Over the next six to eight months the Jamestown Rediscovery team will work with specialists to collect evidence to try to prove whether the man buried in the aisle grave is Governor, Sir George Yeardley. Preliminary forensic analysis in the field indicates that the individual is a male around 40 years of age, which is in line with what is known about Yeardley.
The skeletal remains will undergo additional forensic analysis by the Skeletal Biology Program team at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History once excavation is complete. The biological profile of every skeleton is unique and the Smithsonian team reads the clues “written” in the bones for information on sex, age, health, activities in life, and sometimes the cause of death. The skeletal remains will also be tested chemically to look at the lead levels and carbon isotope ratios, which can indicate the individual’s status and origin.
The University of Leicester’s Prof. Turi King, who directed the genetic analysis for the project that identified King Richard III, will use DNA analysis to try to confirm whether the man is Yeardley. To identify historical individuals, DNA extracted from the skeletal remains can be compared to living relatives either through an all-male line or an all-female line. Working with a genealogy expert, King will DNA test living Yeardley relatives for comparison.
Dental specialists Dr. Josh Cohen of Virginia Commonwealth University and Dr. Martin Levin of the University of Pennsylvania will examine the calculus on the man’s teeth. Dental calculus, a repository for genetic material over a person’s lifetime, can shed light on an individual’s diet, environment, and health history.
All of the cranial fragments will be imaged using high-resolution micro-CT (micro computed tomography) scanning to create 3D representations. The skull is incomplete, but if enough of it survives, the 3D fragments will be pieced back together digitally and used as the basis for a facial reconstruction.
Once all of the research is completed, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists plan to reinter the remains, giving proper recognition to this remarkable individual who has been lost to history for centuries.