Historic Jamestowne Archaearium to Open May 13; First Public Debut of Archaeological Treasures
JAMESTOWN -- Objects belonging to Jamestown colonists 400 years ago, unearthed from the long lost James Fort site, will be presented to the public for the first time in the Archaearium, a new exhibition facility at Historic Jamestowne. The new facility showcases the findings of the world-renowned archaeological discoveries at the first permanent English settlement in the New World and the birthplace of America.
Many of the artifacts from Historic Jamestowne's collection will be on exhibit in the Archaearium
Developed by APVA Preservation Virginia, the innovative $4.9 million facility opens Saturday, May 13, on the 399th anniversary of Jamestown. Elizabeth Kostelny, executive director of APVA Preservation Virginia, said the Archaearium (pronounced ark – ee – air – ee – um) links history, archaeology and a sense of place to tell the story of Jamestown from 1607 to 1699. "Every American should visit here. This is where our nation began," she said.
The Archaearium and the archaeological research are the APVA Preservation Virginia's signature contributions to Jamestown's 400th anniversary in 2007. The Archaearium is also the centerpiece of the overall $63 million master plan, created in partnership with the National Park Service, for new interpretive experiences and that will open at Historic Jamestowne during the next year including a new visitor center that will tell the history of Jamestown and the Indian, European and African peoples who lived there. Plans also include a riverside restaurant, enhanced visitor transportation opportunities and outdoor exhibits.
Exhibits focus on the Virginia Company period and reveal a new understanding of the first English settlers, their relationship with the Virginia Indians, their endeavors and struggles, and how they lived, died and shaped a new society. Visitors will discover how archaeologists found the fort and encounter displays of arms and armor, medical instruments, personal objects, ceramics, tools, coins, trade items, musical instruments, games, amusements and food remains. Interactive virtual viewers overlooking the site will virtually transport visitors back in time and show them where objects were recovered and what the fort looked like 400 years ago. The viewers also include videos showing the remains of buildings, wells and artifacts as they were unearthed.
Dead men's tales are also told. The results of forensic research on the remains believed to be those of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold, a founding father of Jamestown, and the preliminary analysis of over 70 other burials and facial reconstructions of three early settlers will bring visitors face-to-face with human stories from the past.
"The story of Jamestown is not without controversy or conflict, but it is emblematic of the American spirit of endurance, survival and adaptation," Kostelny said. "John Smith and other Englishmen established Jamestown as a commercial venture and built a fort to protect themselves from the Spanish domination of the New World. Their contact with Pocahontas and the Virginia Indians changed the world forever –- a new nation was created, the native people nearly erased. The first representative government assembly was held here in 1619, a giant step toward the creation of a future American democracy that would ultimately free and give voting rights to African slaves that began arriving that same year. Tobacco trade strengthened the economy, and Jamestown served as the capital of Virginia until 1699."
Featured in documentaries by National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, PBS and the BBC, the ongoing archaeological project has attracted global media attention since the discovery of the James Fort site was announced in 1996, dispelling the long-held belief that it had eroded into the river. Since then, the remains of palisades, buildings and wells, and over a million artifacts have been unearthed. Most of the fort site still exists on land. Representative sections of the walls have been built over the footprint of the fort, so visitors can stand in the exact spot that marks the epicenter of the beginning of the United States.
Kostelny explained that the design of the 7,500 sq. ft. Archaearium overlooking the James River and the fort site integrates the historic landscape into the interpretative experience. "Seeing objects within view of the sites where they were unearthed – where they were last touched by the colonists who lived here – creates an immediate and powerful connection with the past. They can also walk around the site and see the current excavations and sites where structures and objects were discovered," she said
Interpretive exhibits were developed by Haley Sharpe Design from Leicester, England, and the archaeological staff. Bly Straube, APVA senior curator, selected artifacts from the collection that best articulate the way of life at Jamestown and "provide a richer, fairer, more intimate understanding of the beginnings of our nation." She added that visitors will discover not only what archaeologists have learned, but how they know what they know through the process of analyzing finds in relationship to where they were found and what was found with them.
