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Earliest Signs of Agriculture Uncovered at Historic Jamestowne

Two horizontal planting furrows. On the right, a vertical line exhibits the fort extension wall. (Photo courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

Two horizontal planting furrows. On the right, a vertical line exhibits the fort extension wall. (Photo courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

This summer, as archaeologists at James Fort searched for the walls of the fort’s 1608 extension, they uncovered 10 furrows from the fort’s earliest farming efforts.

Because the furrows, which are planting trenches, were found under a fort extension wall from 1608, archaeologists believe they are from the early months of the settlement.

About 10 years ago, furrows were found near to the southeast of the fort. With the latest discovery, furrows on the settlement equal about a half acre.

In 1607, John Smith wrote, “What toile wee had, with so smal a power to guard our workmen adaies, watch al night, resist our enimies and effect our businesse, to relade the ships, cut downe trees, and prepare the ground to plant our corne, etc.”

When the settlers arrived at the fort, they did not have animals to farm with as they had in England. To plant crops, dirt was hoed by hand into mounds to create ditches between the rows, and seeds were planted in the mounds—the same way the Native Americans planted corn.

“That system of farming with bending over and hoeing up the ground dominates the Virginia landscape for centuries,” said Jamestown Rediscovery Senior Staff Archaeologist David Givens.

The drawback to the style of farming was the havoc it wreaked on colonists’ bodies.

Givens said Virginia colonists’ skeletons deviated from others showing arthritis and broken bones from hoeing and lifting heavy loads of tobacco.

“Virginia is one of the richest colonies in the New World and that’s literally on the backs of the colonists,” Givens said.

Soon, soil samples will be taken from the furrow soil and sent out for testing. The tests will reveal exactly what crops were grown in the furrows. Givens said it would be difficult to tell whether the crops grown in the furrows are still grown in the world today.

Corn cobs have been found at Historic Jamestowne and come from two strains of corn still grown today. The cobs reveal the strain of corn: Southern Dent and Northern Flint. Cobs have not been found near the furrows so the soil will be tested for pollen.

Givens said he would love to plant some of the corn strains the colonists grew at the fort, but there are too many deer.

The digging season is winding down, Givens said, but archaeologists will continue digging in the furrows area so they will be visible through the rest of the fall and into next year. Archaeologists will likely continue digging until October, if weather permits. Weekend archaeology will likely continue until October as well.

Visitors will be able to see the furrows when they visit Historic Jamestowne and can take one of two tours to learn more: Archaeology tours lead by archaeologists at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday or education tours at 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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Posted by on August 22, 2013. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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