(WASHINGTON) — A team of scientists on Tuesday revealed that a set of 400-year-old skeletons are believed to be early leaders from Jamestown, the place where the English settlement of North America took root, at the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
“They were four of the first founders of English America,” said James Horn, president of Jamestown Rediscovery. “They endured years of starvation, Indian attacks, and disease.”
The four men — Rev. Robert Hunt, Capt. Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman and Capt. William West — were prominent Englishmen in their 20s to 40s, according to scientists at the Jamestown Rediscovery.
Their bodies were exhumed in 2013 from a recently-discovered 1608 church in Jamestown, which was also the site of Pocahontas’ marriage to John Rolfe.
According to the Smithsonian, scientists used a number of tools to make the determination including chemical testing, 3D technology and genealogical research, cross-referencing that information with a list of colonists who died during that time.
Only about 30 percent of the skeletons remained, but scientists were able to determine their sex and approximate age at death.
“This information, paired with the style of coffins and associated artifacts found at the site, led the scientists to match this set of remains,” the Smithsonian said.
Hunt, the first Anglican minister at Jamestown, was found “buried in a simple shroud with no coffin facing the people he served, his congregation.” He, along with Archer, arrived on the first expedition to Jamestown with Capt. John Smith. Testing determined Hunt died at age 34 in either late 1609 or early 1610.
Archer led early expeditions in Jamestown and was a fierce critic of Smith.
Wainman arrived at Jamestown with his first cousin, governor of Virginia Lord De La Warr. He died in 1610 at the age of 34.
West arrived in Jamestown with his relatives, Wainman and De La Warr. He was killed in 1610 “fighting against elite Indian warriors,” said Douglas Owsley, division head of Physical Anthropology at the Museum of Natural History.
But with one mystery solved, another remains.
The small silver box on top of Archer’s coffin is believed to be a Catholic relic. Although scientists are unable to open it, 3D X-ray images of the box reveal it contains bone fragments and an ampulla, a small container used for holy liquids.
Michael Lavin, senior conservator with Jamestown Rediscovery, said the box is significant because “artifacts associated with burial are extremely rare.” Archer’s parents were Catholic and scientists believe the box suggests that at least one of the colonists retained his Catholic faith, perhaps in secret.
The bone fragments found inside the box are “representative of bones of a saint,” Lavin explained. He said the Catholic tradition behind the box predates the Protestant split with the Catholic Church, leading Lavin to speculate whether the box is evidence of “a Catholic cell” at Jamestown or simply remains of an evolving religion.
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