Archaeologist Caitlin Delmas is working on an excavation in Jamestown, Virginia, in May 2022, surrounded by sandbags to protect against rising sea levels.

The water rose overnight and by morning had formed a shallow pond over a grassy field that covers the cemetery at Jamestown, one of the founding foundations of the American nation.

Curators – their feet wet with water – say it’s just the latest in a seemingly endless series of floods in the first permanent English settlement in North America, a place where Native American tribes have also lived for thousands of years.

Sandbags and tarpaulins provide some protection from the elements, but curators warn that time is for Jamestown, which is increasingly under threat due to rising sea levels and extreme weather as climate change takes his.

“All of the archaeological resources we have yet to explore can be destroyed,” said Michael Lavin, director of collections at the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, the association responsible for the site in the U.S. state of Virginia.

Earlier this month, the National Foundation for the Preservation of History, a leading heritage institution, included Jamestown in its list of 11 historic sites in 2022.

“Something needs to be done”

“Something needs to be done, and we need to do it now,” Lavin said, traversing the flooded path to get to his office.

David Givens, director of archeology, like his colleague, has worked here for more than 20 years.

“Most of our lives are a dry area,” he said.

David Givens, director of archeology, looks through the floods at Jamestown, a key place in America’s history and heritage that I

David Givens, director of archeology, examines Jamestown, a key site in America’s history and heritage that is under growing threat due to sea level changes caused by climate change.

Floods today have risen by a meter (yard), which, according to average forecasts, will become the norm by the end of the century.

“This is a great example sea ​​level growth, climate change and how it affects us, ”the archaeologist said.

Sea levels at the mouth of the James River have risen by 18 inches (45 centimeters) since 1927.

Concerns are growing, given that this place is a race of much American history: in addition to English settlers, it was inhabited for 12,000 years by Indian tribes, and in 1619 it was the first place where African slaves were brought to Britain. North American territories.

Bones “like sponges”

At the foot of the old church, archaeologist Caitlin Delmas scrapes the ground with her trowel, surrounded by sandbags and tarpaulins that unfold with each downpour.

“It’s also a lot of stress because you have to make sure everything stays dry,” she said.

In 2013, a study of the young woman’s bones found here confirmed that she had fallen victim to cannibalism during the famine that the colonists endured in the winter of 1609-1610.

But such rare discoveries may never be made again: Delmas said the recently excavated bones were “like sponges” and could not be analyzed because of too much alternation between dry and wet.

Caitlin Delmas, a staff archaeologist, discusses her work with visitors in Jamestown, Virginia, May 10, 2022.

Caitlin Delmas, a staff archaeologist, discusses her work with visitors in Jamestown, Virginia, on May 10, 2022.

Givens said it was “almost like a war, like a trench and sandbags, because for us it’s a constant battle.”

“Over time, these archeological sites will become inaccessible, they will be washed away by salt water, flooding,” he said, adding: “I think it scares me the most.”

Marcy Rockman, a pioneer in studying the impact of climate change on cultural resources in the United States national parkssaid cultural heritage sites have “always been hit by thunderstorms, wind and rain”.

“But more than that, these forces are accelerating. They’re getting stronger. They’re recombining in a new way. They come at different times of the year” because of climate change, she said.

In the wide estuary facing Jamestown, several barges bring granite boulders, awaiting the arrival of more favorable weather and the strengthening of an existing sea wall built in the early 20th century to protect the site from erosion.

The $ 2 million project is just the first step: flood research is beginning, and “it will cost tens of millions of dollars,” Lavin said.

In Jamestown the low tide eased the flood a little, and fish splashed over the old cemetery, which had never been properly excavated, and which would soon turn into a swamp if nothing was done.

“Human remains are our data loggers in the past,” Givens said. “There is an urgent study of this.”

Catherine Mellon-France, head of the conservation department of the National History Foundation, said in her Washington office that the clock is ticking.

“We have a five-year window in Jamestown to start seriously mitigating the effects of climate change,” she said. – It is urgent.

Archaeologists have unearthed a tomb in a churchyard in Jamestown facing west

© 2022 AFP

Citation: Jamestown, the cradle of America, threatened by rising sea (2022, May 17) obtained May 17, 2022 from

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