The discovery near Williamsburg of a town and fort wiped out by Indians in 1622 has given archeologists a rare chance to analyze America's early English settlers free of the historical impurities of the intervening 350 years.
"We're seeing a settlement that has been undisturbed since earliest Colonial times," said Ivor Noel Hume, resident archeologist at Colonial Williamsburg. "The Indians wiped it out and nobody really resettled the site, so in effect it's been preserved as if in a time capsule."
"The artifacts we're finding, the layout of the fort, all these things are giving us an extraordinary view of those people who settled Virginia almost at the very beginning," said Hume of the digs on Carter's Grove Plantation, several miles from Williamsburg.
"It's tells us something about a chapter of early American history about which we knew nothing before," said Hume, who added that the site was unlike any other ever uncovered in America, both because of its age and because it has remained so untouched.
The most dramatic find has been the skeleton of a man. Hume and field supervisor Eric Klingelhofer believe is the first victim ever found of the Indian uprising of 1622 in which 347 of the approximately 2,500 colonists who had settled in Virginia were killed.
The excavation by a team of 14 financed by the National Geographic Society also has forced a sharp [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in the popular picture of early forts.
Hume described the period between 1610 and 1650 as "the Dark Ages" of Virginia history in discussing the importance of the site. The finding will not change the present view on this period because "there really has been no view," he said.
The site had been identified as of interest during a survey of the land after Colonial Williamsburg acquired Carter's Grove in 1970, but work there did not start until last year.
The first excavation placed the archeological team squarely inside an irregularly shaped four-sided fort measuring roughly 131 feet by 86 feet, Hume said.
Instead of finding a palisade of pointed logs side by side, like a wesern fort, they found widely spaced posts. The gaps were closed with planking, and raised watchtowers stood at the corners.
Hume said, "Heretofore, we envisioned these lonely outposts as looking like something out of the Old West, with posts closely set side by side so arrows couldn't penetrate: Jamestown has even been depicted this way."
Hume, a British archeologist who has been at Williamsburg for 22 years, said the fort with its outlying civilian structures is very similar to early British plantations in Ireland which also were subject to attack.
Hume and Klingelhofer say evidence is convincing that they have found the site of Wolstenholme Towne, founded in 1619 as the central town in an area called Martin's Hundred. The 31 square mile tract called Martin's Hundred was owned by the Martin's Hundred Society, a subsidiary of the Virginia Company of London.
Martin's Hundred had a population of about 140 on the morning of Good Friday, March 22, 1622, the day of a coordinated attack by the Algonquian Confederation on homes and settlements across Virginia. Of the 140, 58 were killed and 15 were captured, Hume said.
Hume speculated that the Wolstenholme survivors fled to the fort until the Indians withdrew and then sent ships to Jamestown for help.
When a ship arrived from Jamestown, the survivors hurriedly buried their dead and left for Jamestown. The Indians then returned and completed the looting and burning of the fort and town.
After the skeleton was found, the archeologists also found a broken smoking pipe which a British expert says could date from about 1620. They found flecks of ash below the body, which could have been expected to blow in from buildings burning nearby and they found the man had not been placed carefully in the grave but tossed in. The body was pushed against one side of the grave in an arc, with the left arm under the left buttock.
The final convincing piece of evidence that the man they had found was a massacre victim was "evidence of murder," Hume said.
The back of the skull had been crushed in by a massive blow, according to experts at the Smithsonian and the state medical examiners, Hume said. The injury fit the method of attack by the Indians who filtered unarmed into homes and towns in the colony, then attacked with tools and weapons of the victims.
Hume, who spent most of the Fourth of July at the dig, said yesterday in a telephone interview that a pit near where the body was found is yielding a treasure of artifacts, "an amazing array of early American pottery."
Also, a full helmet with cheek plates and hinged visor - the first found on a Colonial site - and bullets, firing mechanisms and musket barrels have been found.
Hume said the pottery was made "by people with considerable talent" and backs up what he described as the "theory of the thwarted immigrant."
"They had been trained to make good pottery, but they lack the necessary material and equipment. The clay was not good and the kiln not hot enough," Hume said.
"The craftsmanship was as good as England but the end product wasn't. They made all sorts of shapes, handles, scroll decorations. But their results were less than they were used to. As you get later you get deterioration in decoration and the next generation finds the customer will settle for less and doesn't bother with the fancy stuff," Hume said. CAPTION: Picture 1, The skeleton unearthed in Virginia of a man believed massacred by Indians, Copyright (c) 1979 Colonial Williamsburg; Picture 2, Postholes mark the perimeter of a fort which archeologists believe guarded Wolstenholme near Williamsburg, Copyright (c) 1978 Colonial Williamsburg; Map, The "X" southeast of Williamsburg marks the site of the archeological discovery, The Washington Post