- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

JAMESTOWN, Va. — William Kelso has a knack for finding things that others pass by — such as the remains of the Jamestown colony, which are enabling two continents to refine their histories.

The discovery of Jamestown’s fort and hundreds of thousands of 17th-century artifacts sprang from Mr. Kelso’s curiosity as a graduate history student in the 1960s.

Eager to see for himself the site of the nation’s first permanent English settlement, the Ohio native at first was disheartened when a park ranger at Jamestown Island told him he was a couple of centuries too late.

Excavations before the 350th anniversary of the colony’s founding in 1957 uncovered no evidence that the fort existed, and scientists concluded that the structure and the land around it had been washed into the James River.

But the young graduate student looked at a cross section of a mound of dirt left from that dig and saw what he thought were artifacts. He saw different colors in the soil, an indication of historical periods.

“What about that dark layer there?” he asked.

The question lay in the back of Mr. Kelso’s mind for more than 30 years, until he returned as an archaeologist to search for the answer as Jamestown’s 400th anniversary approached.

The dark layer was, in fact, significant.

Mr. Kelso began work alone with a shovel in April 1994, and within an hour was finding artifacts.

Since then, he and a team have found the entire outline of the triangular fort that was built in 1607.

Among major discoveries was a skeleton thought to belong to one of the colony’s founders, Bartholomew Gosnold, although the identity could not be proved through DNA tests.

The scientists’ work has led to a clearer picture of life in the colony, and perhaps can shed more light on the settlers’ relationship with American Indians.

“We definitely have evidence of tremendous interaction between the two groups,” said Mr. Kelso, who is now in his mid-60s with neatly trimmed white hair and a mustache that keep him looking distinguished even in a soil pit.

The scientists have found several items such as shell beads and the kinds of arrow points that the Indians made, as well as evidence that those items were being made inside the fort.

Far more Indian artifacts are in the fort than would have been traded, Mr. Kelso said. “This is like the Virginia Indians were living here.”

The site’s chief archaeologist also thinks the colony might have been established on the site of an abandoned Indian village.

After all, the first settlers were directed to find a site where they would not have to clear many trees.

“That might … be the story that archaeology could tell,” Mr. Kelso said.

The fort site was rich with artifacts because it lay undisturbed except for the erection of a Confederate Army earthwork in 1861.

The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities saw to its protection, organizing to acquire 22.5 acres that include the fort site in 1893.

In 11 years of digging, the archaeologists have stowed away about 700,000 artifacts, including a huge collection of early 17th-century Tudor and Stuart period objects.

Those pieces have attracted the interest of the British.

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