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Grave dig begins to unlock mystery

PUBLISHED: 20:30 13 June 2005 | UPDATED: 05:56 02 March 2010

ARCHAEOLOGISTS will today begin work to excavate a Suffolk grave in the hope of unlocking a 400-year mystery.

A team of scientists from Suffolk and the US are to extract DNA from a grave at All Saints Parish Church in Shelley in an attempt to prove a link with one of the founding fathers of America.

ARCHAEOLOGISTS will today begin work to excavate a Suffolk grave in the hope of unlocking a 400-year mystery.

A team of scientists from Suffolk and the US are to extract DNA from a grave at All Saints Parish Church in Shelley in an attempt to prove a link with one of the founding fathers of America.

It is hoped that the DNA of Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney will match up with those of a skeleton believed to belong to her brother Captain Bartholomew Gosnold.

Nick Clarke, spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: "This is the first time that church authorities have ever been convinced by an educational or scientific project to allow this to happen.

"It is exciting and unique. It is also quite mysterious because if we find the right graves and are able to extract DNA it could be the solution to a 400-year-old mystery involving a Suffolk man."

Archaeologists uncovered the remains of a 17th century captain in Virginia in 2003 and believe them to belong to Gosnold because of their position and the staff of office buried with the skeleton.

Gosnold, whose family seat was at Otley Hall, led an expedition to establish the first English-speaking colony in the New World.

In 1607, Gosnold's group landed at Jamestown, in what is now Virginia, but the explorer died a few months later.

Scientists must now extract DNA from two of his maternal relatives in order to prove the mystery of the burial of Gosnold.

The second excavation is to take place at St Peter and St Mary Church in Stowmarket where Gosnold's niece Katherine Blackerby, is buried.

Mr Clarke added: "There is always ethical questions about doing this and they had to proceed very carefully.

"There are English Heritage and church authority guidelines on these sorts of expeditions and they do not happen unless there is exceptional circumstances.

"The case was made by the scientists from Jamestown answering why it should be done and how and they have persuaded the church authorities in Suffolk to grant permission. We have consulted widely in both parishes and there has been no objection."

The excavation has attracted worldwide interest and the story has even appeared in the Hindu Times in India.

National Geographic will also be filming in Shelley today in the hope of making a documentary about the project.


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