Looking For A Match To Jamestown Bones

DISCOVERIES

February 04, 2005

JAMESTOWN, VA. — JAMESTOWN, Va.-- The Church of England has agreed to allow researchers using radar to look beneath two churches for remains that could determine whether a skeleton found at Jamestown is that of one of the colony's founders, scientists said this week.

Researchers who excavated the site of a 400-year-old fort at Jamestown want to know whether a skeleton discovered there in 2003 is that of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold, captain of one of the three ships that carried settlers from England.

To do so, they need to find the graves of Gosnold's sister and niece, who were buried in two churches in Suffolk, England, and conduct DNA analyses. The Church of England, which owns the sites, has agreed to allow a ground-radar survey of the graves.

If they find remains, the researchers will need permission to take bits of teeth or bone to verify whether the women's DNA matches that of the Jamestown skeleton.

Gosnold has been largely unrecognized by historians, who relied instead on written accounts by other settlers, notably Capt. John Smith. Gosnold, a former privateer, also discovered and named Massachusetts' Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard in 1602. He was regarded as one of Jamestown's most influential members and his death and funeral were well-recorded at the time.

Nearly 400 years later, archaeologists digging beneath a trash pit near the Jamestown stronghold's west palisade uncovered the unusually well-preserved remains of a skeleton that was buried with what appeared to be the telltale addition of a ceremonial military staff.

Scanning the tip of the unidentified staff with the aid of X-ray equipment at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., then removing up to an inch of corrosion with a precision air-abrasion tool, researchers were able to identity the artifact as the decorative iron blade of a high-ranking officer's half-pike, flag staff or walking stick.

Several other features, including a series of brass-headed rivets, led researchers to believe that the staff may have incorporated a long-since disintegrated banner and that the Jamestown colonists draped it over the coffin as part of a formal military burial.

Such pomp and circumstance combined with the overlapping dates of the burial and the influential commander's death led scientists to theorize that Gosnold is the occupant of the grave.

-- From staff and wire reports

Quick Takes

On the mysteries of menopause The Only Menopause Guide You'll Need, Second Edition, by Dr. Michele Moore, (Johns Hopkins University Press, $15.95 / paperback)

This slim book is a wonderful primer to women's health.

The first edition was hardly on book shelves before the nation was thrown into an uproar over the safety of hormone replacement therapy. Some studies point to higher rates of breast cancer and heart disease for women on hormone replacements to treat menopause.

In this edition, Dr. Michele Moore deftly takes patients by the hand and walks them through the controversy. In her folksy, down-to-earth voice, she lays out the pros and cons of using hormone replacement therapies to ease troublesome menopause symptoms.

She even confides that she decided on an estrogen therapy, estriol, after sleepless nights left her edgy and irritated. "I used a variety of lifestyle and herbal approaches, but I found that, for me, it was not possible to devote the time necessary for successful self-care."

Most refreshing, Moore gives an overview of medical, complementary, herbal and homeopathic approaches. One example: Menstrual irregularities can be treated with wild yam creams, she notes.

Bottom line: Any woman approaching this phase of her life would be wise to read Moore's overview before making any decisions. -- Mary Beth Regan

Did you know...

Vitamin K, found in green, leafy vegetables, helps make six of the 13 proteins needed for blood clotting. People who take anticoagulants, such as warfarin (Coumadin), must be careful to keep their vitamin K intake stable.

-- Harvard School of Public Health

In Brief

Chickenpox deaths plummet in vaccine 'success story'

U.S. deaths from chickenpox dropped to their lowest level ever after a vaccine to prevent the childhood disease was introduced in 1995, according to a study reported in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine.

In the five years before the vaccine, chickenpox caused or contributed to an average of 145 deaths each year. That dropped to 66 in just a few years, according to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The death rate was slashed as much as 92 percent for those 1 to 4 years old.

Until the vaccine became available, at some point in their lives nearly everyone caught chickenpox, which is highly contagious. Healthy children and adults can die from complications that include viral pneumonia, infection of the brain and bleeding.

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