Knowing one’s history and learning from experience constitute the basis of human wisdom. Since people are mortal beings, there emerge certain difficulties when it comes to restoring the past of the humankind: no living witnesses are left of events that took place centuries ago.
The issue is partially solved when there exists some written records of the time. However, even without those there still is a way of discovering the past: it is through the science of archaeology that we can learn about the events of the bygone times. In the history of the United States, one of the most significant archeological excavations has been held on the banks of the James River.
The first permanent English settlement reveals the secrets of its first inhabitants through more than one million artifacts dating to the first half of the 17th century (Preservation Virginia, 2010). An analysis of just three of them — an iron cooking pot leg, a horse bridle bit, and the so-called JR102C — can provide some significant insights into the lifestyle, the social structure, and even the political intrigues of the Jamestown settlement.
The lifestyle of the first colonists in Jamestown was far from luxurious and prosperous. With no women to take care of their daily nutrition, the men had to survive on a scant diet of wild animals they could catch. It would be logical to assume that not much time could be spared for cooking the game: the dishes had to be as easy and labor-saving as possible.
For this purpose the colonists chose a most primitive way of cooking food in iron pots on legs that could be placed directly over coals (Preservation Virginia, 2010). Such a construction could be left unattended on the fire all day long, and produced a simple yet nutritious stew that would nourish the settlers after a day of hard work.
For seventeenth-century people it was rather significant to demonstrate their social status by the items they used in everyday life and by their outfit. Some of the first settlers in Jamestown could boast an aristocratic background and did not fail to display it even during all the hardships they had to survive.
For instance, a horse could have belonged only to a gentleman at the time. Therefore, an elaborate horse bridle bit found at Jamestown excavations and used to control battle stallions confirms the presence of blue blood at the settlement (Preservation Virginia, 2010).
Another artifact that reveals the mysteries of the early Jamestown settlement is a skeleton of a man called “Anglo-America’s oldest unknown soldier and perhaps her oldest unsolved murder” (Preservation Virginia, 2010). Indeed, the remains of a man labeled JR102C according to the archeological catalogue bear a lead bullet that cuts a major artery under the knee.
Such a wound would mean death within a minute and leaves archeologists wonder about the causes of the lethal shot. Among the theories, there has been voiced an idea that JR192C actually represents a young gentleman who fell into disfavor with the Virginia Company president and was thus assassinated (Preservation Virginia, 2010). Thus, a certain tension and struggle for power and authority becomes evident at the early Jamestown settlement.
Archaeological artifacts can provide much valuable information on various aspects of everyday life, social structure, and political relations of a community. However, care should be taken when interpreting artifacts since evidence can be lacking to provide a credible explanation. An archaeologist can largely rely on self-evident artifacts, but it is always recommended to collect additional historical proofs in case disputable issues are faced.
Preservation Virginia. (2010). Jamestown Rediscovery. Retrieved from http://www.apva.org/jr.html