More than 2,000 artifacts are on vivid display at the Nathalie P. & Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium, the award-winning archaeology museum at Historic Jamestowne. See a slate covered with words and pictures from 400 years ago, learn from the largest collection of Colonial period American Indian artifacts in Virginia, and find the tiny toys that children played with.
Surrounded by the historic landscape of the first permanent English settlement in North America, the Archaearium (pronounced “Ark-ee-air-ee-um”) pairs the spectacular finds of the Jamestown Rediscovery Project with oversized period paintings to weave a narrative about the first settlers and the struggles they endured. Seeing these objects within view of the sites where they were used creates an immediate and powerful connection with the past. The ongoing nature of the archaeological project ensures that new discoveries become integrated within the displays.
Exhibits focus on the 1607-1624 Virginia Company period at Jamestown. Twenty years of excavations have led to new understandings of the first English settlers, their relationships with the Virginia Indians, and how they shaped a new American society. 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. Dead men’s tales are also told. The results of forensic research on the skeletal remains of early settlers bring visitors face-to-face with facial reconstructions of some of the settlers themselves.
Visitors also 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.
The 7,500-square-foot Archaearium opened in 2006. It is supported by piers strategically placed to preserve the 17th-century architectural features of Jamestown’s Statehouse, which are visible through glass portals below the museum. The exterior of the building is copper-clad in reference to that metal’s importance in the early trade between the Virginia Indians and settlers. Videos dramatize the meaning of some of the most important artifacts. And information is continually updated, such as the addition of “The World of Pocahontas” exhibit space in 2014 to highlight the interaction between the English and Powhatan Indians at James Fort.
Building Design: Carlton Abbott & Partners, Williamsburg, VA 2006
Construction: Daniel & Co. Inc., Richmond, VA.
Exhibit design: Haley Sharpe Design, Ltd., Leicester, England
Exhibit fabrication: Color-Ad, Inc., Manassas, VA
Content: Preservation Virginia’s Jamestown Rediscovery Project