Archaeologists unearth a churchyard grave in Jamestown, facing west | 7/28/2015 | Staff
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It was tradition in 17th century Virginia to bury corpses with the heads pointed west and the feet to the east. This was done so that the eyes would face east, toward Jerusalem and the rapture.

Almost a year ago, archaeologists in Jamestown found a grave—and perhaps the answer to a mystery—while studying the architecture and foundation of a church that was started in 1639.

Grave - Body - Shroud - Coffin - Symbol

In this grave, the body was not just wrapped in a shroud, but actually buried in a hexagonal coffin, a symbol of high status. And the head was to the east, looking west. Both of these details hint at a person of some importance.

"We have uncovered other burials facing west instead of east at the 1608 church and in the 1617 church," said Sean Romo, senior staff architect at Historic Jamestowne. "The 1608 one was Reverend Hunt, the first minister out here. In the 1617 burial we believe it is (Gov.) George Yeardley, but we're still working on proving it.

West - Status - Community - Yeardley - Subjects

"Both were facing west, and both had status in the community. Yeardley would have been facing his subjects. Another one we found facing the wrong direction was Captain Gabriel Archer—again, a man of position in the community."

In the intricately detailed world of archaeology, which moves at a much slower pace than depicted in the "Indiana Jones" movies, the staff at Historic Jamestowne is still at the stage of speculating as to who this new discovery might be.


They haven't even seen the remains yet.

The gravesite is identified by how layers of soil and clay are disturbed—a sign that they had been dug up in a specific pattern and then shoveled back into place. The shape of the casket is determined by the shape of the grave, and the position of the head and feet is clear because the top...
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