Bones discovered four years ago at the site of America's first permanent English settlement could be those of Jamestown's unsung founder, a knight or a captain.
A tooth analysis did not rule out that the skeleton is, as Jamestown researchers had theorized, that of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold, principal organizer of the expedition from England that established Jamestown in 1607. Next year marks the settlement's 400th anniversary.
But test results released Monday also suggest two other possible candidates: Sir Ferdinando Wenman, the master of ordnance at Jamestown, and Capt. Gabriel Archer, a lawyer who was the first recorder of Jamestown.
Gosnold is still the leading candidate, based on historical, archaeological and forensic evidence, said William Kelso, director of archaeology at the Jamestown site.
"I still think the evidence lines up, until proven otherwise, that we have Gosnold," Kelso said in a telephone interview.
The Church of England, however, says the Jamestown skeleton is likely that of someone other than Gosnold. A tooth analysis of a skeleton buried in a church grave in Shelley, England, suggests it is that of Gosnold's sister, Elizbeth Gosnold Tilney. However, DNA tests on the two skeletons don't match, showing they're not related.
"While it would appear that the body discovered in Jamestown is not Gosnold, the coffin with the staff makes it clear that it is the grave of an important early settler," said James Halsall, spokesman for the Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
The skeleton was buried in a coffin — usually reserved at the time for people of higher status — with a captain's staff placed on the lid, in a spot outside Jamestown's triangular fort.
Kelso said that makes Wenman the least likely candidate because a knight would more likely be buried with his sword.
Archer was a captain, but he died during the "Starving Time" winter of 1609-1610. Kelso said it is doubtful Archer would have been ceremoniously buried in a coffin outside the fort during that period, when Jamestown was under siege by Indians.
In the tooth test, the National Environment Research Council Isotope Geosciences Laboratory of the British Geological Survey studied strontium and oxygen isotopes in tooth enamel. The isotope ratios, compared with ratio of isotopes in drinking water, can determine where a person lived during childhood, when the teeth are formed.
Gosnold was born and grew up in the Otley area of southeast Suffolk in England. The tests show the Jamestown skeleton was that of someone who probably came from southern England, but the results are inconsistent with the chalk-dominated terrain of Otley.
However, geological conditions a few miles south of Otley would satisfy the chemical signature found in the tooth of the Jamestown skeleton, researchers said, so Gosnold can't be ruled out because he could have been eating food and drinking water from nearby areas.