In 2013, archaeologists digging beneath a church in Jamestown, Virginia, discovered four graves. The church they were excavating was built in 1608 and was the same church where Pocahontas married John Rolfe in 1614. What they found inside the graves helped them identify the Jamestown leaders that were buried there hundreds of years ago.
While the wooden coffins have decayed over the years, the nails remained. Along with the nails, the team found a sealed silver box that had wooden fiber remains on the bottom, signifying it had been placed on top of the coffin when buried, along with silver threads. According to a news release, this provided the archaeologists with two important clues as to who was buried there.
A team from Jamestown Rediscovery analyzed these threads using high-resolution X-ray scanners. From the scans, the researchers found that the threads belonged to a captain's sash with silver wires and silk and bullion fringe. The researchers noted that the silk fabric was able to survive due to salts from copper alloys in the silver, which preserved it over time, according to the release.
"Once we identified the fringe, we could go to period paintings and identify gentlemen in this type of regalia," Michael Lavin, a senior conservator at Jamestown Rediscovery, said in the release.
The silver box was sent to General Electric for higher energy CT scans, which revealed small bones and a lead ampulla that traditionally contained blood, oil, or holy water. Then the researchers used a 3D printer to re-create models of the presumed human bones and the ampulla. Using those models, forensic analysis, and research in the archives regarding high-status men in the colony from 1608 to 1617, the researchers identified the four graves.
The first, Captain Gabriel Archer, was one of the most important early leaders. The second, Captain William West, was buried with a sash that symbolized his rank in the military. He died while fighting elite Native American warriors in 1610. The third, Reverend Robert Hunt, was the first Anglican minister in Jamestown. Finally, Sir Ferdinando Wainman, was identified as the fourth. He was a high-ranking officer and the first English knight buried in America.
Their findings were published in the journal Nature.
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