William Kelso, director of archaeology, said evidence of the earliest known surgery in English America, attempts at industry and metallurgy, building and rebuilding of the fort, sophisticated architecture, trade with the Indians, adaptation to the environment in the midst of the worst drought in 770 years, and other discoveries revealed through the exhibits dispel the lingering view traditionally held by some historians that the Jamestown settlers were lazy, ill-prepared and incompetent. Exhibits also provide evidence of friendly as well as hostile interactions with the Indians.
Compelling forensic research on the remains believed to be those of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold, a founding father of Jamestown, and "JR", a young gentleman who died of a musket ball wound to his knee, is showcased along with facial reconstructions of three early colonists. A preliminary analysis of over 70 other burials from the mid-1600s that were excavated from an unmarked graveyard discovered beneath the Statehouse provides insight into the population, life expectancy, how they lived and died, and how they buried their dead. Kostelny said these skeletal remains will be reinterred in the Archaearium's memorial courtyard during 2007.
A three-dimensional representation of a 1620s well shows almost a full suit of armor and dozens of objects suspended within it just as they were discovered by archaeologists. A partial reconstruction of a mud and stud building represents the early architecture of the fort, and 17th-century wine bottles including one stamped with the seal of Governor Francis Nicholson, are displayed as they were found in a cellar from the late 1600s when Jamestown was still the capital of Virginia.
Built over the remains of the last Statehouse in Jamestown (1660-1698), the Archaearium also allows visitors to see portions of the excavated ruins of the Statehouse through sections of glass flooring and preserves the foundations. An outline of the building's foundations is represented throughout the facility in the carpeting.
For APVA Preservation Virginia, the Archaearium continues a tradition of preserving the cultural and natural environment of Jamestown Island that began over a hundred years ago when they acquired 22.5 acres in 1893. The National Park Service purchased the rest of the 1,500 acre island in 1932. Today, the island is jointly preserved and interpreted by the two organizations.
According to Kostelny, the Archaearium, designed by Carlton Abbott and Partners and built by Daniel & Company, promises to become the model for the preservation and interpretation of archaeological sites in the future and for environmentally sensitive green building elements and technology
The one-story building rests on a series of pilings carefully sited to avoid disturbing seventeenth century-archaeological features or artifacts, and is designed to withstand high winds and possible rises in water levels in this hurricane susceptible region. The exterior of the building is clad in copper sheathing enhancing its energy efficiency and acknowledging the importance of copper in trade between the Virginia Indians and early settlers. Large glass panels front the building and connect the interior exhibits to the landscape on which the archaeological features and artifacts were unearthed.
If you go...
Visitors can also share the moment of discovery with archaeologists and witness archaeology-in-action at the 1607 James Fort excavation, tour the original 17th-century church tower and reconstructed 17th-century Jamestown Memorial Church, take a walking tour with a park ranger through the original settlement along the scenic James River and watch costumed glassblowers at the Glasshouse. Driving tours explore the lush natural setting where visitors regularly see bald eagles, heron, osprey, deer and other wildlife. Admission to the site is $8.00 for adults; youth under age 17 are admitted free. Admission is valid for seven days. Historic Jamestowne is located at the western terminus of the Colonial Parkway. The entrance gate is open daily until 4:30 p.m. Extended summer hours are offered through May 27 – August 13 with the gate open until 5:30 p.m. For additional information, call 757-229-1733 or 757-898-2410, or visit the Internet at www.historicjamestowne.org.
Note: The Jamestown Settlement museum located about a mile away, administered by the Commonwealth of Virginia's Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, offers a film, museum exhibits, and outdoor re-creations of a colonial fort, a Powhatan Indian village, and three ships like those that brought the settlers to Jamestown.