Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Historic Jamestowne - Jamestown, VA 2015

Let's leave the cold winter of 2016 and go back several months to a much warmer time and some nice memories of our Summer 2015 trip. One of the places that we went back to on this trip was Historic Jamestowne - the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia site of the original Jamestown site - the first English settlement in America in 1607.

This is a historic site and "attraction" that is always in transition. You can visit this week and next week there may be a discovery that will change history and it will be presented to those visiting as it is happening. Before this trip, I knew that there had been a new discovery that was doing just that. Historic Jamestowne is also known as Jamestown Rediscovery. Rediscovery because until 1994 no one really knew for sure what lay beneath the ground on this historic site and landmark. It was known that this was the site of the original settlement and the start of the colony. It was known that there was a fort built here, but it was believed that the ground that the fort stood on had been overtaken by the James River and sat somewhere close by off shore under the water. This is what you would be told when taking a tour - this is what I was told when I was a boy visiting with my parent's in the 1960's. They would point out into the James River and say that was where the fort was. They would walk you past monuments and a series of rolling hills that were the "Confederate Earthworks" - an earthen fort the Confederate soldiers built during the early part of the  Civil War to defend this area from Northern attack from the James River. I was always interested in history and always curious. I also have always had a sense of what is logical and I remember that my thought then was clearly this - if the original Jamestown Fort is supposed to be in the river but no one is really sure, then why has no one dug here - in the Confederate Earthworks that bordered the river - just to make sure that Jamestown was not underneath. I remember asking the guide/Park Ranger this and was told that the earthworks were just as much a part of history as Jamestown and no one would ever desecrate that historic landmark. Well, it seems that I was not the only one who had this thought, and before I got there, Dr. William Kelso came to the site in 1963 as a grad student and had the same idea. It took him until 1994 for the permissions to be had, the grants to be obtained and the digging to start - only to discover that I  - and Dr. Kelso - were correct. The whole thing is under where so many had walked since 1607 and little by little - with some leaps and bounds - it is all being revealed.

If you have any interest in history at all this is really exciting. You can go to a museum or a historic site and look at things in a glass case and see an old structure and someone will tell you this or that happened here and this is what we found and this is exciting, but you are looking at the same things that so many others have looked at coming there. You will do that here too - BUT you may just be here on a day when an archaeologist is digging in just the right spot and will pull out of the dirt something that no one has seen for over 400 years until that moment when the person digging and you watching will see it for the first time since. Here is a video that will show you what I am talking about -

 This is why we keep going back. The last time that we were at Historic Jamestowne we also got to experience another first - a significant earthquake. There were no earthquakes this time but I did have a new experience that I will tell you about later on. I also got to use my National Park Service Senior Pass for the first time - and I knew ahead of time that I would not get to go in free since the NPS is joint here with Preservation Virginia and they do not accept the pass for any discount - but we did only pay $5 each rather than the usual admission price of $14.00 each which was OK by me!

There is RV parking here at Historic Jamestowne that will accommodate large RVs. Because the Roadtrek can often fit in a regular single car parking space and the spaces here are all up against a low curb with grass behind, we just parked the Roadtrek in a regular parking space. If you come in a larger RV or trailer just follow the signs to the RV parking lot and you will have no problem parking.

There is a museum in the Visitor's Center building that has been in existence since before Jamestown Rediscovery and that has some interesting artifacts - though none to the original settlement. There is also an introductory film presentation that is very well done and should be seen before heading outside. There are also tours and programs that are scheduled throughout the day. These include tours guided by Park Rangers and also first person living history programs where you will encounter specific people of the past who were there.

The new discovery that I wanted to see was outside but we watched the film, saw a living history presentation (that related to this new discovery),  and joined a tour before we headed along on our own.  A recent focus has been on the original church (Church of England or Anglican Church) of 1608. The church that most are familiar with at Jamestown is a later church building which a good section of which had remained standing through the years (the large brick building seen in one of the photos below). The Church of 1608 is long gone but with the discovery of the fort and locating where things were, the location of the church has been known. In 2015, four graves were found on the location of the church - four of Jamestown's founders - and with one of them was found a little silver box.

As you can see in the photo above - taken of a sign at the site, the skeletons of the four men were uncovered (they remain there still) and on the left of the photo you can see a picture of the silver box.

What is the big deal about a small silver box when there have been so many things dug up here at Historic Jamestowne? The box is identified as a "Reliquary" - a container of Holy Relics. It cannot be opened without damaging it but it has been examined with high technology to see what is inside. There are seven pieces of bone, two fragments of lead ampulla which is a small flat flask to hold holy water or sacred blood. So what? This is something only a Catholic would have. So what? Catholics are not accepted in England at this period of time - since Henry the Eighth broke England away from the Catholic Church and the Pope declared the King and Great Britain his enemy and Britain returned the sentiment. Catholics were called Papists (the followers of the Pope) and they were not tolerated in England. So what is a Catholic Reliquary doing in the grave of a founder of Jamestown? It has been felt over time that there may have been one or more Spanish spies in Jamestown. The Spanish were the enemy - not just because they were Catholics but for many reasons of the time. Could this noted figure of the colony be one of them? No one knows for sure. Perhaps someday more evidence will surface about why this was in this grave, but this was a major discovery - and is noted for 2015 as one of the Top Ten archaeology discoveries in the world for 2015. This is not the first time that a discovery at Historic Jamestowne has achieved this honor.  To historians this really is a big deal.

There have been other discoveries as well in this past year - not quite so monumental as the silver box but of interest. A cellar kitchen has been unearthed which was part of the bread bakery for the settlement. There were two bake ovens found in the walls of what was the cellar to an above ground building. Below you can see one of them.

The beginning of the colony was very difficult and there came a period that is called "The Starving Time". In this cellar were found bones that had been butchered for food - and proving what has been long suspected, the some of the colonists resorted to cannibalism to survive as there were human bones among these including several parts of the young woman pictured at the left of the photo above - named now as "Jane". You can see Jane in the exceptional museum of many of the artifacts that have been brought up at Historic Jamestowne - thanks to Preservation Virginia and Jamestown Rediscovery.

My other first on this visit was to experience 3D goggles as part of a hands on exhibit area in a shed located between the fort site and the Preservation Virginia museum. This is only open select hours and it has a number of things that you can see up close and touch. The 3D goggles contained the bake oven cellar site and by putting them on you could move around the archaeological dig - walk through it, turn and see around it - reach out and feel that you could perhaps touch it (which, of course you can't and won't until someone finally invents the holodeck). This blew me away. With all of the history around me, I was so impresses with this 21st Century high tech device. We would have easily passed up this little education shed - we usually do figuring that they are intended for children, but I am so happy that I decide to go and take a look inside this one!

Meryl got to see something that she was looking forward to seeing also. I have mentioned before that Meryl researches and is becoming quite an authority on historic embroidery - focusing on the 17th through 19th Centuries. There was a reenactment this past year of Pocahontas's wedding to John Rolfe. A number of embroiders volunteered to recreate the wedding clothing worn by Pocahontas and this was on exhibit in (of all places) the gift shop at the Preservation Virginia museum. Meryl got to see it up close - she did not participate in its creation but she had followed it along as it was discussed in progress.

The embroidery is on her shift and cap. This was worn by the woman portraying Pocahontas at the reenactment of the wedding four hundred years after the actual event.

We always have a good time here. I highly recommend this as a must see. America started here - not in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 but in Virginia at Jamestown in 1607.  Historic Jamestowne is not to be missed.

1 comment:

  1. I'm hoping to go there some day.
    Very interesting post.
    Thank you