for trade with local Powhatan tribes but never managed to establish enduring peace with the native people (Smith himself was abducted but, according to his own account, saved by Pocahontas). For the sake of claiming a share of the New World, they endured disease, the constant threat of violence, and, during the winter of 1609, hunger so dire they resorted to cannibalism.

That last grisly item—recounted in a number of seventeenth-century sources—was confirmed in 2012, when the Jamestown Rediscovery team disinterred the bones of a young English woman. Her skull bore markings consistent with what forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum describes as “postmortem processing.”

Read more here.  And here is some information about the Jamestown Rediscovery Project.

And a couple of cool videos:

For other posts in this series click here.

One thought on “The National Endowment for the Humanities Helped Archaeologist William Kelso and His Team Find Jamestown

  1. What William Kelso and company have done over the years is nothing short of remarkable. As this is a national treasure, I sure hope funding can remain. I have had the privilege of leading field trips and conducting several travel intensive classes to Jamestown. Kelso has always been gracious to interact with my students on the site. Yes, on any given day you may see him out there still digging and finding 400 year old artifacts. Thanks John for reminding us of this and many other worthy endeavors funded by the NEH.

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