Aerial view of excavated burials
Excavated burials at the Statehouse site

The decision to study the unmarked 17th century burial ground lying beneath the Statehouse foundations was made in order to create an early Jamestown population profile, of which there is little or no other record. Furthermore, a comparison of samples from the limited investigations of these burials in the 1950s indicated that soil conditions were deteriorating them rapidly. Over 70 burials were excavated in 2000 and 2001. Because many of the graves were under the Ludwell Statehouse Complex foundations built in the mid-1600s, the burial ground is believed to date between 1610 and the 1640s. Although the haphazard position of the burials suggested the possibility that this cemetery dated from the Starving Time, evidence indicated that the area continued to be utilized for a longer period of time.

The recovery of these burials provided a profile of the early Jamestown population, including gender, ancestry, general health, disease, cause of death, burial customs, and social and economic conditions. Forensic anthropologist Dr. Ashley McKeown and Dr. Douglas Owsley, a forensic osteologist at the Smithsonian Institution, analyzed the skeletal remains. In addition to an examination of the bones, scientific tests were performed, including carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis and limited DNA testing. This data provides some of the earliest evidence of a Euro-American population within the Chesapeake region. The results can be compared to other burial studies to measure social and population change over both time and space.