Uncovering Jamestown

Students will be analyzing artifacts found by archeologists at the Jamestown site. First, the process will be over-viewed with a cupping glass, an artifact that was found at the excavation site in Jamestown. After students are walked through the historical thinking process, small groups will receive a picture of another object found on site. Students will work together to observe and then analyze the object. After close analysis, students will make a prediction about what the object is and how it is used. Students will be provided a reading to determine if their answer is correct and then share out with other groups. In a follow up activity, students are given a collection of items and asked to describe how these would be used by the settlers at Jamestown, based on their knowledge gained from previous research.

Lesson Objective

After discussion, students will be able to hypothesize what life was like in the Jamestown settlement by analyzing artifacts as primary sources and completing an artifact analysis sheet.



  1. Before The Lesson: Students would already have received instruction on the passage to America and taken a look at the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery as well as analyzed the manifest list to determine the type of settler in Jamestown(day 1). Students will also have looked at pictures from the NGS Picture Pack: Colonial America looking at paintings from Jamestown as well as pictures from the Re-enactment Site (Jamestown Beginnings-a look at the land before settlement; Captain John Smith-the leader of the colony; Reconstruction of Jamestown-how the site has been created today; Martin’s Hundred; Portrait of a Princess-Pocahontas; and Harvesting Tobacco) (day 2). Students will read to be informed and discuss the formation and need for the House of Burgess (day 3). Students will look at the economy in Jamestown and why Jamestown was created to help the economy of Britain (day 4). Students will analyze and investigate the Starving Time at Jamestown and formulate a reason (day 5).
  2. This Lesson: Start by introducing the Reconstruction efforts in Jamestown to create a living history site, much like we have seen in St. Mary’s or if we have been on vacation in Williamsburg. By working on the land, archeologists have uncovered pieces of history; artifacts found that date back to the founding of Jamestown in the early 1600s.
  3. Whole Group/Investigation Model: the Cupping Glass (PowerPoint slide available) (Background Information: Cupping Glass-used to draw out blood and poisons based on a heating/vacuuming setup.)
  4. Display the image of the Cupping Class with no information. Slowly add the following questions to help guide their thinking. With each question, discuss student ideas. (1) What do you see? (2) How might someone use this? (3) How might it be used in the 1600s? (4) This object was found in James Fort’s (fort at Jamestown) first well between 1609 and 1611. What can you predict about the object knowing that?
  5. Students may think that since the cup is found in the first well, it has to deal with carrying water. Explain to the students that the well is actually the “ditch” that was dug by archeologists to find artifacts left by the settlers.
  6. As you reveal more questions and generate more discussion, the belief about what the object is will change. Answers I had included a drinking class-fancy because it was shiny and had decoration-a broken and repaired vase; a storage container; something to hold tobacco; a candle holder; a spice holder; and a medicine holder.
  7. Reveal more information about the Cupping Glass as well as its name; it is for medical purposes to remove any “bad blood” or poisons that got into the body (perhaps from a snake bite); While no one hypothesized the purpose correctly, all students were intrigued by the true purpose and were very engaged to determine the meaning behind other artifacts.
  8. (model for small group activity) Small Groups: There are 17 artifacts I could possibly use-creating pairs. However, I enlarged the groups to four students.
  9. Each group got a picture of an artifact found in the wells at Jamestown. They were asked to make observations and then concentrate on determining what the object was, where it came from, how it might be used in Jamestown, and who might own it
  10. Some artifacts that might be focused on: Silver Skeleton Seal; “Yames Towne” Lead Tag; Memento Mori Ring; Silver Ear Picker; Robert Cotton Pipe; Nuremberg Lion Counterweight, (a) Silver Skeleton Seal-used with hot wax to seal documents (b) “Yames Towne” Lead Tag-the equivalent of a modern-day luggage tag, was from a package sent to Jamestown from London (c) Memento Mori Ring-would have been expensive and worn by a wealthy person. (d) Silver Ear Picker-a status symbol used to keep up hygiene. This is shaped like a sea creature, a popular image during the Age of Discovery. (e) Robert Cotton Pipe-Cotton (a tobacco pipe maker) came to Jamestown in 1608; pipe is unique to Jamestown and made of Virginia Red Clay and decorated with European stamps. (f) Nuremberg Lion Counterweight-played a role in the Jamestown economy, used a counterweight to a coin scale
  11. Historical thinking skill questions could be asked to help group: – Sourcing: (1) Where do you think it is from? (2) Was it made in Jamestown? Did they import it? (3) What is the purpose?Close Reading: (1) What do you see? (2) What is it made of? (3) Is it more function or design?Contextualization: (1) How might someone use this? (2) How might it be used in the 1600s? (3) Based on your knowledge of Jamestown, describe the ways this would be used. (4) Who might have owned/possessed this or an item like this?
  12. After making predictions, students are given a paragraph explaining the actual purpose of the object and determine if they were correct
  13. Students will then present their findings to their classmates in a share-out activity.
  14. Other Ideas/Follow up/Extensions: An additional set of resources is available for students to read about other objects that were found at Jamestown. Students would read about these artifacts and then create a scenario about how they were used in Jamestown. This could be a historical fiction story or a series of diary entries that could double as a writing grade.


Students will be informally assessed by teacher as he/she circulates the room. Teacher should be looking for higher level thinking and analytical comments about the objects. A second assessment could include collecting the note taking sheets after having students reflect on learned knowledge.


1. Word Splash of Ideas for all artifacts to help students center their focus/brainstorm
– word splash could be put up at the beginning of lesson for ESL or Special Education populations
– word splash could be displayed after students have started as a clue or motivation for when they get stumped.


“The Dig: Featured Finds.” Historic Jamestown: Unearthing America’s Birthplace. http://historicjamestowne.org (accessed August 28, 2011).

“The Dig: What is this artifact?.” Historic Jamestown: Unearthing America’s Birthplace. http://historicjamestowne.org (accessed August 28, 2011).