Guided by preliminary fieldwork conducted in 2002, the team of more than 20 scientists has discovered three notably well-preserved blocks of features since it began investigating the 50-acre site late last month, College of William and Mary archaeologist Martin Gallivan said Wednesday.
All three excavations have produced numerous artifacts dating to the time of Powhatan's rule, including early examples of European objects brought by the Colonists. They also hint at the presence of an unusually large and powerful native settlement like that described by Capt. John Smith -- after he was captured by Powhatan's warriors, taken to a flourishing village called Werowocomoco, then befriended and possibly saved from death by Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas.
"This site is remarkably intact.
It dates to the late Woodland and early contact period -- and there are some intriguing features that suggest we're dealing with a habitation that was organized somewhat differently from the typical Algonquin Indian village of the period," Gallivan said. "The potential here is tremendous."
Conducted by the W&M archaeological field school, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Werowocomoco Research Group, the first season of the multiyear study ends Friday.
Among the features uncovered is a 20-by-25-foot block of posthole stains and trenches located on a bluff overlooking the York River.
Dating to the period when the English Colonists arrived, the area contains the site's densest concentration of ceramic fragments, projectile points and other artifacts, said archaeologist David A. Brown. Also found were signs of what could be a modest fence line or a small palisade as well as two spaces devoted to such activities as making tools.
A second set of features located farther inland -- and now surrounded by a cornfield -- included additional postholes as well as artifacts from the same time period, Gallivan said.
Farther from the river still -- and measuring approximately 850 yards from the first, waterfront excavation -- is yet a third block of features also linked to the time of Powhatan's rule.
"This is a humongous site for an Indian village," said archaeologist E. Randolph Turner II, director of the Portsmouth district office of the state Department of Historic Resources. "And it's one of the things that makes this site consistent with what we know about Werowocomoco."
Still more evidence could spring from two unusually large, parallel ditches discovered during the excavation of the third set of features.
Though originally believed to be Colonial because of their size, the roughly 4-foot-wide trenches contained only Indian artifacts, prompting Gallivan to describe them as "extraordinary."
"Ditches of this sort just don't tend to show up in Native American sites from this period," said archaeologist Thane Harpole. "Something this size requires a huge amount of labor -- and that implies both ample manpower and an unusual level of organization."
Whether the ditches represent some sort of extraordinary Indian public works project -- and another link to the well-developed village at Werowocomoco -- remains to be determined.
Only 25 feet of the provocative features had been uncovered when the archaeologists knocked off work Wednesday, leaving any potential explanation to future excavations.
Even with its unanswered questions, the York River site has started to attract visitors from Virginia's Indian community.
Welcomed by owners Bob and Lynn Ripley, who began finding artifacts when they purchased the property seven years ago, more than a dozen members of the Mattaponi, Pamunkey and Chickahominy tribes stopped by the dig this week.
One woman stayed to wash artifacts, said Deanna E. Beacham, program specialist for the Virginia Council on Indians. Many others walked the site alone to contemplate its potential meaning.
"When most of your lands have been taken away and your special places have been lost, the opportunity to come here is unique," Beacham explained.
"The feeling of connection we get is very strong."