Within the 1608 church where Pocahontas and John Rolfe married, the skeletal remains of four early settlers were uncovered during a 2013 archaeological dig at Virginia’s historic Jamestown colony. Now, those bones have been identified as some of the leaders of that first successful British attempt to forge a new life in the new world across the Atlantic.
Forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley, the division head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and his team worked with archaeologists from the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation at Historic Jamestowne to piece together just who the four men were.
Built first of mud and wood, the original church structure had long since vanished. Archaeologists rediscovered the church’s original footprint five years ago.
Only about 30 percent of each skeleton was recovered, and the bones were poorly preserved, so finding out who the men were presented a challenge that required multiple paths of investigation.
The first clue to their identities came from the burial location in the chancel, a space at the front of the church around the altar reserved for the clergy. Only leading members of the community would have been buried there, so it was clear the men had a place of prominence among the colonists.
Eventually, the team identified the men as:
â– Rev. Robert Hunt, the chaplain at Jamestown and the colony’s Anglican minister, who died at age 39 in 1608
â– Capt. Gabriel Archer, who died at age 34 in 1609 or 1610 during the “starving time”
â– Sir Ferdinando Wainman, who came to Jamestown with his first cousin, the governor of Virginia, and died at about age 34 in 1610
â– Capt. William West, who died in 1610 during a skirmish with the Powhatan at age 24