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Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Site thought to be Powhatan’s village

May 7, 2003

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— A woman's habit of picking up pottery shards and arrowheads on her farm has led to the discovery of what archaeologists believe was the village of the powerful Indian chief Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas.

Capt. John Smith, leader of the 17th-century English colony at Jamestown, would have met Powhatan on the 50-acre site. It is also where Pocahontas was said to have begged her father to spare Smith's life, though historians question the veracity of Smith's tale.

Preliminary studies of the site on Purton Bay, overlooking the York River, have turned up American Indian and European artifacts from a large early colonial settlement, researchers announced Tuesday at a news conference on the farm.

Those artifacts, plus descriptions by Smith and other Jamestown colonists, led archaeologists to hypothesize that the farm was the site of Werowocomoco, the central village of Powhatan's chiefdom. Powhatan was ruler of about 15,000 people from most of the tribes in coastal Virginia.

"We believe we have sufficient evidence to confirm that the property is indeed the village of Werowocomoco," said Randolph Turner, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources' Portsmouth Regional Office.

When Lynn and Bob Ripley bought the 300-acre farm in 1996, they knew there was speculation that the village had been there. But they did not take it seriously because several other spots also were said to have been the site of the village, Lynn Ripley said.

Ripley soon began finding pottery shards, arrowheads and other artifacts while taking walks. She said she did not think they might be valuable. But because they were part of the farm's history, she saved them, first filling one shoebox, then a second. Today, she has thousands of artifacts, which she keeps locked in two gun safes in her garage.

The Ripleys happened to meet two Gloucester-based archaeologists, David Brown and Thane Harpole, who were working on an unrelated project, and Bob Ripley mentioned the collection. The men were excited by what they heard.

The two archaeologists are now part of the Werowocomoco Research Group, a newly formed team that includes researchers from the College of William and Mary and the Department of Historic Resources, and a representative of the Virginia Indian community.

In February, the group presented preliminary findings to representatives of Virginia's eight state-recognized Indian tribes and the Virginia Council of Indians, inviting the organizations to work with the group in efforts to interpret the site.

Werowocomoco was about 15 miles from Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, founded in 1607.

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