- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 4, 2004

YORKTOWN, Va. — Two tiny squares of copper excavated from a trash heap that link a 17th-century Indian village and the Jamestown settlement are giving researchers insight into trade between the two.

Both pieces are smaller than a fingertip and the same kind of copper that the early colonists used to trade for food with the Indians who lived in Kiskiak and prized the metal, the researchers says.

The discovery of the pieces at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station confirms the believed location of Kiskiak on the York River and illuminates the critical role copper — and the village — had in the survival of the first permanent English settlement in America, archaeologist Dennis Blanton said.

Archaeologists were surprised to find the copper, said Mr.Blanton, former director of the College of William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research. The copper was found by William & Mary archaeologists examining American Indian sites on the weapons station.

“Tangible links to Jamestown had been a rare occurrence on Indian sites,” said Mr. Blanton, in charge of archaeology at Virginia’s Shirley Plantation. “Copper is especially rare in the general debris of settlements.”

Copper was scarce before the English arrived, and “some scholars have written that English copper is what kept the English in the game and forestalled their annihilation by the Indians,” Mr. Blanton said.

Capt. John Smith of Jamestown, which was founded in 1607 as a business venture, wrote of the Indians that “for a coper kettle and a few toyes … they will sell you a whole Country.”

As more ships arrived from England, they brought more copper, and uncontrolled trade diminished the value of copper, scholars have said.

As a result, the Indians demandedgoods of greater value, such as weapons, in exchange for corn and security. That caused an economic crisis at Jamestown and strained relations between the settlers and the Indians.

The devaluation of copper explains why pieces would be found in a trash pit among broken pottery and other household debris, Mr. Blanton said.

“It certainly was in common circulation and no longer the mark of privilege or rank,” he said.

Carter C. Hudgins, an archaeologist with the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, analyzed the chemical makeup of the copper pieces and concluded that they are directly linked to Jamestown and European mines. One piece came from Great Britain and the other from Sweden, he said.

Frank Richardson, the Rappahannock tribe representative to the Virginia Council on Indians, was excited about the find because it shows there was cooperation between Indians and the English.

“There is a connection from the past, that we were there trying to help the settlers,” Mr. Richardson said.

Kiskiak was one of about 30 minor chiefdoms that made up the domain of Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas and a powerful Indian chief who ruled more than 15,000 people from the tribes of coastal Virginia.

Kiskiak was the last major settlement to be abandoned by the Indians on the peninsula between the York and James rivers. It also was the principal Indian settlement depicted on Smith’s map of 1612 that is closest to Werowocomoco, where Powhatan lived. Anyone approaching Werowocomoco by water from Jamestown had to pass by Kiskiak.

Other archaeologists identified the site of Werowocomoco last year, in Gloucester.

In 1999, the Navy enlisted William & Mary to identify all archaeological sites on the 10,000-acre Yorktown Naval Weapons Station property so the Navy could take care of the sites that were significant, Mr. Blanton said.

Archaeologists dug more than 25,000 holes, many no larger than a dinner plate, and identified 366 sites of various periods and cultures, he said.

The weapons station is not open to the public, and the spot where the copper was found was not disclosed in order to preserve it.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide