Curators and conservators at the Jamestown Rediscovery lab encountered surprises this past week as they continued to examine the artifacts retrieved from a pit that may have been an early 17th- century cellar. Excavating their way down through the Civil War earthwork that covers much of the fort, archaeologists in the field exposed the layer of soil that Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas would have known in 1607. They also opened new squares along the James River side of the fort as they widened the search for evidence of the colony's first church.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL FEATURE OF THE WEEK
Reinforced by the students of the summer field school, archaeologists sifted through tons of artifact-laden soil this past week, exposing several promising new features as they took a quartet of 10-by-10-foot excavation units down to their 17th-century layers. Among the finds is an unusually large early posthole, possibly indicating part of a building, and an as yet unidentified oval stain that could be part of a grave shaft. "It's a nice big early posthole and - if it links up with anything else - we may be able to follow it to some sort of structure," senior staff archaeologist Jamie May says. "We've already pulled out our maps to see if it could be related to anything we found in previous years."
ARTIFACT OF THE WEEK
Curator Bly Straube could hardly believe her eyes when archaeologists probing the cellar in the northeast corner of the fort recovered an early Roman oil lamp dating to 100 or 200 AD. Made in Gaul, the mass-produced firma lampe would have been common in Roman London, she says, and it was probably brought to Jamestown some 1,500 years later as part of a load of ship ballast dredged up from the Thames River. Less likely, yet still plausible, is the possibility that the tiny lamp arrived in the baggage of a gentleman scholar who had collected it as a classical curiosity. "It's a real surprise for us," Straube says. "But I'm beginning to think that nothing at Jamestown should surprise us." SECRETS IN THE DIRT CONTINUES, D2
IN THE LAB
Conservator Dan Gamble has spent considerable time over the past few weeks treating a well-preserved length of wrought-iron chain recovered from a well in the northeast corner of the fort in 2006. Though buried for nearly 400 years, the carefully cleaned S-shaped links still clank and ring like new when pulled from their therapeutic bath of deionized water. "It could have been used with the well bucket. But it also might have come from a ship," Straube says. "We're soaking it in deionized water to remove the chlorides and bring them down to an acceptable level. Otherwise it would continue to rust."
PINNING DOWN THE PAST
Four recently conserved fragments of a large tin-glazed Italian dish have been mended to form one of the most lavish examples of high social status ever unearthed at James Fort. Using an English ceramics scholar as a go-between, Straube has consulted with an Italian expert who dates the vessel to the 1500s. The expert also expressed intense interest in learning more about the early 17th-century cellar in which it was found. "We've become an increasingly important resource for scholars in other fields because we have such a definite starting date - so we can put these things in very tight contexts," Straube says. "We're really changing the histories of a lot of different cultural materials because of the artifacts we're finding here."
PUTTING THE PUZZLE TOGETHER
As the excavation reaches down into the 17th-century layers of soil, archaeologists are watching keenly as each new feature from the James Fort period emerges. But much more digging will be needed in order to determine exactly what the posthole, possible grave shaft and other finds actually mean. "We're just starting to get the 17th-century features that we've been looking for," May says. "These are sorts of things that could tell us what is going on, but what they're saying isn't clear yet."Copyright © 2015, CT Now