Jamestown Archaeological Perspectives

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There are several archaeological perspectives that can help explain the “Jamestown experience” between 1607 and 1700. The archaeological explanatory approaches: processual, post-processual, Marxism, and indigenous traditions, can all be applied to archaeological data to explain the experience between Colonial Settlers and Native populations in the Chesapeake Bay area. Processual archaeology uses a positivist approach when dealing with archaeological data, post-processual rejects a positivist approach and attempts to understand cultures in their own terms to explain forms and processes of change, Marxist archaeology is concerned with the struggle between classes and how these negotiations are seen as ritual, ideology, and institutions, and indigenous traditions argue that a more inclusive archaeology is necessary, one that encourages partnerships with Indigenous groups in the interpretation of their own past.

In their article “Reconstructing Early 17th Century Estuarine Drought Conditions From Jamestown Oysters”, Harding et al. employ the processual explanatory approach to explain food and fresh water shortages in the first years of the Jamestown colony. Concerned only with the natural environment and ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay area, Harding et al. gathered their data from wells dug and used by the colonists from 1606 to 1612. The research dictates, from tree ring analysis and saline levels found in oyster shells, the colony encountered a severe regional drought upon arriving at Jamestown and for several years after. Harding et al. fail to take into account the socio/political factors associated with the new colonists and Native populations of the area. Harding et al. also fail to take into account the colonist’s unfamiliarity with the region as a possible reason for the lack of water and food.

Dennis B. Blanton’s article “Drought as a Factor in the Jamestown Colony, 1607-1612” takes the post-processual approach to explaining not only the ecological...
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