William Kelso

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William M. Kelso, C.B.E., Ph. D., F.S.A. (born 1941), often referred to as Bill Kelso,[1][2] is an American archaeologist specializing in Virginia's colonial period. Currently he serves as the Director of Research and Interpretation for the Preservation Virginia Jamestown Rediscovery project. A native of Lakeside, Ohio,[3] Kelso earned a B.A. in History from Baldwin-Wallace College, an M.A. in Early American History from the College of William and Mary, and a Ph.D in Historical Archaeology from Emory University.[4] He has served as director of archaeology at Carter's Grove, Monticello, and Poplar Forest, as well as Commissioner of Archaeology for the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission.[5] During his time at Monticello, he was one of the first to make early colonial slave life the focus of archaeological research.[6] As a result of his ground-breaking work on Jamestown Island, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire to Dr. Kelso at an Investiture ceremony conducted by the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Peter Westmacott, at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. in July, 2012.

In 1994, Kelso began directing excavations on Jamestown Island at the behest of Preservation Virginia. It was not long before the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists uncovered the footprint of the fort's southern palisade.[7]

The James Fort[edit]

Jamestown Rediscovery's incredible discovery lies in the correction of a historical myth previously thought to be true – that the site of the original Jamestown settlement of 1607 had washed into the James River long ago. The archaeologists, including Kelso, Beverly (Bly) Straube, and Nick Luccketti, used primary source material to estimate the location of the fort on Jamestown Island, such as the Zuniga Map, created by a Spanish spy of the same name, and the accounts of original colonists, such as William Strachey, Captain Ralph Hamor, and John Smith.[8] Upon analysis of these sources and other buildings, the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists discovered the postholes of the original fort; discoloration in the soil left the evidence of the palisades and bulwarks that once formed the fort wall.[9] After expanding the dig, the archaeologists were able to validate that the Jamestown Fort had only begun to wash into the James River, but was instead covered inadvertently by a Confederate earthwork during the American Civil War.[9] Throughout this excavation, the team discovered evidence of fort buildings, artifacts, and the remains of settlers.[10]

Captain Bartholomew Gosnold[edit]

The Jamestown Rediscovery project recovered and cataloged the remains of many of the original Jamestown settlers. The skeletal remains of one of the original colonists, was found separated from the other burials and located in a place of honor near one of the fort's gates. The individual had been buried in a coffin, along with a staff signifying leadership. It is conjectured that this is Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, one of the organizers of the colony. While inquiries continue regarding who this individual is, even going as far as genealogical study in England, the actual identity of this settler may never be found.

The Well, Artifacts, and Professions[edit]

Kelso’s book, co authored with colleague, Beverly Straube, entitled Jamestown Rediscovery: 1994-2004 includes an in-depth study of the artifacts uncovered during the Jamestown excavations. The discovery of a well within the limits of the Jamestown fort is less critical for understanding the colonial attempt to find a fresh water source and more important due to the artifacts found in the well. Wells that had stopped providing (or never provided) drinkable water were frequently filled in with the refuse of daily life, which gave the archaeologists the opportunity to look at a concentrated collection of stratified artifacts. Tobacco pipes, pottery sherds, and combat armor all help date the excavation site to the early 17th century, giving even more support to the positive identification of the fort.[11] In this case, curator Beverly(Bly)Straube was able to substantiate evidence regarding the professional work done by the original settlers. Goldsmiths, bricklayers, masons, perfumers, tailors, fishermen, coopers, blacksmiths, glassmakers, carpenters, and tobacco pipe makers are among the dominant professions for which there is archaeological evidence.[12]

Published works[edit]

  • Jamestown: The Buried Truth. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006.
  • (with B. Straube) Jamestown Rediscovery: 1994-2004. Richmond: APVA Preservation Virginia, 2004.
  • (with J. Deetz) Archaeology at Monticello. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
  • Kingsmill Plantations, 1619-1800: Archaeology of Country Life in Colonial Virginia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1984.


In 2007 Kelso received the J. C. Harrington Award, presented by the Society for Historical Archaeology for his life-time contributions to archaeology centered on scholarship.[13]


  1. ^ Pierce, Thomas (27 January 2007). "Bill Kelso: Digging Up the Truth About Jamestown". NPR. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  2. ^ Wallace, John (8 June 2010). "Home » News & Events » More Stories » 2010 Gift to W&M honors renowned Jamestown archaeologist". College of William & Mary press release. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  3. ^ "Lakeside native earns one of Britain's highest honors". The Beacon. 16 July 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  4. ^ http://www.apva.org/pressroom/pdf/kelso_bio_short.pdf
  5. ^ Grizzard, Frank E., Jr., and D. Boyd Smith. The Jamestown Colony: An Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2007.
  6. ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1379885/William-M-Kelso
  7. ^ http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6608615
  8. ^ (with B. Straube) Jamestown Rediscovery: 1994-2004. Richmond: APVA Preservation Virginia, 2004. Content from pages 15 - 16.
  9. ^ a b (with B. Straube) Jamestown Rediscovery: 1994-2004. Richmond: APVA Preservation Virginia, 2004.
  10. ^ (with B. Straube) Jamestown Rediscovery: 1994-2004. Richmond: APVA Preservation Virginia, 2004. Content from pages 65 - 80 and 105 - 107
  11. ^ (with B. Straube) Jamestown Rediscovery: 1994-2004. Richmond: APVA Preservation Virginia, 2004. Content from pages 132 - 135.
  12. ^ (with B. Straube) Jamestown Rediscovery: 1994-2004. Richmond: APVA Preservation Virginia, 2004. Content from pages 155 - 192.
  13. ^ "Awards and Prizes". Society for Historical Archaeology. Retrieved September 30, 2016.