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No ordinary field trip


Senior Conservator Michael Lavin shows Sarah some artifacts

This spring the reference staff was treated to a special tour of the archaeological facilities at Historic Jamestowne. We were greeted at the front door of Jamestown Rediscovery’s lab—which houses the majority of the Jamestown fort artifacts—by Senior Conservator Michael Lavin, who led us on our visit. Michael explained how artifacts are processed from excavation to conservation and finally exhibition. We then entered the vault. This is where Jamestown houses its treasures. Most surprising to us was the international range of artifacts found within the fort, which include ceramics from England, Germany, France, and Spain as well as artifacts from such far-flung nations as Turkey and China.

Behind the scenes tour

Next, we visited the current Jamestown fort excavations, where senior staff archaeologist Danny Smith gave us a behind-the-ropes tour. Presently, they have excavated below the floor of a building erected in the late seventeenth century and are just beginning to work in the footprint of a structure that may have been built at the time the fort was originally constructed. Danny also told us that a few years ago, while they were excavating a seventeenth-century well, they recovered a flintlock pistol.

The flintlock pistol that was found in a well at Jamestown

That flintlock pistol is currently undergoing conservation treatment at Colonial Williamsburg, and that was our next stop on the field trip. Conservator Chris Wilkins is partnering with Michael Lavin to treat the pistol. Conservation is hindered somewhat because the pistol is made of four different materials—wood, brass, lead, and iron—each of which requires completely different treatment. Chris and Michael have been conserving the gun intermittently since January, and recently they dislodged two bullets that had been double loaded. Just finding these two bullets raises more questions about the owner of the gun and how it fell into the well.

Here at the VHS, the Story of Virginia exhibition is a great first step to investigating Virginia’s beginning. If reading is more your style, come visit us in the library, where our collection of secondary sources, such as Lorri Glover’s The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown : The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America or Karen Ordahl Kupperman’s The Jamestown Project, will help you launch your own search into Virginia’s history.

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