Inside the Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center is an immersive “theater in the round” orientation film and exhibit galleries highlighting the history of Jamestown Island from prehistoric times to the present. The timeline stretches back 15,000 years and a giant map features “The Atlantic World in 1607.” Over 1,000 artifacts are on display of the nearly 2 million uncovered by National Park Service archaeologists working at Jamestown beginning in the 1930s. The artifacts and accompanying exhibit texts relate information about the contributions made by the three major cultures that created the Jamestown story: Virginia Indian, European, and African. This gallery helps tell the story of Jamestown’s growth into James City in the decades after the fort was dismantled.
More than 4,000 artifacts are on vivid display at the Nathalie P. & Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium, the award-winning archaeology museum at Historic Jamestowne. Surrounded by the historic landscape of the first permanent English settlement in North America, the Archaearium (pronounced “Ark-ee-air-ee-um”) weaves a narrative about the first settlers and the struggles they endured. Seeing these objects within view of the sites where they were used creates a powerful connection with the past. One display case is devoted to recent and spectacular finds from the site.
The 7,500-square-foot Archaearium opened in 2006 with exhibits focused on the 1607-1624 Virginia Company period at Jamestown. The drama of the lives of settlers who were not documented in the historic record is told through their arms and armor, tools, coins, trade goods, personal items, religious objects, and food remains.
Visitors learn about how these artifacts were found. A three-dimensional representation of a 1620s well shows armor and dozens of tools and household objects suspended within it the way they were archaeologically recovered from the brick-lined shaft. A partial reconstruction of a mud and stud building inside the museum echoes early Jamestown’s architecture, while a cellar containing a glass wine bottle of Governor Francis Nicholson signals the “end of an era,” when the capital of Virginia moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg in 1699. Inside the Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center is a gallery containing numerous exhibits highlighting the history of the site from prehistoric times to the present. Over a thousand artifacts are on display of the nearly two million uncovered by archaeologists working at Jamestown beginning in the 1930s. The artifacts and accompanying exhibit texts relate information about the contributions made by the three major cultures that created the Jamestown story: Virginia Indian, European, and African.
In 2014 a new exhibit space was devoted to Virginia’s Native peoples and their interaction with the English settlers. “The World of Pocahontas, Unearthed” draws from thousands of archaeological artifacts found at James Fort that have illuminated the lifeways of the Chesapeake’s Indian peoples. Indian-made clay pipes, pots, shell beads, projectile points, and bone and stone tools have been found—making James Fort one of the richest sites of contact-period Virginia Indian artifacts in the Chesapeake region.
Featured artifacts reveal that there was more interaction between the Powhatans and English within the fort during the early period than is reflected in the historic record. A display of more than 2,000 mussel shell bead blanks and two stone drills used to make them demonstrates bead production and the presence of Powhatan women working and living in the fort. Bone needles are displayed alongside stone celts that were used by Indian women to prepare fibrous plant material for mats and baskets, both highly prized by the English.
Of the nearly 48,000 Native pottery sherds found throughout the fort site, 13 Native pots have been reassembled and reveal substantial support provided to the struggling settlers from the Powhatan Chiefdom. Likely transported in the pots, food such as meat and corn was the most valuable commodity local Indians possessed to barter with the English and was critical to the colonists’ survival.
A special room of the Archaearium discusses death in the early years of England’s first permanent colony in North America. Jane’s story illustrates a pivotal moment—the “starving time” of the 1609-10 winter when Jamestown was brought to the edge of collapse by a combination of drought, disease, starvation, and Indian attacks. Along with Jane’s facial reconstruction, the room features artifacts from the “starving time” period to give context to this critical period. Compelling forensic research on the remains of Jane is displayed alongside similar examinations exploring a young man’s death from a musket ball wound and the remains believed to be those of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold, a founding father of Jamestown. With careful reconstructions of several of these settlers, visitors literally come face-to-face with the human stories from the beginnings of America.