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June 27, 2014

New Exhibition Explores Early Native Contact With English Colonists at James Fort

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- A new exhibit now open at Historic Jamestowne reveals new details about the material world of Virginia’s Native peoples and their interaction with the English settlers.

“The World of Pocahontas, Unearthed” draws from thousands of archaeological artifacts found at James Fort that have illuminated the lifeways of the Chesapeake’s Indian peoples in the early contact period of 1607-1614 at Jamestown.

Twenty years of excavations by the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists have not only brought the story of the English community at James Fort to life but also the story of Virginia Indians through the discovery of thousands of Native artifacts. A trove of Indian-made clay pipes, pots, shell beads, projectile points, and bone and stone tools have been found in the earliest living areas and trash deposits of the fort. James Fort has proven to be one of the richest sites of contact-period Virginia Indian artifacts in the Chesapeake region.

“This highly significant exhibit showcases one of the finest collections of contact period artifacts, Indian and European, in this country,” said Jim Horn, vice president of research and historical interpretation for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “It provides fascinating new evidence of encounters between Indian peoples of the Chesapeake region and the first wave of English settlers, part of an ongoing research effort that is reshaping our view of the early decades of Jamestown’s and the nation’s history.”

“The World of Pocahontas, Unearthed” showcases the extensive collection of Native artifacts emphasizing the adaptations and interdependence of the Powhatans and English as they negotiated a new world. One of the most sophisticated and powerful peoples on the eastern seaboard of North America, the Powhatan Chiefdom was the dominant force in the region. It had a profound effect on the English colony planted in its midst. The wealth of Native material featured in the exhibit enriches the story of the Powhatan Chiefdom in which English America took root.

Featured artifacts reveal that there was more interaction and familiarity between the Powhatans and English within the fort during the early period than is reflected in the historic record.

A display of more than 2,000 mussel shell bead blanks and two stone drills used to make them demonstrates bead production and the presence of Powhatan women working and living in the fort. Bone needles are displayed alongside stone celts, highlighting the range of traditional Indian tools found and used in the fort. Celts were used by Indian women to prepare fibrous plant material for mats and baskets, both highly prized by the English.

Of the nearly 48,000 Native pottery sherds found throughout the fort site, 13 Native pots have been reassembled and reveal substantial support provided to the struggling settlers from the Powhatan Chiefdom. Likely transported in the pots, food such as meat and corn was the most valuable commodity local Indians possessed to barter with the English and was critical to the colonists’ survival.

The close contact between the Powhatans and English colonists created a “third space,” where objects, materials, and techniques were exchanged and modified. Originally ballast in the holds of European ships, English flint proved to be a suitable material for the manufacture of Indian tools and projectile points.

The exhibit features English flint arrowheads displayed alongside a unique clay pot likely produced by Robert Cotton, an English pipe-maker who arrived in Jamestown in 1608. This pot was made by pressing clay into the interior of a Virginia Indian basket. Once fired, it clearly captured the finely woven details of the basket.

“The World of Pocahontas, Unearthed” is on view at the Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium, located at Historic Jamestowne. Admission to the Voorhees Archaearium is included with the purchase of an admission ticket to Historic Jamestowne. The Archaearium is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. daily.

“The World of Pocahontas, Unearthed” exhibit has been generously supported by James City County. The exhibit is part of the World of Pocahontas Initiative, a special year-long commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the marriage of Pocahontas to Englishman John Rolfe. The World of Pocahontas Initiative is presented by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Preservation Virginia at Historic Jamestowne, in collaboration with the Pamunkey Indian Museum and Cultural Center and the Patawomeck Heritage Foundation.

Admission to Historic Jamestowne is $14 per adult and includes both Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield, National Parks passes and Preservation Virginia memberships are accepted, but a $5 fee may apply for entrance to Historic Jamestowne. Youngsters under age 16 receive free admission to Historic Jamestowne. For more information, telephone (757) 229-4497 or visit

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley