updated 4/12/2005 7:14:43 PM ET 2005-04-12T23:14:43

Archaeologists have discovered a piece of flexible armor used by Jamestown colonists to protect themselves against Indian attacks.

"It's marvelous to find something like that intact," Bly Straube, the project's curator of artifacts, said of the jack of plate, a tight-fitting, vest-like garment of overlapping armor plates that would have been covered in quilted canvas on both sides.

Archaeologists previously have found loose plates at Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. But this latest discovery will allow historians to study how the jack of plate was made.

The piece of armor, weighing an estimated 175 pounds, was discovered Friday during excavation of a trash pit. The piece appears to date back to the settlement's early years, before 1610, Straube said.

Archaeologists will have to chip away dirt to determine how much of the jack of plate is there. But Michael Lavin, conservator for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, said it appears they have at least the back side.

The jack of plate was used by European armies in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was out of style in Europe by the time Jamestown was settled, but well-suited for withstanding Indian attacks, Straube said.

"With a garment like this you could rest the butt of the gun against your chest and it wouldn't slide around," she said. Also, Spanish settlers to the south found that flexible armor could stop an arrow while also absorbing the force.

With other types of armor, an arrow could bounce off and hit someone nearby, Straube said.

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