Friday, March 2, 2012

Where Seth Mallios Updates Us About Jamestown Rediscovery

Seth Mallios
Anyone in Southern California who is interested in Jamestown (or early American colonial history) is lucky whenever they have an opportunity to hear Dr. Seth Mallios tell about his experiences and findings at Jamestown Rediscovery and nearby digs. The most recent fortunate ones are those who attended North San Diego County Genealogical Society’s program in Carlsbad on February 28, where he delivered another of his compelling lectures.

He reviewed the history of the Powhatan federation and European Chesapeake-area exploration predating the Jamestown landing, including the indigenous cultural scope and population in which 16th century Spanish missionaries and 17th century English explorers found themselves, as well as what the Jamestown settlers were confronted with. 

He went on to relate the background of the archaeological work that began in 1994 at Historic Jamestown, the team he worked with that discovered evidence of the James Fort dating from 1607-8 and the types and importance of the million-plus artifacts and skeletons that have since been recovered. These have begun to tell us much about those colonists’ lives, habits and structures; research that is giving us new insights into who gave birth to our nation thirteen years before the Mayflower’s arrival, and will be ongoing for many years.

Drawing on his 2006 book, The Deadly Politics of Giving; Exchange and Violence at Ajacán, Roanoke and Jamestown, he explained how differing but basic cultural practices, attitudes and misunderstandings about gifts and obligations permanently impacted the course of relationships among missionaries, explorers, settlers and natives alike. The discord from those differences ignited clashes with often fatal results for all of them, and created long-term effects and disaster for all the Virginia tribes.

His slides included a map that the Jamestown Rediscovery project has very recently produced that depicts the area that has been examined in and around the Fort and what is yet to be studied. He also explained how a small detail from an ancient Spanish map led renowned archaeologist Dr. William Kelso to conclude that the Fort did not wash away into the James River, as was long believed, and how he and his team were able to locate it.  

Dr. Mallios chairs San Diego State University’s Anthropology Department and also discussed his archaeological work there, including on Palomar Mountain, in Old Town and on the school’s campus itself. He pointed out that, as many San Diego residents are relatively newcomers, most have have little knowledge or appreciation for its history or archaeology.

He noted that there seems to be no evident plans to celebrate the centenary of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 (from which we have the classic buildings in Balboa Park.) Even more important is the absence of any recognition of the forthcoming commemoration in 2019 of the 250th anniversary of San Diego’s founding as the first Spanish settlement in California; it was when and where the state’s first mission was established. (Ed. note: 2019 will also be the 400th anniversary of the first elected legislature in America at Jamestown.)


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