Two years later, then-Gov. George Allen held a press conference at the site to announce that evidence of the fort had been found. That was a discovery some believed might never be equalled -- until this September.
That's when archaeologist Bill Kelso and Elizabeth Kostelny, executive director of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, announced that digs this year have turned up the remaining two points of the triangular fort, completing the footprint of the structure.
"Although it is difficult to surpass the euphoria felt in 1996, this is an equally historic day," Kostelny told media gathered for the announcement.
Kelso, director of archaeology for APVA's Preservation Virginia, noted that when the first discovery of the east corner of the original fort was made, he realized he had "the tiger by the tail."
"But it was just the tail," he said. "It was, if I can use another analogy, the tip of the iceberg. I feel confident that we now have found at least the outline of the entire iceberg."
New finds announced include:
-- The fort's north bulwark, just a few yards north of the church building. -- The west palisade, extending from the north bulwark toward the James River. -- A short section of moat at the west bulwark, just above the seawall that was constructed by the APVA in 1901.
Being able to lay out the location of the west wall enables Kelso and his team to see that two previous finds -- a well and the burial believed to be that of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold - actually are outside the fort.
Inside the palisade line are postholes that could indicate buildings.
"That's archaeology," Kelso joked. "You base your hypothesis on the best information you have at the time, and it can be refined with the next discovery.
"That's why this is so exciting," he continued. "We can finally connect the dots and define the true shape and size of James Fort. Knowing that will help us date everything we find inside the James Fort site."
The fort took up about 1.1 acres. Two palisades measured about 310 feet each; the longer wall was about 427 feet.
From the discovery of the first corner in 1996, the project has had to overcome nearly four centuries of disturbance to some of the soil. In many cases it was trial and error, searching the ground for clues. Often, as it turns out, digs had been conducted outside the fort structure.
Near the well that the team found last year, archaeologists found the dark stains of the west wall. Inside the Confederate earthworks left from the Civil War, staff archaeologists followed the line until they found the north bulwark.
It took students in this summer's archaeological field school about a month to dig down more than seven feet to find it.
Kelso noted that researchers have catalogued and recorded everything about the dirt removed so it can be put back in place later.
Nearby, the construction of a road years ago appears to have destroyed the rest of the bulwark.
"With so much soil disturbance in the area, it's amazing that the stains from the decayed posts are still there," Kelso said.
The dig turned up some other interesting features at the site of the north bulwark. Senior staff archaeologist Jamie May noted that there were deposits of charcoal, an indication of at least one fire.
Also, there's evidence of some palisade walls extending from the bulwark that would have been the outline of an expanded, five-sided fort constructed as the settlement grew.
At the west bulwark, researchers found that the James River has eroded most of the evidence through the years.
The seawall stopped the erosion. Ironically, Kelso said, the APVA felt the fort was already lost when the wall was built in 1901. Another section near the church was added in 1907, and work has been approved to extend the wall to protect more of the island.
"This seawall saved the day," Kelso said, standing on top of the concrete wall.
Researchers have kept 2007 as a target date to tell the story of the fort. With the fort boundary identified, research can focus inside the walls looking at structures such as the original church and storehouse.
When the dig inside the fort perimeter is finished, then it's on to the town outside.
"There's at least 30 more years here," Kelso said.
Kostelny said the APVA considered the research and finds from the dig as its contribution to the 2007 observance. She also envisions a dig of some form continuing well after that date.
This fall will begin the construction of new facilities at Historic Jamestowne. The sequence of work will be: a new collections facility, followed by a new visitor services center, and modern interpretive areas.
"We don't look at 2007 as an end date," Kostelny said. "Facilities will come online after 2007 to keep the excitement going."
Sandy Rives, who is heading up the Jamestown 2007 efforts for the National Park Service at Historic Jamestowne, said the most current discoveries "fit well into the overall planning for Jamestown for the next 50 years and forever."
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