Archaeologists discover shape, size of Jamestown fort

Associated Press

JAMESTOWN, Va. — Seven years after archaeologists discovered evidence of the fort built when Jamestown was founded in 1607, they finally know how big the triangle-shaped log enclosure was.

Digging this summer unearthed evidence of the fort’s western wall and north corner, defining the fort’s shape for the first time and indicating it actually enclosed 1.1 acres, said William Kelso, director of archaeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

“Now we know exactly how to approach the excavation” of the first permanent English settlement in America, Kelso said as digging continued Tuesday. “We can connect the dots.”

Previously, archaeologists thought the fort covered 1.75 acres, based on historical documents and the 1996 discovery of the enclosure’s east corner.

“It’s almost like a jigsaw puzzle,” Kelso said. “You’ve got the picture on the box. You’ve got a few pieces here and there. Now you can see it come together like this.”

The goal is to analyze the interior to learn more about the architecture and come up with a town plan. Archaeologists already have found the remains of what appear to be barracks, but there should also be a church and storeroom near the center, as well as other public buildings and wells, Kelso said.

Jamestown began as a business venture when three ships carrying 100 men and four boys landed on a small island on the James River in 1607. During the winter of 1609-1610, according to written accounts, many settlers died from starvation, disease and Indian attacks.

The APVA has been working since 1994 to unearth the original Jamestown fort. Scientists and historians long had believed that the river had washed away any remains. Kelso and his team of archaeologists found the first evidence of the fort in the east corner in 1996, and searched for the rest of the fort from there.

“We projected too large,” Kelso said.

Dark brown stains from the west wall were found inside an area where a Confederate fort was built during the Civil War. The wall turned out to be near a well and a burial site that were discovered last year and seemed to mark the center of the fort. That could have meant the fort was twice as big as had been estimated, or about 4 acres, Kelso said last year.

On Tuesday, Kelso said the well and burial site were outside the fort but inside the town of Jamestown.

The north bulwark, a raised earthen fortification, was found underneath about six feet of dirt, near the outer edge of earthworks next to a dirt road that runs through the site. Bits of charcoal were found in the north bulwark area, evidence of at least one fire.

Careful records are being kept of the earthworks being excavated so they eventually can be put back together the way they were, Kelso said.

This summer’s findings indicate all three walls of the triangle were palisades made with timber posts and upright logs, Kelso said.

Recent digging also confirmed that most of the fort’s west bulwark was eroded away by the river, Kelso said. However, a short section of a bulwark moat was protected by a sea wall built in the early 1900s.

Artifacts dating to the period when Jamestown was built have found in the moat, including pieces of ceramics, coins and a tobacco pipe.