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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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“Our men were destroyed with cruel diseases as Swellings, Fluxes, Burning Fevers, and by warres, and some departed suddenly, but for the most part they died of mere famine.”

– George Percy, Observations Gathered out of a Discourse of the Plantation of the Southerne Colonie in Virginia by the English, 1607

 

a double burial
Double burial JR1368. Image courtesy: Smithsonian Institution

Skeletal Evidence

Even though the island’s clay soil had trapped groundwater, causing poor preservation of the bones, skeletal data could be gathered. Both bodies were male of European ancestry. Differing degrees of wear on their teeth held clues to their age—which in turn held clues to their identity.

Evidence at the Scene

Both excavated double burials lay under a row house known to have been built by 1611. No European objects and only a few American Indian pottery fragments and stone tool flakes were recovered from the burials or grave fill. These men died in the early days of the fort, before settlement significantly affected the area.

APVA Preservation Virginia excavators at work, 2005
APVA Preservation Virginia excavators at work, 2005. Image courtesy: Smithsonian Institution

Though carefully dug, this grave was more than big enough for two bodies. The gravediggers were inexperienced. They started an even larger shaft, scaled it back, and then cut steps in one corner. The skeletons’ positions show that the man who held their feet stepped into the grave, while the man who held the heads stayed at ground level. They lowered the older body first. The younger man’s left elbow rested on the older man’s right arm at the time of burial.

Probable IDs

“The four and twentieth day [of August], died Edward Harington and George Walker, and were buried the same day.”
— George Percy, 1607

The month of August 1607 claimed the lives of 21 men, according to the colonist George Percy. In his journal he listed their names and dates of death. He mentions three days on which two deaths occurred.

The biological profiles from this grave match the known facts about two men whom Percy lists as both buried on August 24, the day they died. Historical records reveal that Edward Harington and George Walker were 25 and 41 respectively. Based on all the evidence, it’s quite likely that the men in this double burial were Harington and Walker.

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