Big Finds in a Small Cellar

The partial remains of an early post-in-ground building, given the name ‘the Quarter,’ were found along the eastern palisade wall. This structure is 16 feet wide and a minimum of 36 feet long. The southern end of the building likely lies under the brick church tower so it could not be uncovered. This structure has a seven by nine-foot cellar at the north end. Like the Barracks building, the Quarter is set back from the palisade 10 feet and oriented parallel to a fort wall. In overall construction methods, this building closely resembles two previously excavated structures from the James Fort period, the Barracks and the Factory. The structural posts delineated the perimeter of the structure but were not aligned in tie-beam pairs. Like the other two structures, the bottom elevations on the posts varied considerably and displayed no obvious pattern of alignment or depth.

The building had an intact occupation layer on the floor of the cellar. This layer consisted of objects left on the floor from activities that took place in the cellar. These artifacts included four spade nosings, an iron pike head, a glass chevron bead, an articulated loggerhead sea turtle shell, a sheathed dagger, and a crushed Roanoke simple-stamped pot. Near the southeastern corner wall, the remains of a leather shot bag were encountered, with eight pieces of shot 15 mm in diameter.

In the northwest corner of the cellar pit, a burned area of subsoil was found with the remnants of what appeared to be a hearth. There were no bricks or other structural remains, but burned wood from the fire was still in place. In the opposite (southeastern) corner were two small “steps” crudely carved out of the natural clay subsoil.

The Quarter’s cellar may well have been one of the first forms of shelter built at Jamestown in the fall of 1607, and later incorporated into larger structures. The Quarter, the Barracks, and the Factory were products of the English colonists’ background. These structures, built before the settlers had been in America long enough to incorporate native building techniques, or have their own traditions, evolved into what later became the “Virginia House.” Interestingly, all shared characteristics with traditional building signatures from Lincolnshire along England’s east coast. Known in the East Lindsay region of Lincolnshire as “mud-and-stud,” this building style used small timbers, simple framing, and mud walls plastered over a slight wooden frame in what architectural historian Eric Mercer called “the poorest of all timber framing . . . a technique perhaps as closely related to solid earth construction as to substantial timber framing.”

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