Digging among the dead at Jamestown

When you're digging in and around a churchyard that reaches back 400 years, you can expect to uncover more than the usual number of 6-foot-long ovals or rectangles  signaling the presence of a grave shaft.

And in 20 years of probing the ground in and around James Fort, the archaeologists at Historic Jamestowne have encountered  this tell-tale signature of disturbed soil literally hundreds of times, plotting them all on a map that's covered with burials.

Among the nearly 100 graves they've  excavated fully during that time, one of the most famous may be that of JR102C, whose long-lost grave shaft was found under an old roadbed about 100 feet south of the mid-1600s church tower in the summer of 1996.

Excavating the remains in secret, Bill Kelso and his team waited until the September press conference announcing their discovery of the fort to make this dramatic find public.

But I was lucky enough to have earned the chance to witness their work the night before -- giving me just enough time to enrich the multi-page spread we'd been working on for weeks with an internationally significant spot story and a riveting photograph.

Since that time, many more graves have emerged from the ground, including several recently unearthed in a newly opened area near the old churchyard

Here's a link to Historic Jamestowne's recent post on discovering graves -- plus archaeologist Danny Schmidt's fascinating video explanation of how the scientists read the disturbed soil and determine what to do when a grave shaft is discovered.

-- Mark St. John Erickson



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