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Jamestown, the Buried Truth Paperback – November 5, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In what is certainly one of the more substantial of the many commemorative tomes that will be published as Jamestown, Va., turns 400, Kelso, head archeologist at the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, describes the process of unearthing America's oldest permanent English settlement and the new light his findings shed on it. Like most archeologists, Kelso rejoices when he finds garbage heaps: Jamestown's trash pits hold evidence of glass making, and recovered armor confirms the existence of a military barracks. Butchered skeletons of dogs and rats testify that, during months of starvation, colonists ate whatever they could find. Kelso's team also excavated an elaborate row house, a grander building than historians thought the earliest colonists had built. The most intriguing chapter examines several grave sites: among the surprising skeletal discoveries are the remains of a young man who apparently died of a gunshot wound in his leg. The shot suggests some heretofore unknown "political intrigue" in Jamestown's earliest years. At times, Kelso could have gone further in sketching the day-to-day life his artifacts reveal. Nonetheless, this slim book will join the ranks of James Deetz's In Small Things Forgotten and Ivor Noel Hume's Martin's Hundred, archeological studies that find a broad readership among colonial American history buffs. 150 color and b&w illus. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


The unearthing of Jamestown is truly the autopsy of America, an amazing dissection and reconstruction of four-hundred-year-old artifacts and human remains that reveal how the first settlers spent their days, how they lived and died, and what they accomplished and suffered. Without chief archaeologist William Kelso's almost mystical vision that the original site still existed and his persistence against all odds to unearth it, we would have little to rely on but legend to tell us how modern America began. Jamestown: The Buried Truth is brilliantly written, a story and adventure unlike any other that will forever change the way we think about what happened when John Smith and his brave followers sailed to Virginia in 1607 and established the first permanent English settlement.

(Patricia Cornwell)

The exciting story of a momentous archaeological project, told firsthand by the scholars who uncovered the real Jamestown―the original fort from John Smith’s day. Based on information derived from thousands of artifacts uncovered amid the graves and foundations of England‚s earliest permanent settlement in America, William M. Kelso’s Jamestown, the Buried Truth tells the world what his team found―and what it means. Their scholarship is impeccable, their maps and illustrations are magnificent, and their discoveries are amazing.

(Jon Kukla, author of Mr. Jefferson’s Women and A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America)

Anticipating the four hundredth anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Bill Kelso and APVA/Preservation Virginia began thirteen years ago the archaeological exploration of the site of England's first permanent settlement in North America. What Kelso and his team have found there since the first shovel was turned is nothing less than astounding. Evidence of everything that was built, abandoned, and then lost during Jamestown's first decades survived, literally inches beneath commemorative statues of John Smith and Pocahontas. It is clear that Kelso's discovery and excavation of James Fort is, by far, the most important archaeological event in the long and distinguished history of archaeology in Virginia and that its contributions to historical understanding of Jamestown are significant for early Virginia and for the history of the Atlantic world.

(Carter L. Hudgins, Hofer Distinguished Professor of Early American Culture, University of Mary Washington)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press (November 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813927706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813927701
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 0.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David M. Garrett on January 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
During a visit in 1994, I witnessed the early stages of the Jamestown Rediscovery team's dig and wondered, "What do they expect to find that hasn't turned up in the last (then) 387 years? Don't we know the story of the first permanent English settlement in America? During my 2005 visit I chatted with several of Kelso's team. They answered my question. I was amazed. You will be too.

"Jamestown: The Buried Truth" chronicles an historical treasure rediscovered in America's backyard. William Kelso's perspectives are fresh and the history flavored with insight into the patient techniques and tools of archeology. A consummate scientist, Kelso is objective in interpreting the facts and balanced in posing scenarios where facts are absent or ambiguous. Though reading like a doctoral dissertation at times, soon enough the pages begin to turn revealing a captivating story. Published by the University of Virginia Press, this 238 page book is elegant and neatly executed. The text is complemented, not overwhelmed by photographs, maps and diagrams, many in color. Excluding footnotes, that are relegated to the back, visual aids are available for immediate reference, located adjacent to the applicable discussion.

The book is divided into five parts. The first chapter examines the written record including a selection of primary sources from journals, reports, and letters. With this as context, Kelso digs into the site's physical evidence. Included is a fascinating account of the rediscovery of James Fort, long believed lost to the adjacent river. Also included is a more tedious narrative of various buildings discovered proximal to the fort.
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Format: Hardcover
My husband and I visited Jamestown Settlement on our honeymoon to Williamsburg this year, and this coming year of 2007 is the 400th anniversary of the settlement that literally began American culture as we know it today. This book highlights all of the hidden things that nobody thinks about in history anymore and is an excellent history of Jamestown. It contains some very cool pictures and little known facts. I think that I appreciate this book more because I have been to the Jamestown Settlement (twice actually) and we got to see up close the artifacts and the land. Next year, a huge new wing of the Jamestown Museum will open up, just in time for the 400th anniversary celebration, and will contain many of the artifacts and pieces mentioned in the book. I really feel that this is an important read and the Jamestown is more than a place for schoolchildren to visit. American culture began at Jamestown. This is really where things got started, and it's a piece of our heritage as Americans that is quite often overlooked or skimmed over. What better time to get aquainted with our history than now, when it's about to turn 400 years old?
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Format: Hardcover
Kelso's book targets the 400th anniversary of this European settlement in North America. In a very readable narrative, he describes to a lay reader the results of recent intensive archeology into what remains of Jamestown. There are copious photos and diagrams, in black and white and colour, that help to convey how the diggings were conducted, and how the settlers lived.

It is also an enjoyable education of how archeology is currently conducted. A reader might [and indeed should] be impressed by the painstaking methodology of extracting relics, while all the time striving to record the context in which they were found. Along with what is possible in terms of scientific dating techniques.

We see that Jamestown was a very precarious place to be. Starvation was a real danger, and the colonists were simply unaware of effective agricultural methods in the New World. Those would come later, to other settlers at other colonies. At Jamestown, this ignorance carried a heavy price.
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Format: Hardcover
I knew I had to get this book when I saw it had a blurb on the back by Patricia Cornwell, not the first person you think of in terms of being an archaeological expert, but an expert at whipping up excitement in readers as well as being the writer with the weirdest Jack the Ripper theory ever and the bank balance to "prove it." And Virginia is her turf just the way Pamplona was Hemingway's, plus she has all the forensic science in her background so as Dr. Kelso and his team pull one body after another out of the spongy Jamestown earth, you can practically feel the excited, hot breath of Patricia Cornwell at the back of your neck, willing them to come to the right forensic conclusions.

They didn't find only bodies, they found literally hundreds of thousands of small forgotten items, everything from strands of hair to kernels of unpopped corn to bits of bright finery. Kelso provides dozens of photos of these items, and some curious computer-generated drawings to show you how Jamestowners might actually have looked, alive and standing up and sporting muskets. One corpse he calls "The First Lady" of Jamestown, buried in a white pine coffin with its nails surviving, and among the relics was an "eggshell-like" skull with five teeth remaining, and thanks to fleuroscopy and CGI we turn the page and voila, there's a picture of the first lady's skull, and next to it, her head while alive, smiling and looking arch, with great swooping eyebrows that give her the look of a red-haired Mariska Hargitay. "The image may be more reflective of the reality of rugged early Jamestown than most want to imagine. Regardless, the 1617 engraving of Pocahontas is now no longer the only existing image of an early Jamestown woman.
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