The northernmost grave within the palisade walls associated with a burial ground dating to 1607 was excavated in 2004, and multiple lines of research have converged to suggest that it contained the remains of one of the original 104 English colonists. A possible connection has even been drawn to a specific colonist, a teenage boy named Richard Mutton. Unlike most of the other burials in this group, this grave was oriented parallel to the palisade wall, suggesting they were contemporary. The shaft was unevenly dug and too short for its occupant, causing the skull to rest propped up against the east wall and giving archaeologists the impression that the burial was rushed during a time of stress. No coffin was used, but the placement of the ankles and knees close together and nearly touching suggests that the body was wrapped in a shroud, as was typical for the early 17th century.
Experts were able to learn a great deal by examining the well preserved bones and teeth. The skeleton belonged to a young male in his early teens. The growth plates at the ends of his long bones were not yet fused, indicating that he was still growing even though his estimated height of 5’7″ was tall for the 17th century. Teeth erupt at very specific ages, and the position of his emerging wisdom teeth indicated that the boy was about 15 years old when he died. Markers of physiological stress were visible on his bones in the form of cribra orbitalia (porosity of the bone behind the eyes associated with iron deficiency and anemia) and Harris lines (caused by growth disruption and recovery) in x-rays of his leg bones. A broken incisor in his lower jaw had developed a large abscess that destroyed a significant amount of the surrounding bone. Despite the severity of the infection, the tooth’s arrested growth pattern revealed that it broke when the boy was only 8 years old and he had lived with this ailment for half his life.
A small triangular quartzite projectile point, typical for the early 17th century, found next to the boy’s left femur was likely embedded in his thigh at the time of death. Due to the evidence for a very early date of death and burial, archaeologists believe this to be the grave of one of the first casualties of the Jamestown expedition. Captain John Smith described the events of May 26, 1607, “Indians the day before assaulted the fort… most of the council was hurt, a boy slain… and thirteen or fourteen more hurt… With all speed we pallisadoed our Fort.” Additional evidence that this boy died soon after his arrival in Virginia came from clues to the foods he ate over the course of his life and soon before his death. Stable isotopes in his bones, which can reveal what kinds of plants or the amount of meat a person ate over a lifetime, were consistent with a wheat-based English diet. However, tiny plant particles extracted from his broken tooth show that his most recent meals included both English wheat and Virginia corn, indicating his recent arrival in the New World.
Because this young man was in his early teens, he would have been recorded as one of the four boys who arrived in Virginia in May 1607 with the first group of colonists, listed by Smith as Samuell Collier, Nathaniell Pecock, James Brumfield, and Richard Mutton. There is evidence that Collier and Pecock lived beyond 1607, while Brumfield and Mutton do not appear in later records. Further evidence suggests that the boy killed in the attack is most likely to be Richard Mutton. The probable link between this burial and a named colonist enables archaeologists to connect the puzzle pieces revealed by osteology to historical and biographical information, like the record of Richard Mutton’s baptism in London in 1593. Together, these diverse sources of information help tell the story of an individual and humanize the history of Jamestown. With or without a name, this human connection is a crucial aspect of burial archaeology at Jamestown.