Dig fails to find American link

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have failed in their bid to identify the remains of one of America's forefathers through the excavation of a Suffolk grave, it was revealed today.

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have failed in their bid to identify the remains of one of America's forefathers through the excavation of a Suffolk grave, it was revealed today.

The team of US scientists, who collected DNA samples from a skeleton in Shelley, dug up the wrong body in their efforts to find the sister of Suffolk explorer Captain Bartholomew Gosnold - one of America's founders.

Boffins from Virginia travelled to Shelley's All Saints Church in the full glare of the world's media in June where they carried out excavation work inside the church building.

But their efforts to find Gosnold's sister, Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney, have today proved unsuccessful.

Dr William Kelso, director of archaeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), who carried out the dig, said: “We succeeded in obtaining DNA but we now know, from laboratory tests, that we did not find the remains of Gosnold's sister.

“Unfortunately, the sample we tested was a mismatch because it came from a woman who was too young to be his sister and was not related to him.”

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There is now little that can be done to conclusively prove that remains found in Virginia in 2003 are those of Gosnold as he is not thought to have any other relatives alive or dead.

The 17th century captain is key to America's history as he led the expedition to set up the first permanent speaking English colony in the New World in 1607.

Excavations at that settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, uncovered a skeleton believed to be from the era.

It is thought to be Gosnold because it was buried with a ceremonial staff.

Dr Kelso added: “We will continue to rely on archaeological and forensic evidence which, in my opinion, strongly indicates that we have found Gosnold's grave.

“We are going to do a study which reflects the diet at different stages in a person's life and there is a carbon 14 test which can give us dates of the remains.

“We now want to identify the Shelley woman we have found, if she died in the 16th century instead of 1646, then we can begin to say perhaps this is a wife of another Tilney.”

The project was funded by a National Geographic grant of £15,000 but Dr Kelso does not believe that money was wasted as all the evidence had pointed to Gosnold's sister's remains being found.

He said there was no way of identifying the age of the skeleton at the scene because tests had to be carried out in a laboratory to analyse the amount of calcium within the bones and teeth.

The amount of calcium in the excavated remains suggested the woman was much younger than Gosnold's sister, who is believed to have been about 74 when she died.

ELIZABETH Tilney Gosnold's will suggests she is buried with her husband in the church but Church of England officials are unlikely to allow further excavations.

Nick Clarke, spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: “There will no be further digging.

“It was a well argued case that allowed the church and heritage authorities to give permission for this one case.

“It was the first time the Church of England had ever given permission for this sort of expedition and I can't see the case being made, in the near future, for another dig simply because the information required to try to identify Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney has been extensively gone over and they made the dig in the area they thought they would find her.

“We always said we would not rummage for bones.”

Dr Kelso added that doing another dig “would be the obvious thing to do” but said he didn't think anyone would be ready to do that any time soon.

He added: “I was surprised at the results and disappointed but it was not like anybody made a mistake - it was based on all the evidence we had at the time.”

Scientists believed they had found the correct body because of its location within the church but there were no markings on the burial slab to suggest who was buried beneath.

A similar excavation to uncover one of Gosnold's cousin's remains at St Peter and St Mary Church in Stowmarket was also unsuccessful because the burial stone above the body was marked with a different name to the person they were searching for.

Mr Clarke added: “It is not surprising (that the wrong body was uncovered) given that the records kept 400 years ago of who was buried where and on top of who is always general at best.

“While every effort was made to correctly identify the correct grave, we have turned up an incorrect one.”

Captain Bartholomew Gosnold - fact file

N Born in Suffolk, his family seat was at Otley Hall.

N As an explorer and coloniser, he travelled to what was to become New England in 1602 in the ship Concord, which he commanded.

N During the journey, he is credited with naming Cape Cod in Massachusetts as well as Martha's Vineyard after his infant daughter.

N In 1607, he returned to the New World on the ship Godspeed after gathering notable Englishmen together in Suffolk to fund the venture, setting sail and settling in the unexplored land.

N The settlers chose Jamestown, named after King James I. It is now believed to be the birthplace of the United States, seeing the first representative government

in America, established in 1619. It is where America's current form of government, political traditions, culture and language began.

N Within months of establishing the first English colony, Captain Bartholomew Gosnold died.

N Although the Pilgrim Fathers were widely acknowledged for their discoveries, Gosnold was overlooked, even though without his settlement, America would probably have become Spanish.