Archaeology Colonial body armor unearthed

Discussion in 'Archaeology' started by mscbkc070904, Apr 13, 2005.

  1. mscbkc070904

    mscbkc070904 Premium Member

    JAMESTOWN -- Archaeologists sifting through the remains of America's first permanent English settlement have discovered a rare, largely intact example of Elizabethan-era body armor known as a coat of jacks.

    Used by 17th-century settlers as a defense against Indian attacks, the quilted canvas-and-iron-plate garment was the colonial version of a modern-day flack jacket, said Bly Straube, curator of artifacts at the Jamestown Rediscovery project.

    But few examples have survived - especially after being buried in the ground for so long.

    "We've found quite a few of the iron plates - and we've got pieces of armor that appear to have been cut up to make the plates," Straube said.

    "But we've never found one that's all together."

    Archaeologist Luke Pecoraro unearthed the distinctive overlapping fish-scale pattern of the coat of jacks Friday while excavating a pit inside the west wall of James Fort.

    Supported by an underlying pedestal of soil, the fragile artifact was removed from the site Monday and will undergo extensive treatment at the project's conservation lab.

    "We don't have any of the fabric. It looks like it's all gone - and all of the iron pieces are rusted together in place like fish scales," conservator Michael Lavin said Monday after his preliminary examination.

    "We had to use cheese cloth and a temporary consolidant to try to keep all the plates together. It's going to take a long time - I'd say six months at least - to finish."

    Records from the earliest years of the Jamestown Colony indicate that King James I sent a large supply of old armor and weapons to aid the settlers after the catastrophic Indian uprising of 1622.

    Though considered obsolete in England by that that time, the sleeveless coat of jacks - which reach back to the early 1500s - still saw use in Virginia by offering valuable protection against Indian attacks.

    "The Spanish went back and used them, too, because the quilted plates were more effective against arrows that plate armor," Straube explained.

    "They absorbed the blow instead of being pierced."

    One other partially intact example of a coat of jacks, also known as a jack of plate, was unearthed at an archaeological site near Hopewell more than 10 years ago.

    But where that discovery dated to about 1625 - and may have been part of King James' armor shipment - the new find appears to come from a much earlier context, Jamestown Rediscovery director William Kelso said.

    Previous evidence shows that the Jamestown settlers were cutting solid armor into squares or jacks by 1610 or earlier, he added, so it's possible that Friday's find was made in Virginia rather than shipped from England.

    If true, that would make the artifact an important new example of how the colonists adapted to the conditions they found in the New World.

    Source: Daily Press