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William Kelso
William Kelso
Locator map
1994 to present

Jamestown, VA

Number of artifacts found:
More than 350,000

Previous excavations by others:
1897, 1901, 1903, 1934-37, 1955

Original colonists:
107 males arrived in 1607

Conventional Wisdom:
The fort disappeared into the river in the 18th century.

Reason for Kelso’s success:
“It was probably more hope and luck than anything else. We said, ‘We’re going to find the fort,’ and it happened.”

Learn More

History of Jamestown
Learn more about how the Virginia Company’s explorers established the first permanent English settlement on the banks of the James River in the midst of disease, famine, and conflict.

Virtual Jamestown
This interactive map highlights the 1608 voyages of John Smith in which he explored and mapped the Chesapeake Bay.

Colonial National Historical Park
Get in-depth information on some of 17th-century Jamestown’s most important personalities and discover the role that women and African Americans played in the success of the settlement.


Barbour, Philip L. Pocahontas and Her World. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970.

Bridenbaugh, Carl. Jamestown: 1544-1699. Oxford University Press, 1980.

Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. W. W. Norton & Company, 1975.


Field Dispatch - Virginia

Tought Times at Jamestown
Photographs by Ira Block E-mail this page to a friend


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This Week’s Questions. Click on a question for a full response.


Jamestown artifact

4.   Housing and daily life

Acid production

5.   Being an archaeologist
3.   Number of people in graves 6. Names of settlers

Question 1:

The article about Jamestown had a picture of a gentlemen’s silver toothpick or ear cleaner. In Key West, Florida, I saw a similar item recovered from a Spanish shipwreck from the early 1600s. How common a tool was this, and when did people quit using them?


You are quite right. Earpicks have been found on 16th-century shipwrecks (there was a gold one on the Armada wreck Girona). Large numbers have also been found in London excavations, dating from the Roman period all the way through the 17th century. I am not sure how long they were used in England but these objects are still made and used in India today.

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Question 2:

Page 80 of the Jamestown article mentions “earthenware stills for producing acids to refine metals.” What metals needed to be refined? Were the metals found locally or imported? What acid was made and how was it used?


The first settlers were looking primarily for gold, silver, and copper. We have evidence that they were smelting copper because copper residue was found in a small ceramic vessel known as a crucible. We assume the copper came from as far away as modern Michigan or perhaps somewhere in the Piedmont region of Virginia or North Carolina, but we still need to prove this. No gold or silver was found. Sulfuric and nitric acids would have been used to separate precious metals.

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Question 3:

How many people have you found in graves?


We excavated skeletal remains from 82 individuals, four from the fort area in single graves and 78 from a burial ground some distance outside the fort, probably marking an area for poorer people and criminals. In this potter’s field we found mostly men, some multiple burials, and a very disorganized overall layout.

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Question 4:

How was it possible that so many people could live in a fort of this size? Is there any evidence that children lived there? Was this supposed to be a real community like Plymouth? What was the average age of the settlers when they first arrived and what was the average age when they died? Is anything known about the furniture and other daily-life utilities?


The triangular core was technically the fort, while probably 5 times that area was attached and somehow protected by upright logs in the ground (palisades). We found “toys,” and there is a record of boys being among early settlers. First, soldiers and gentlemen came, and then the women and children followed in 1609 and 1610, indicating that this was intended to be a permanent community—in fact the first permanent English settlement in America. The six men in the first governing body were in their 40s, except John Smith who was, along with many of the other settlers, in his 30s. We have little information about the age at which they all died, but future studies will determine this. We also found bed bolts and trunk locks which are remnants of the settlers’ furniture.

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Question 5:

I would like to know what it’s like being an archaeologist. How does it make you feel to make such a great find?


Being an archaeologist is like being a detective. Finding something that is as significant as James Fort is like a detective solving a very old crime. Like anything in life, it is great when things work out as planned, which is often not the case. I feel quite fortunate that careful planning and study eventually paid off and with a little luck led to the Jamestown success.

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Question 6:

Does a list of the early Jamestown settlers exist?


There are two extensive lists of settlers that Captain John Smith published in his journals. These both predate De La Warre’s arrival. Those that came with him are not listed.

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