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Jamestown, the Buried Truth

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What was life really like for the band of adventurers who first set foot on the banks of the James River in 1607? Important as the accomplishments of these men and women were, the written records pertaining to them are scarce, ambiguous, and often conflicting, and those curious about the birthplace of the United States are left to turn to dramatic and often highly fictionalized reports. In Jamestown, the Buried Truth, William Kelso takes us literally to the soil where the Jamestown colony began, unearthing the ...

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What was life really like for the band of adventurers who first set foot on the banks of the James River in 1607? Important as the accomplishments of these men and women were, the written records pertaining to them are scarce, ambiguous, and often conflicting, and those curious about the birthplace of the United States are left to turn to dramatic and often highly fictionalized reports. In Jamestown, the Buried Truth, William Kelso takes us literally to the soil where the Jamestown colony began, unearthing the James Fort and its contents to reveal fascinating evidence of the lives and deaths of the first settlers, of their endeavors and struggles, and of their relationships with the Virginia Indians. He offers up a lively but fact-based account, framed around a narrative of the archaeological team's exciting discoveries.

Once thought to have been washed away by the James River, James Fort still retains much of its structure, including palisade walls, bulwarks, interior buildings, a well, a warehouse, and several pits, and more than 500,000 objects have been cataloged, half dating to the time of Queen Elizabeth and King James. Artifacts especially reflective of life at James Fort include an ivory compass, Cabasset helmets and breastplates, glass and copper beads and ornaments, ceramics, tools, religious icons, a pewter flagon, and personal items. Dr. Kelso and his team of archaeologists have discovered the lost burial of one of Jamestown's early leaders, presumed to be Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, and the remains of several other early settlers, including a young man who died of a musket ball wound. In addition, they've uncovered and analyzed the remains of the foundations of Jamestown's massive capitol building.

Refuting the now decades-old stereotype that attributed the high mortality rate of the Jamestown settlers to their laziness and ineptitude, Jamestown, the Buried Truth produces a vivid picture of the settlement that is far more complex, incorporating the most recent archaeology to give Jamestown its rightful place in history and thus contributing to a broader understanding of the transatlantic world.

University of Virginia Press

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Editorial Reviews

Jon Kukla

The exciting story of a momentous archaeological project, told firsthand by the scholars who uncovered the real Jamestown—the original fort from John Smith’s day. Based on information derived from thousands of artifacts uncovered amid the graves and foundations of England‚s earliest permanent settlement in America, William M. Kelso’s Jamestown, the Buried Truth tells the world what his team found—and what it means. Their scholarship is impeccable, their maps and illustrations are magnificent, and their discoveries are amazing.

Patricia Cornwell

The unearthing of Jamestown is truly the autopsy of America, an amazing dissection and reconstruction of four-hundred-year-old artifacts and human remains that reveal how the first settlers spent their days, how they lived and died, and what they accomplished and suffered. Without chief archaeologist William Kelso's almost mystical vision that the original site still existed and his persistence against all odds to unearth it, we would have little to rely on but legend to tell us how modern America began. Jamestown: The Buried Truth is brilliantly written, a story and adventure unlike any other that will forever change the way we think about what happened when John Smith and his brave followers sailed to Virginia in 1607 and established the first permanent English settlement.

Carter L. Hudgins

Anticipating the four hundredth anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Bill Kelso and APVA/Preservation Virginia began thirteen years ago the archaeological exploration of the site of England's first permanent settlement in North America. What Kelso and his team have found there since the first shovel was turned is nothing less than astounding. Evidence of everything that was built, abandoned, and then lost during Jamestown's first decades survived, literally inches beneath commemorative statues of John Smith and Pocahontas. It is clear that Kelso's discovery and excavation of James Fort is, by far, the most important archaeological event in the long and distinguished history of archaeology in Virginia and that its contributions to historical understanding of Jamestown are significant for early Virginia and for the history of the Atlantic world.

Publishers Weekly
In what is certainly one of the more substantial of the many commemorative tomes that will be published as Jamestown, Va., turns 400, Kelso, head archeologist at the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, describes the process of unearthing America's oldest permanent English settlement and the new light his findings shed on it. Like most archeologists, Kelso rejoices when he finds garbage heaps: Jamestown's trash pits hold evidence of glass making, and recovered armor confirms the existence of a military barracks. Butchered skeletons of dogs and rats testify that, during months of starvation, colonists ate whatever they could find. Kelso's team also excavated an elaborate row house, a grander building than historians thought the earliest colonists had built. The most intriguing chapter examines several grave sites: among the surprising skeletal discoveries are the remains of a young man who apparently died of a gunshot wound in his leg. The shot suggests some heretofore unknown "political intrigue" in Jamestown's earliest years. At times, Kelso could have gone further in sketching the day-to-day life his artifacts reveal. Nonetheless, this slim book will join the ranks of James Deetz's In Small Things Forgotten and Ivor Noel Hume's Martin's Hundred, archeological studies that find a broad readership among colonial American history buffs. 150 color and b&w illus. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Writing in anticipation of the 400th anniversary in 2007 of England's earliest permanent settlement in America, Kelso (head archaeologist, Jamestown Rediscovery Project) offers a brief but remarkably thorough account of Jamestown by describing his project's attempt to unlock its mysteries. His short but richly detailed historical overview focuses on the major Jamestown figures, including John Smith and Pocahontas, the various hardships endured by the settlers, and the details of their daily lives. He then explains his successful attempt to unearth James Fort, which had embraced the early Jamestown structures and which had previously been thought to be unrecoverable. Kelso takes readers step by step through the 11-year process of proving that the fort had in fact not been washed away by years of erosion. He also introduces readers to modern archaeological and scientific techniques and closes with intriguing and enlightening explanations of what the various unearthed artifacts and skeletal remains reveal about the settlement's tumultuous existence. Kelso's work will be of certain interest to historians, archaeologists, and curious lay readers. The copious maps, excavation photographs, and other illustrations add visual interest to an already captivating story. An invaluable addition to the canon of books on English colonization of America; recommended for all libraries.-Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813927701
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 10/25/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 238
  • Sales rank: 691,638
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

William M. Kelso is Head Archaeologist of the Jamestown Rediscovery Project.

University of Virginia Press

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 11, 2009

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    Fascinating History

    THis is an engrossing and fascinating history of the early roots of European Americans and the Native Americans.

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