Who Shot JR?

Burial 1 - JR102C

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.

Burial 2 - JR 156C

During in-situ removal of the burial JR102 in 1996, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists discovered the outline of a second grave. Just a few feet away, the second grave was oriented on a similar northeast to southwest angle, and was probably dug within a few years of JR102.

The burial, labeled JR156, was excavated in 1997. A number of small artifacts and flecks of brick and charcoal in the grave fill indicated that the grave was probably later than JR102, which had relatively "clean" fill. The very earliest features on a site like Jamestown generally contain the fewest artifacts, while features even a few years later can contain more evidence of the increased activities going on within the fort.

Like JR102, JR156 was a coffin burial, although the coffin was quite different. The coffin in JR102 was six-sided and appeared to be flat-lidded, and it was evidenced only by soil stains and nails. In JR156, some coffin wood survived, and the locations of the nails indicated a gabled lid. Although a coffin burial indicates that the individual may have had some status, gabled coffins were fairly common during the early 17th century. Analysis of the coffin wood revealed that it was built of yellow pine, a harder member of the pine family.

Although the coffin wood was fairly well preserved, the skeletal remains were not. The bones that survived were in a much deteriorated condition. Fortunately, the skull was slightly elevated and could be removed intact. The skeleton was carefully drawn and photographed in place, then removed, although many of the bones were fragmentary. The position of the body indicated that the body had been tightly wrapped in a shroud.

Institution forensic anthropologists examined the skeleton in the field. Their preliminary conclusions were that JR156 was a Caucasian woman in her 40s or 50s. She was very small, possibly only about 4'9" or so in height. She had only 5 teeth at the time of her death, the rest having been lost many years before. The cause of her death was not evident. Stable isotope analysis of the bones indicated that she had a diet consisting primarily of wheat, rather than corn. This usually indicates a recently landed European rather than an individual born in America.

The JR156 skull was too fragile to make a mold for a "facial reconstruction" like the one made of JR102. Instead, scientists made a replica of the skull using a CT scan to form a laser-cured, 3-dimensional resin model. From this model, sculptor Sharon Long created an image using the same methods she used for the facial reconstruction of JR102. The resulting sculpture is one of only two likenesses of women from early Jamestown, the other being the engraved portrait of Pocahontas.