science

Headless skeleton in Jamestown could be body of one of America's first slave-owning politicians


A headless skeleton discovered at a 400-year-old church in Jamestown, Virginia may belong to one of the first slave-owning politicians in the United States.

Archaeologists suspect the bones may be the body of Sir George Yeardley, who served as governor of the first permanent English colony.

In addition to his role in establishing a representative assembly, Yeardley’s legacy goes hand-in-hand with the onset of slavery in the states.

When ships landed in Virginia carrying stolen Africans to the budding US for the first time, Yeardley was among the buyers.

A headless skeleton discovered at a 400-year-old church in Jamestown, Virginia may belong to one of the first slave-owning politicians in the United States. Archaeologists suspect the bones may be the body of Sir George Yeardley

A headless skeleton discovered at a 400-year-old church in Jamestown, Virginia may belong to one of the first slave-owning politicians in the United States. Archaeologists suspect the bones may be the body of Sir George Yeardley

A headless skeleton discovered at a 400-year-old church in Jamestown, Virginia may belong to one of the first slave-owning politicians in the United States. Archaeologists suspect the bones may be the body of Sir George Yeardley

While it could be months before the bones are truly identified, archaeologists say they may have found the body of Virginia’s first governor, according to the Washington Post.

The team from Jamestown Rediscovery found the mostly-intact skeleton at the site of one of the first churches in the colony.

But, it was missing the head.

Experts say the skull may have deteriorated over time, or been destroyed by subsequent burials in the area. 

The body was buried toward the front and center of the building, in what’s known as the chancel, according to WYDaily.

While it could be months before the bones are truly identified, archaeologists say they may have found the body of Virginia’s first governor. The team from Jamestown Rediscovery found the mostly-intact skeleton at the site of one of the first churches in the colony

While it could be months before the bones are truly identified, archaeologists say they may have found the body of Virginia’s first governor. The team from Jamestown Rediscovery found the mostly-intact skeleton at the site of one of the first churches in the colony

While it could be months before the bones are truly identified, archaeologists say they may have found the body of Virginia’s first governor. The team from Jamestown Rediscovery found the mostly-intact skeleton at the site of one of the first churches in the colony

‘The closer you are to the chancel, the closer you are to God, essentially,’ Kaitlyn Fitzgerald, an archaeologist with Jamestown Rediscovery, told WYDaily.

‘You have to really be a prominent member of the society or in the clergy to be buried in the chancel of the church.’

The team has been working to uncover the skeleton and find any additional clues as to the real identity.

In a major breakthrough, one researcher recently stumbled upon teeth, which could be crucial in obtaining DNA.

After spotting the first tooth in the dirt, archaeologist Mary Anna Hartley eventually found 10, according to the Post.

The skeleton was found by researchers from Jamestown Rediscovery. The video above shows a virtual tour of the 1608 Jamestown Church Chancel excavation site

The team has been working to uncover the skeleton and find any additional clues as to the real identity

The team has been working to uncover the skeleton and find any additional clues as to the real identity

The archaeologists have teamed up with the Skeletal Biology Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History for the effort

The archaeologists have teamed up with the Skeletal Biology Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History for the effort

The team has been working to uncover the skeleton and find any additional clues as to the real identity. The archaeologists have teamed up with the Skeletal Biology Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History for the effort

The bones indicate the deceased was in his late 30s or early 40s when he died. This lines up with Yeardley’s history, who died in 1627 around the age of 40.

Researchers will now analyze the remains to see if the DNA could match Yeardley’s, working carefully so as to not contaminate the samples.

They’ll also attempt to track down any of his descendants.

The archaeologists have teamed up with the Skeletal Biology Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History for the effort.

Yeardley served as governor of the colony three times, and convened the first meeting of the House of Burgesses in 1619 – the same year enslaved Africans are believed to have arrived in English North America.

Jamestown, Virginia was the first permanent English colony in the United States. The map above shows Virginia as illustrated by John Smith in 1612

Jamestown, Virginia was the first permanent English colony in the United States. The map above shows Virginia as illustrated by John Smith in 1612

Jamestown, Virginia was the first permanent English colony in the United States. The map above shows Virginia as illustrated by John Smith in 1612

WHO WAS JAMESTOWN’S SIR GEORGE YEARDLEY? 

Sir George Yeardley was governor of  the first permanent English colony in the US

Sir George Yeardley was governor of  the first permanent English colony in the US

Sir George Yeardley was governor of the first permanent English colony in the US

Sir George Yeardley served as governor of Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English colony.

He served as governor of the colony three times, and convened the first meeting of the House of Burgesses in 1619.  

In addition to his role in establishing a representative government assembly, Yeardley’s legacy goes hand-in-hand with the onset of slavery in the states.

When ships landed in Virginia carrying stolen Africans to the budding US for the first time, Yeardley was among the buyers. He died in 1627 around the age of 40.

Historians say Yeardley was also one of the colony’s first slave holders.

The discovery, if it is in fact Yeardley, would be a major find for the Jamestown archaeologists.

And so far, the evidence seems to line up with their suspicions.

‘I think he’s probably a leader in the colony and someone has taken great care to place him in a really oversized burial shaft in a really pristine location of the 1617 church,’ Hartley told WYDaily.

‘The most likely candidate right now is Sir George Yeardley.’





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