Friday, December 9, 2022

Jamestown Unearthed: Mapping of Historic Church to Take Place Ahead of 2019 Anniversary

Dave Givens models the Chancel rail in using mapping data in SketchUp. (Courtesy Jamestown Rediscovery)
Dave Givens models the Chancel rail in using mapping data in SketchUp. (Courtesy Jamestown Rediscovery)

As winter weather approaches, the archaeologists at Jamestown Rediscovery are preparing for the gradual transition that will see much of their outdoor work taper off for the season while projects indoors and in the lab take the spotlight.

One such project is the virtual mapping of the Jamestown Church, which is being led by senior staff archaeologist David Givens.

The church, which was the site of the first representative legislative assembly in the New World, is receiving particular attention ahead of 2019, which will mark the 400th anniversary of that historic event.

The site of the original Jamestown church includes structures erected at several different times; the original 1639 church tower stands alongside the 1907 Memorial Church, a reconstruction of the 1617 church, which was abandoned and destroyed in the 1700s. The original foundation of the 1617 church is visible beneath the glass floor of the reconstruction.

The goal of the virtual mapping project is not only to produce a virtual model of the church but also to create informative and interactive exhibits as part of said model that allow visitors to be immersed in the history of the building without risking damage to the fragile structure.

Archeologist Bob Chartrand uses a laser transit to map one of the church's windows. (Courtesy Jamestown Rediscovery)
Archeologist Bob Chartrand uses a laser transit to map one of the church’s windows. (Courtesy Jamestown Rediscovery)

Jamestown Rediscovery team members are using a total station – an electronic instrument commonly used in archaeological surveys – to map the interior of the Memorial Church. This is the first time such an endeavor has been undertaken.

The data collected by the total station is input into “SketchUp,” a type of 3D modeling software from Trimble Navigation.

The end result of the project will be a virtual scale model of the church, complete with interactive displays and stations where guests can explore archaeological artifacts. The model will be included in an exhibit on the development of democracy slated to debut in 2018.

Though continuing the mapping process will be the focus in the coming months, Givens anticipates excavation inside the church will begin in summer of 2016.

Another recent undertaking was the creation of an aerial video tour of Jamestown Island executed pro-bono by Shoreline Media. Tom Chartrand, owner of Shoreline and father of one of the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists, spent two days on site this month donating the use of his equipment to take video and stills of the area.

With several new projects recently taking off or on the horizon, work at the cellar just outside of the original James Fort will continue as long as weather conditions allow. The team of archaeologists has moved on to excavating the final quarter of the structure, which they hope to have completed by early December, said Mary Anna Richardson, a senior staff archaeologist.

Recent finds include a fragment of another “named” Robert Cotton pipe, the second to be found this year. Unlike some of the earlier pipes, which had full names or titles printed on them, this artifact bears only the initials “G. F.”

A new "named" Robert Cotton pipe with the initials "G.F." was discovered this month. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)
A new “named” Robert Cotton pipe with the initials “G.F.” was discovered this month. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)

Staff archaeologists and historians have narrowed down the possible candidates for who “G.F.” might be to four: Gyles Francis, George Farmer, George Flowers or George Forest.

While Francis and Farmer were investors listed on Jamestown’s second charter who may have never set foot on the settlement, Flowers and Forest were both settlers who came over to the colony on the same voyage as pipe maker Robert Cotton.

Any four of these men may have been the intended recipient of the pipe, either because of his role as a financial backer or his personal connection with Cotton.

Another piece of armor has also recently been unearthed at the cellar, one of several that has been found on the site since excavation first began last summer.

“We had to undercut everything and lift it out as a team,” said Dan Gamble, a conservator with Historic Jamestown, of the extraction process for a piece of this size.

Once removed from the ground intact, the armor was sent to the lab, where it is being slowly stripped of dirt and rust.

Like much of the armor previously found in the cellar dig, the latest piece shows signs of alteration. Straight lines on the edges of the artifact indicate the metal had been cut from it and presumably repurposed at some point in its lifespan.

A piece of armor newly extracted from the cellar dig site. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)
A piece of armor newly extracted from the cellar dig site. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)

Features on some of the other armor previously extracted from the site may give the Jamestown Rediscovery team some clues as to why these pieces were altered and discarded.

A breast plate found several months ago features a “fancy” scalloped edge, indicating to Gamble that it probably came over from England with a gentlemen.

While this type of large, sometimes ornate armor would have been fashionable, it was “not effective in Indian warfare,” Gamble said.

Historians and archaeologists theorize some of the cuts made to the large pieces of armor coming out of the ground may be the result of the settlers repurposing the metal into Jack plates – small, scale-like pieces of armor that could be sewn into vests for more effective protection.

The newest armor discovery appears to be in good shape, from what Gamble can tell so far. After being excavated it will be taken for X-rays in order to determine what it looks like and what metal it is made of. After that it will be cleaned using an air abrasion machine and then soaked to completely removed the dirt and rust.

“We don’t know what piece of armor it is yet,” Gamble said. “From start to finish it will take about three months until it’s completely cleaned off.”



A team of archaaeologists 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 monthly feature in WYDaily exploring the latest discoveries in and around James Fort. Click here to read past articles.

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