- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

JAMESTOWN, Va. — Archaeologists have unearthed more than 1 million artifacts since they found the long-lost remains of the triangular fort at America’s first permanent English settlement in the mid-1990s.

Now they have an exhibit space to display them.

The best 1,000 or so of the artifacts will be presented to the public for the first time when a $4.9 million museum within view of the fort site on the James River opens tomorrow, the 399th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

The Archaearium at Historic Jamestowne will exhibit artifacts from coins and armor to wine bottles, medical instruments and a skeleton thought to be that of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold, a founder of the colony.

Virtual viewers will show re-created scenes of what James Fort looked like in the 17th century.

Visitors can observe the ongoing archaeological dig, including excavation of a well-turned trash pit that was found in the fall and may have belonged to a more famous founder, Capt. John Smith. Seeds, nuts, buttons, a child’s leather shoe, surgical tools and untarnished copper have been found sealed inside in good condition.

The 7,500-square-foot Archaearium tells the story of Jamestown from its beginnings as a commercial venture in 1607 until 1699, when the capital of Virginia moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg.

“Archaearium” is a word invented to describe a place for history and archaeology. It comes from the prefix “archaeo,” which means “old” or “archaeology,” and “arium,” a suffix that means “place.”

“What the Archaearium does is it ties the artifacts and the words of the people from the 17th century … back to the original landscape to help give our visitors a sense of being in a historic place,” said Ann Berry, program coordinator for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, which runs Historic Jamestowne with the National Park Service.

The facility is the centerpiece of a $63 million master plan for “interpretive experiences” that will open at Historic Jamestowne during the next year leading up to Jamestown’s 400th anniversary. They will focus on the history of America’s birthplace and the Indian, European and African people who lived there.

Plans include a $7.2 million visitor and education center to open in the fall that will replace an outdated center built in 1957 for the 350th anniversary, said Mike Litterst, a park service spokesman.

About 700,000 people are expected to visit Historic Jamestowne next year during the 400th anniversary commemoration, more than double the current annual number of visitors.

The site has attracted attention worldwide since 1996, when archaeologists announced they had discovered soil stains indicating the footprint of the fort, which long was thought to have eroded into the river. Most of the 1 million artifacts recovered since then are in a locked vault.

The Archaearium was built over the foundation of the last Statehouse at Jamestown. Portions of the excavated ruins are visible through glass openings in the floor.

The one-story building sits on pilings to avoid disturbing archaeological features. The exterior is clad in copper to enhance energy efficiency and symbolize the copper traded between the Virginia Indians and the settlers.

Inside, a three-dimensional representation of a 1620s well shows a suit of armor and other objects suspended within it as they were found, while a partial reconstruction of a mud-and-stud building represents the fort’s early architecture.

The museum also has exhibits explaining how the fort was found and displays of weapons, ceramics, musical instruments and other items, including evidence of attempts at industry by craftsmen even as the settlers struggled to survive in the midst of the worst drought in 800 years.

The exhibits should help dispel the myth that the settlers were “lazy English gentlemen who came here, picked a lousy location [on a swampy peninsula] and totally screwed up,” Miss Berry said. “What we have found through archaeology is a different story.”

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