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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Long Thought Lost, Jamestown Unearthed

JAMESTOWN, Virginia -- Archaeologists don't expect instant gratification. But the first day that William Kelso stuck a shovel into the soil here at the site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World, he knew he had struck pay dirt.


Kelso's discovery of the foundations of the first fort built by English settlers after they landed on this scenic island in 1607 -- the fort long thought to have been destroyed by erosion -- will be trumpeted to the world here next month, when the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, or APVA, plans a gala "for a global announcement of extraordinary archaeological finds.''


It was April 4, 1994, when Kelso, 55, uncovered a piece of broken pottery at the site.


The shard matched pottery he had seen only weeks earlier in Portsmouth, England, that had been taken from the shipwrecked Mary Rose, part of King Henry VIII's fleet that sank off the English coast in 1545.


"Since that first day, we knew we were at ground zero, and every day since then has been exciting,'' said Tim Kolly, an APVA spokesman.


The APVA, which for the last century has owned the most historic 22.5 acres of this 640-hectare island (the rest belongs to the National Park Service), hired Kelso to conduct a dig with the idea that some new clues to Jamestown's founding might be uncovered in time for its 400th anniversary celebration in 2007.


Instead, Kelso and his crew, now working beneath a blue and white striped tent to protect them from the blazing August sun, are more than a decade ahead of schedule.


Kelso, who had been working at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia, had never accepted the conventional wisdom of the last 200 years: that the first permanent settlement at Jamestown had been washed into the 3.2-kilometer-wide James River.


Soon he found a palisade trench, post holes of a decayed building and a network of drainage ditches "that we knew was not just a garden fence,'' Kelso said with a smile.