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Jamestown, the Truth Revealed

William M. Kelso

BUY Ebook · 296 pp. · ISBN 9780813939940 · $34.95 · May 2017
BUY Paper · 296 pp. · 6.5 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813942100 · $29.95 · Jul 2018

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association (2017)

What was life really like for the band of adventurers who first set foot on the banks of the James River in 1607? Important as the accomplishments of these men and women were, the written records pertaining to them are scarce, ambiguous, and often conflicting. In Jamestown, the Truth Revealed, William Kelso takes us literally to the soil where the Jamestown colony began, unearthing footprints of a series of structures, beginning with the James Fort, to reveal fascinating evidence of the lives and deaths of the first settlers, of their endeavors and struggles, and new insight into their relationships with the Virginia Indians. He offers up a lively but fact-based account, framed around a narrative of the archaeological team's exciting discoveries.

Unpersuaded by the common assumption that James Fort had long ago been washed away by the James River, William Kelso and his collaborators estimated the likely site for the fort and began to unearth its extensive remains, including palisade walls, bulwarks, interior buildings, a well, a warehouse, and several pits. By Jamestown’s quadricentennial over 2 million objects were cataloged, more than half dating to the time of Queen Elizabeth and King James.

Kelso’s work has continued with recent excavations of numerous additional buildings, including the settlement’s first church, which served as the burial place of four Jamestown leaders, the governor’s rowhouse during the term of Samuel Argall, and substantial dump sites, which are troves for archaeologists. He also recounts how researchers confirmed the practice of survival cannibalism in the colony following the recovery from an abandoned cellar bakery of the cleaver-scarred remains of a young English girl. CT scanning and computer graphics have even allowed researchers to put a face on this victim of the brutal winter of 1609–10, a period that has come to be known as the "starving time."

Refuting the now decades-old stereotype that attributed the high mortality rate of the Jamestown settlers to their laziness and ineptitude, Jamestown, the Truth Revealed produces a vivid picture of the settlement that is far more complex, incorporating the most recent archaeology and using twenty-first-century technology to give Jamestown its rightful place in history, thereby contributing to a broader understanding of the transatlantic world.


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.

Patricia Cornwell

In the decade that has passed since the publication of Jamestown, the Buried Truth (which appeared in time for the commemoration of the four-hundredth anniversary of Jamestown’s founding), archaeologist Bill Kelso and his talented staff have kept digging, piling as they have one astounding discovery on another. So many and so significant, in fact, that Time named the excavations at Jamestown one of the ‘explorations that changed history.’ In this updated and expanded edition, Kelso reports discoveries made during a second decade of research and the application of new technologies used to wrest meaning from objects cast away four centuries ago. Kelso is a master at harnessing the narrative power of Jamestown’s artifacts, fashioning absorbing portraits of men and women who were drawn to Jamestown and whose lives were, for all but a few, truncated abruptly. These artifacts speak of tenacity, stubbornness, dogged determination, cruelty, desperation, and, Kelso argues, hope. Jamestown, the Truth Revealed is an invitation to an intimate encounter with early English Virginia and is important for restoring individual agency and personalities to the story of Jamestown. Kelso brings us face-to-face with the harder, harsher, and occasionally disconcerting truths in which this chapter of our national founding was embedded."—

Carter L. Hudgins, Clemson University

William Kelso’s Jamestown, the Truth Revealed offers far more than an updated report on his team’s archaeological discoveries at Jamestown during the past decade. Their new findings advance and transform our understanding of the colony and its people—European and native alike. Jamestown, the Truth Revealed is a profoundly important portrayal of the remarkable men and women who lived and died at Jamestown four centuries ago.

Jon Kukla, author of Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty and Mr. Jefferson’s Women

Archaeologist Kelso (Jamestown, the Buried Truth) has painstakingly recounted his amazing discovery of James Fort in Virginia, a site once thought long eroded into the James River... Amid the historical narrative, Kelso details the excavation process he undertook at Jamestown from 1994 to 2014, which he supports with numerous photographs and computer reconstructions of the dig.... [An] information rich volume.

Library Journal

On the new book’s cover, the haunting face of a young woman stares out from darkness. That’s the reconstruction of ‘Jane,’ whose mutilated skull was found with other trash in a layer that dates to the Starving Time in the winter of 1609-10.

Katherine Calos · Richmond Times Dispatch

The twenty-first century tools used by Kelso and his crew including X-ray, chemical and DNA analysis, and computer manipulation, combined with the historian’s knowledge of architecture, fashion, and technology, give answers to the what, why, and how questions of this early time in the settlement of America. The book is nicely illustrated with several maps and dozens of photographs of the archeological excavations and the artifacts found.

FSG Forum

As the director of the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological investigation, Kelso is in the catbird seat and shares the view from that vantage with his readers.... Part archaeological report, part forensic mystery, part Atlantic World history, Jamestown: The Truth Revealed is a deep and intimate view into a significant project and its governing logic.

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

About the Author(s): 

William M. Kelso is Head Archaeologist of the Jamestown Rediscovery Project.

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