Evidence for Early Seventeenth-Century Surgery and Dissection at James Fort, Virginia

  • Karin S. BruwelheideEmail author
  • Douglas W. Owsley
  • Beverly A. Straube
  • Jamie E. May
Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


Historical documents reveal that from the 1607 outset of its colony on Jamestown Island, the Virginia Company of England sent physicians, apothecaries, and surgeons to minister to the medical needs of its settlers. Evidence of these medically trained individuals, in the form of discarded tools and surgically altered bone, has been archaeologically uncovered by the Jamestown Rediscovery Project over the past two decades during investigations of James Fort, the initial settlement. Of particular interest are three partial human crania found mixed with colonists’ trash in pre-1617 contexts that are not graves. All three crania represent males and two show evidence of perimortem trauma. One of the cranial vaults further reflects two aborted attempts at trephination and subsequent dissection cuts. Forensic analyses of these discarded human crania and their recovery contexts suggest that they were not interred with the bodies to which they belonged, but perhaps retained by fort surgeons.


Jamestown Trephination Dissection Surgeons Seventeenth-century 



The authors thank William Kelso and the Jamestown Rediscovery staff. Their sustained work and dedication to uncovering Jamestown’s rich history has expanded understanding and interpretation of the men, women, and children that lived and died there. We also thank individuals who assisted various aspects of the analysis. Stephen Rouse provided three-dimensional modeling of computed tomography dicom files. Isotope testing was performed by Joan Brenner Coltrain and Christine France. Chip Clark, Scientific Photographer, Smithsonian Institution, provided images shown in Figs. 3.2, 3.3, 3.5, and 3.7. Donald Hurlbert, Scientific Photographer, Smithsonian Institution, provided images for Figs. 3.4 and 3.6. Kristen Quarles, Department of Scientific Imaging, Smithsonian Institution, processed all photographic images. Reviewer comments contributed greatly to the content of this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karin S. Bruwelheide
    • 1
    Email author
  • Douglas W. Owsley
    • 1
  • Beverly A. Straube
    • 2
  • Jamie E. May
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.James River Institute for ArchaeologyWilliamsburgUSA
  3. 3.Preservation VirginiaJamestown RediscoveryJamestownUSA

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