Jamestown Unearthed: Historic Jamestowne Opens Hands-On Archaeology to Guests

WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Jamestown Rediscovery Assistant Manager of Public and Educational Programs Jeff Aronowitz poses in front of the Ed Shed, a new building on Jamestown Island where guests can get a hands-on archaeology experience. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)
Jamestown Rediscovery Assistant Manager of Public and Educational Programs Jeff Aronowitz poses in front of the Ed Shed, a new building on Jamestown Island where guests can get a hands-on archaeology experience. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

A team of archaeologists from Preservation Virginia has been at work since 1994 uncovering the buried secrets of Jamestown.

When the Jamestown Rediscovery Archaeological Project started, the hope was to find the site of the original 1607 James Fort, which had been written off for more than 200 years as lost to shoreline erosion.

Since then, the team has discovered the fort and more than a million artifacts in the ground.

Jamestown Unearthed is a recurring feature in WYDaily exploring the latest discoveries in and around James Fort.

In addition to discovering the buried secrets of Jamestown, the Jamestown Rediscovery project also focuses on educating the public about the first days of English settlement in North America.

It does so via tours of the James Fort site, web outreach and museum exhibits at its Nathalie P. & Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium, a 7,500-square-foot museum on Jamestown Island. Those resources are now joined by the Ed Shed, a small building tucked between the James Fort site and a shrine commemorating the first celebration of communion in English America.

The Ed Shed features several educational activities for Historic Jamestowne visitors to enjoy. It is the brainchild of Jeff Aronowitz, the assistant manager of public and educational programs for Jamestown Rediscovery.

Aronowitz has setup a sorting station where guests get to be the first to sift through dirt from James Fort and pluck out small artifacts. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)
Aronowitz has setup a sorting station where guests get to be the first to sift through dirt from James Fort and pluck out small artifacts. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

“We didn’t have an interactive component for onsite activities,” he said. That pushed him to conceptualize the Ed Shed, a place where visitors — especially younger ones — can get a hands-on experience to complement the walking tour and the archaearium.

That hands-on experience takes the form of sorting and picking through items found in a well dug in 1608. Ed Shed visitors will be the first to sort out small artifacts like beads, coins and glass from dirt removed from the well.

Picking and sorting through artifacts has long been a Jamestown Rediscovery visitor favorite, but they have never had a chance to be the first set of eyes and hands to explore artifacts that have sat underground for more than 400 years.

The Ed Shed also offers an up-close view of the technology that helps make the educational tours possible.

The archaeologists regularly use 3-D printing technology to create replicas of the artifacts they find underground. The tour guides on the island each carry a bag containing more than a dozen of the replicas, allowing guests to handle scale replicas of artifacts without having to worry about damaging an irreplaceable treasure.

The technology works by taking a file containing instructions detailing how a plastic resin material should be arranged to form three-dimensional objects. The result is a near-perfect representation of the original object. A 3-D printer has been setup in the Ed Shed, and it is set to run most of the day, so guests can observe 3-D printing in action.

“Nobody else in the world is doing this quite to this degree,” Aronowitz said, “with a daily offering where you can watch this process.”

The technology creates the instructional files by scanning objects with cameras. It has progressed to the point where the cameras can be mounted to iPads, as has been done in the Ed Shed. After watching the 3-D printing demonstration, guests can be scanned into the system to see a three-dimensional representation of themselves on a television screen.

The Ed Shed features a 3-D printing demonstration. The printer is pictured here, to the right. Several 3-D printed artifacts are on display. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)
The Ed Shed features a 3-D printing demonstration. The printer is pictured here, to the right. Several 3-D printed artifacts are on display. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

Aronowitz said the technology is flourishing across the world, and it will only grow more prominent in the future.

It has applications in many fields besides archaeology, such as manufacturing. A large box in the Ed Shed features a handful of 3-D printed artifacts hidden in plastic pellets younger visitors can sift through.

In addition to the 3-D printing demonstration, the Ed Shed also features virtual reality goggles. By slipping on the goggles, guests can see a full representation of the inside of an archaeological pit. After standing behind the rope fence and watching the archaeologists, the guests can join them in the pit digitally by wearing the glasses.

The goggles center the guest in the pit, depicting whatever they would see by looking around inside the pit. As the guest turns his or her head, the digital image on the screen changes in real time.

To visit the Ed Shed, head to Historic Jamestowne and purchase an admission ticket. The Ed Shed does not have fixed hours, but Aronowitz said it will be open everyday and is accessible along with all of the other outdoor amenities in and around the rebuilt James Fort.

Related Coverage: