Archaeologists have found what appears to be the grave -- and the relatively well-preserved skeleton -- of Jamestown founder Bartholomew Gosnold where the 17th-century colony's fort once stood.
Gosnold, little known to Americans but a hero in England, arranged the financing for the Jamestown expedition to establish an English colony in the New World after the failure of a settlement at Roanoke Island.
Although Gosnold was a leader of the venture and designed the triangular fort, Capt. John Smith is much better known because of his extensive writings about Jamestown and his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay.
Gosnold died Aug. 22, 1607, four months after arriving in Jamestown. He was buried with considerable ceremony, but the exact location of his grave was lost. William Kelso, archaeology director of the Richmond-based Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, said the grave and skeleton are considered a major find.
"This is off the charts," he said of the discovery, which was made in December on the small portion of Jamestown Island that is owned by the association. The rest is managed by the National Park Service.
"First we found the fort site had not been washed into the river, and then we find the grave of a principle person," he said. "This is the highlight of my career."
Kelso said he would await DNA results before saying the remains are Gosnold's. The bones will be reinterred after an analysis is completed, most likely at the place where they were found, according to association spokeswoman Paula Neely.
Kelso declined to give many details about the discovery, saying he was saving that information for a news conference today. But he did say the skeleton was in remarkably good condition.
"We don't know why that is," he said. "It's a puzzle, and we are studying that. It may have been the soil type or the drainage."
The grave was undisturbed for nearly 400 years because the land was never farmed and was protected by earthen breastworks built by Confederate soldiers on the fort's footprint, Kelso said. Since 1889, the association has protected the site.
Gosnold is also known for an earlier expedition in which he explored the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine, staying long enough to name an island, Martha's Vineyard, after his infant daughter, and Cape Cod after the plentiful fish there.
In 1606, he was appointed commander of the Godspeed, one of the three ships that reached the Virginia coastline in May 1607.
Kelso said Gosnold is less well known than Smith because he died young age -- in his mid-thirties -- and he left few written records of his accomplishments. Archaeologists began excavating the fort site in 1994 as a way to contribute to the 400th anniversary of the colony in 2007. Kelso said he expects the work to continue for many years.