Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jamestowne Rediscovery: More Evidence of How Life Was Lived

It’s not often that the press gives any coverage to Jamestown, but the announcement of the finding of a slate believed to be from its earliest years got their attention. According to Zinie Chen Simpson of the Associated Press, Jamestowne Rediscovery archaeologists have pulled a 400-year-old slate tablet from what they think was John Smith’s original well.

The slate is covered with faint inscriptions of local birds, flowers, a tree and caricatures of men, along with letters and numbers. It was found May 11 at the center of James Fort, which was established in 1607. Research director William Kelso said the inscriptions were made with a slate pencil on the 4-inch-by-8-inch slate. The writings were wiped off, but they left grooves on the surface, he said. "There were things written over things, written over things”.

Researchers at NASA Langley put the slate through three-dimensional digital analysis so they could decipher its pictures and text. The imaging system normally is used to inspect materials for aerospace use. An eagle and a heron appeared on the slate, along with three types of plants, which haven't yet been identified. A depiction of lions — the British armorial sign in the early 1600s — indicates that the writer could have been a government official, Kelso said.

The artifact shows the high level of interest the English settlers had in the New World's flora and fauna, Kelso said. The archaeology team thinks that someone probably started the artwork and writing in England, and added to the slate over time after arriving in the new colony of Virginia.

Archaeologists dated the slate based on the site's history and the discovery of coins dated 1601-02 among the items. Colonists used the well as a trash pit after the water became fouled, Kelso said, and records show it was covered up in 1611 until archaeologists began to find 17th-century objects at the site last fall.

Jamestowne Rediscovery tells us that its important project is giving us more evidence of how early settlers lived, and may produce a better picture of what went on during the “starving time” of the winter of 1609-10. Go to the link (at the very bottom of this blog) to the Historic Jamestown site and read the full account of what this slate is and what it may mean.

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