Thursday, December 1, 2022

Jamestown Unearthed: Archaeologists discover possible time capsule from 1901

The archaeologists at Jamestown Rediscovery believe they have come across a time capsule, but its contents may be lost to time.

In 1901, Mary Jeffery Galt and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities broke ground on the remnants of a 17th-century church in Jamestown, and today the archaeologists of Preservation Virginia are excavating in the same place to learn as much as they can about the historic churches that once rested on the site.

“We’re doing archaeology of the first archaeologists,” said Michael Lavin, senior staff conservator with Preservation Virginia.

Archaeologist Bob Chartrand said he was excavating backfill left by the 20th-century archaeologists as he explored the northeast corner of the historic church’s foundation when he came across a small iron box in a cavity behind a brick.

“Mike pointed out it possibly could’ve been a time capsule,” Chartrand said. “It seemed fitting seeing as how it was neatly placed underneath the 1640s foundation.”

Chartrand began excavating backfill around the rest of the brick-sized, partially rusted box before removing it from the church Wednesday.

Team members said they hoped to find a coin inside by which to date its placement, or handwritten notes from the people who left it there more than a century ago.

The artifact was taken to the Jamestown Rediscovery lab, where it was placed in an x-ray machine. The team of archaeologists and curators were able to discern an outline of what was inside before deciding to open the box to view its contents.

An up-close look at the contents of the time capsule reveals what looks like folded paper. Due to the paper’s condition, archaeologists were unable to read it. (Courtesy Mike Lavin/ Jamestown Rediscovery)

Once the lid was removed, they saw the fossilized remains of paper. Chartrand said rust on the box likely exposed its contents to water, which over time caused what may have been a note from a century ago to deteriorate.

“We have no idea what it said,” Lavin said. “We’re going to research, maybe we can do something [to restore it]. Right now it’s stable and we’ll see where to go from there.”

Whether or not the Jamestown Rediscovery team ever gets to read the note left by their forbearers, Lavin and the team remain excited to have found the artifact in the first place.

“I am a little disappointed, but that’s okay,” he said. “That’s the great thing about archaeology. You never know what you’re going to find out until you actually excavate it.”

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 regular feature in WYDaily exploring the latest discoveries in and around James Fort. Click here to read past articles.

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