Saturday, July 5, 2003

GLOUCESTER, Va. (AP) — Archaeologists searching for the lost village of American Indian leader Powhatan have uncovered intriguing but inconclusive evidence suggesting that the father of Pocahontas once lived on land that is now a York River farm.

The team of more than 20 scientists has discovered three well-preserved blocks of features since it began investigating the 50-acre site in late May, said College of William & Mary archaeologist Martin Gallivan. They were guided by preliminary fieldwork conducted last year.

All three excavations produced numerous artifacts dating to the time of Powhatan, including early examples of European objects brought by colonists. Powhatan ruled most of coastal Virginia when the first English settlers arrived in 1607.

The excavations hint at the presence of an unusually large and powerful settlement like that described by Capt. John Smith after he was captured by Powhatan’s warriors, taken to a flourishing village called Werowocomoco, then befriended and possibly saved from death by Pocahontas.

“This site is remarkably intact,” Mr. Gallivan said last week.

The multiyear study is being conducted by the William & Mary archaeological field school, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Werowocomoco Research Group, and its first season ended Friday.

Among the features uncovered is a 20-by-25-foot area of posthole stains and trenches on a bluff overlooking the river. The area contains the site’s densest concentration of ceramic fragments, projectile points and other artifacts.

Also found were signs of what could be a modest fence line and two spaces devoted to such activities as making tools.

A second set of features farther inland and now surrounded by a cornfield included additional postholes as well as artifacts from the same time period, Mr. Gallivan said.

Farther from the river still and about 850 yards from the first waterfront excavation is a third area of features linked to the time of Powhatan’s rule.

“This is a humongous site for an Indian village,” said archaeologist E. Randolph Turner II, director of the Portsmouth district office of the state Department of Historic Resources. “And it’s one of the things that makes this site consistent with what we know about Werowocomoco.”

More evidence could spring from two unusually large, parallel ditches discovered during the excavation of the third set of features. Though originally believed to be colonial because of their size, the 4-foot-wide trenches contained only Indian artifacts.

“Ditches of this sort just don’t tend to show up in Native American sites from this period,” archaeologist Thane Harpole said. “Something this size requires a huge amount of labor, and that implies both ample manpower and an unusual level of organization.”

Whether the ditches are some sort of extraordinary Indian public works project and another link to the well-developed village at Werowocomoco remains to be determined.

Even with its questions, the site has attracted visits by Virginia Indians.

Welcomed by owners Bob and Lynn Ripley, who began finding artifacts when they bought the property seven years ago, more than a dozen members of the Mattaponi, Pamunkey and Chickahominy tribes stopped by the dig two weeks ago.

“When most of your lands have been taken away and your special places have been lost, the opportunity to come here is unique,” said Deanna E. Beacham, program specialist for the Virginia Council on Indians. “The feeling of connection we get is very strong.”

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