Monday, January 22, 2007

As the Ground Shares Its Secrets
On the south side of Jamestown Island stands an imposing bronze statue of Capt. John Smith, put up in 1907 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the colony he helped to found. For most of the past century, a loose archaeological consensus held that the statue looked out over the site of the original settlement, a stretch of low-lying ground long ago eaten away by the swiftly flowing currents of the James River.

The loss of that land, and the stories that its subterranean contents might have told, became a kind of coda to the standard historical interpretation of the colony itself: that Jamestown had been a largely unsuccessful venture, carried out by genteel adventurers and military men ill-suited to the task of wresting a livelihood from a rugged wilderness. That they had failed to build their palisaded encampment on higher ground was further proof of their ineptitude. No wonder Jamestown took a back seat to Plymouth Rock in American history textbooks.