Friday, September 3, 2010

Martha's Vineyard

Seeing all the news reports yesterday of hurricane Earl's track toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina (where I used to vacation) and Cape Cod (where I lived for a summer) and the islands of Massachusetts, I wondered, "Who was Martha?" Suffice to say, the answer involves skeletons, disinterment, and facial reconstruction...

Martha's Vineyard was originally the name of a smaller island to the south that had been discovered by English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold (1572-1607) in 1602. The name - that of Gosnold's 2nd child, who died in infancy and is buried in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England - was soon transferred to the larger island. (Confusingly, it was also known in the 17th c. as Martin's Island, possibly after the name of Gosnold's ship, the John Martin.)

After his expedition to Cape Cod, which he also named, Gosnold sailed to Jamestown as one of the original settlers of the Virginia Colony. Unfortunately, he died after only 4 months. A little less than 400 years later, archaeologists found what were likely his remains (2nd image). Dr. William M. Kelso hoped the excavation would give Gosnold the recognition he deserved as a leader at Jamestown since, "He just died too early to go on to greater things and write his own memoirs." The occupant of the grave in question was a man of status, as indicated by his burial in a coffin with a decorative captain's leading staff ceremoniously placed along one edge of the lid (3rd image, Dr. Kelso with the skeleton and staff). To confirm Gosnold's likely identity, they attempted to match his DNA to that of his sister. Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney had been buried beneath the floor of a church in the Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswitch, which gave permission for the exhumation of her remains, but they were not conclusively identified. Meanwhile, the captain's skeleton was analyzed by forensic anthropologists, providing convincing evidence, and a digital facial reconstruction (5th image) was developed which bears a striking resemblance to the figurehead of Bartholomew Gosnold (1st and 4th images) from a New Bedford whaling vessel that was named after him in 1832.

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