In September 1996, Jamestown Rediscovery
unearthed the remains of a colonial settler. The previously unknown grave was located under an old roadbed, about 100 feet south of the church tower. The soil that filled the grave shaft contained only a few artifacts
, and those could be dated to the early years of colonial occupation at Jamestown.
The skeleton was that of a white male, only 18-20 years of age. He was about 5'9" and slightly built, but with a fairly strong upper body. His teeth and bones show no signs of early childhood diseases. His right leg is broken and twisted below the knee, where the young man was shot. A lead musket ball and smaller lead shot
remain on and within the bone. This wound, and the resulting loss of blood, was the likely cause of death. There appears to have been no attempt to remove the lead, or to set the leg, and no healing took place in the bone prior to death. There is no evidence indicating additional wounds to the body.
The young man was buried in a six-sided, flat-lidded coffin, which was shown by soil stains from the decayed wood, and by the rusted iron nails used to build it. The fact that he was buried in a coffin may suggest that he had a gentleman's status. He was buried unclothed, and may have been wrapped in a length of cloth or shroud, as was the custom. Small brass straight pins left green stains on his cranium and right shin; these pins may have fastened a loose wrapping.
Soil conditions and time caused the bones to be fragile and somewhat deteriorated. Small or thin bones, like the hands, feet, ribs, and the sides of the pelvis, are the first affected by these conditions, and some from this skeleton are completely gone. Because of the delicate condition of the remains, Jamestown Rediscovery
archaeologists removed the entire skeleton intact, on a large pedestal of soil. This process involved digging deep trenches around the burial area with heavy machinery, then undercutting and lifting the heavy pedestal of dirt
, without disturbing the bones.
The skeleton was taken to the archaeological lab for additional study. Forensic anthropologists from the Smithsonian Institution analyzed the bones and reconstructed much of the skull, which was crushed from centuries of ground pressure. From that reconstruction, artist Sharon Long created a facial approximation
that may resemble what the young man looked like in life.
At this time, we do not know who the fallen colonist was, or whether he was shot accidentally or intentionally. Additional research and analysis may narrow down the possibilities, but we may never know with certainty.