Home -- Historic Jamestowne Historic Jamestowne Painting
Visit Calendar News The Dig Biographies History Education Donate Shop About Us Links Site Map
HomeThe DigDecember 2009
Where are We Digging Now?

The final day of the well excavations
The final day of the well excavations
The Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological team has concluded its excavations of an early well at the center of James Fort. A wooden barrel was found at the bottom, used by the colonists to keep the well's clay walls from collapsing and choking off the water supply. While the upper layers of the well provided no shortage of artifacts, there was remarkably little at the bottom, perhaps suggesting that there was regulated access to the water source and less chance for accidentally dropping something inside.

Director of Research and Interpretation William Kelso holds one of the recently-excavated barrel staves
Director of Research and Interpretation William Kelso holds one of the recently-excavated barrel staves
Fourteen feet below the surface the archaeologists have reached the bottom of what was most likely the fort's first well, built in 1609 under the direction of Captain John Smith. Underneath the barrel, several large cobbles were discovered that probably served as its foundation. Some of the cobbles are partially encrusted with barnacles, suggesting that they ballasted a ship during the journey from England. Analysis of the cobbles is planned which will hopefully tell us if they are of European or American origin. The barrel itself was removed one stave at a time and then labeled with a ribbon and placed back underwater in a tank in the conservation lab. Haste was made in resubmerging the barrel staves as the 400-year-old wood would quickly decay when exposed to the air after having been underwater for four centuries. Portions of the wooden hoops holding the barrel together were found as well, as was the bung which plugged the barrel's bunghole when it was used to store liquids.

The dark wood of the barrel can be seen at center
The dark wood of the barrel can be seen at center
In an attempt to make the excavations more effective, three pumps were used to remove water from the well. It was a constant struggle as digging below the water table meant a never-ending seeping-in of water from the well's super-saturated clay walls. A metal casing was also placed in the well in an attempt to isolate the barrel excavation area and get some relief from the water rushing in. All of these efforts met with varied success and the excavators experienced only momentary dry spells. Luckily, the water was much warmer than the December air above. The archaeologists used a high-pressure water nozzle to loosen up the clay surrounding the barrel so that it could be excavated.

Pieces of a lead runner, a by-product of casting musket balls
Pieces of a lead runner, a by-product of casting musket balls
In addition to the barrel itself, a few other artifacts were found during the last day of excavation. Several fragments of wooden cask hoops were pulled from the bottom of the well as was a hickory nut and a sweet gum ball. A musket ball and a lead runner from the production of musket balls were also found. The small number of artifacts found in the bottom of the well is unusual when compared to previous wells excavated in and around the fort. This well is directly adjacent to the storehouse at the fort's center. Archaeological evidence suggests that this well may have been housed in a covered addition to the storehouse and access to it may have been regulated as access to the storehouse was. Less access would have meant less chance for the accidental dropping of items down the well. This is one theory for the scarcity of artifacts at the very lowest sections of the well.

The Jamestown Rediscovery team now heads indoors to write reports on this year's dig. The conservation staff has plenty of artifacts to keep them busy until Spring arrives and the archaeologists head back out to the fort.


More Recent Photos:
At the surface
At the surface
Senior Conservator Michael Lavin operates a pump to remove water from the well
Senior Conservator Michael Lavin operates a pump to remove water from the well
Archaeologist David Givens holds the barrel's bung discovered in the well
Archaeologist David Givens holds the barrel's bung discovered in the well
A bucket of soil is pulled to the surface to be screened for artifacts
A bucket of soil is pulled to the surface to be screened for artifacts
Conservator Dan Gamble receives a bucket of soil at the surface
Conservator Dan Gamble receives a bucket of soil at the surface
Sticks found in the well
Sticks found in the well
Archaeologist Danny Schmidt holds a piece of one of the barrel's hoops
Archaeologist Danny Schmidt holds a piece of one of the barrel's hoops
Archaeologist Charles Durfor passes one of the barrel's staves to the surface
Archaeologist Charles Durfor passes one of the barrel's staves to the surface
Archaeologists Don Warmke and Dan Smith with one of the barrel staves.  The staves were immediately resubmerged in water to prevent deterioration.
Archaeologists Don Warmke and Dan Smith with one of the barrel staves. The staves were immediately resubmerged in water to prevent deterioration.
Archaeologist Don Warmke holds a segment of one of the barrel hoops
Archaeologist Don Warmke holds a segment of one of the barrel hoops

Other Updates:

201420132012201120102009200820072006200520042003

Visit
What Have We Found?
Featured Find

Featured Tours
In the Trenches
In the Trenches Curator's Artifact Tour
Curator's Artifact Tour

Jane, The Book and Video

Jamestown: The Buried Truth

America in 1607: Jamestown and the Powhatan

Jamestown Rediscovery Preservation Virginia National Park Service Contact Information
Historic Jamestowne's Facebook Page
Historic Jamestowne's YouTube Channel