Sometime around 1610, archaeologists figure a thirsty colonist sat his brass pistol on the side of a well as he pulled up some water and accidentally knocked the weapon in.
It's conjecture, but it's one explanation for a cache of rare finds they fished up Tuesday from the bottom of a 400-year-old well at an overlooked corner of Historic Jamestown, a national park.
The items included the Scottish pistol, a man's leather shoe and a small lead plaque reading "James Towne" — the equivalent of a colonial luggage tag.
Outside Indian artifacts, the items are among the oldest ever unearthed in America.
"They're the earliest you could find in what is now the United States," explained William Kelso, director of archaeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. The group owns approximately 22 acres of Jamestown Island, including the southwestern corner where researchers made the discovery.
The site is in the heart of what began as a military outpost, an area so old that few thought it could be pinpointed, he said.
"It was thought that that site had washed into the river and couldn't be found," he said. "I had an idea it could."
At its peak, Jamestown would have been home to about 250 settlers and part time residents — legislators who traveled there for America's earliest governmental sessions, he said. A team of 12 archeologists started digging Monday through what amounted to their trash.
Finds included a halberd, a 17th century ceremonial staff often carried by military sergeants; a hammer; and an intact ceramic bottle called a Bartmann jug or a "bearded man," which was made in Germany and could date back to 1590, Kelso said.
Insects, plant life and even the white oak timber used to line the 15 1/2-foot-deep well will offer further clues of the environment in the colonists' day, Kelso said.
The items were transferred to an onsite lab to be cleaned, examined and eventually displayed at the site's newly opened Archaearium, a museum of history and archaeology at Jamestown.
Kelso said settlers considered wells, commodes and any hole in the ground great spots for trash.
Wells like this one would've been used until the water ran dry — likely due to muddy marsh water seeping in — then converted to colonial era dumps, Kelso said.
Things at the top of the well would've been tossed there as junk and aren't usually as valuable, Kelso said. Tuesday, archaeologists reached the second layer of debris, more valuable items that toppled in while some thirsty settler leaned in for a drink.
So just how did someone's shoes end up at the bottom?
"By accident," he said. "That's how you get such interesting things."