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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Grave may hold US explorer clue
A representation of Bartholomew Gosnold
Archaeologists believe they have found the pioneer's remains
Excavations at a UK church may hold the key to identifying one of the earliest North American colonists.

Scientists are to extract the DNA from the 400-year-old skeleton of Elizabeth Tilney, who is thought to be buried in Shelley All Saints churchyard, Suffolk.

She was the sister of Bartholomew Gosnold, said to have established the first English-speaking colony in the US - Jamestown - in 1607.

It is hoped the DNA will authenticate Gosnold's remains, found in the US.

They were found by archaeologists in Jamestown, Virginia in 2003 in an unmarked grave.

'Exciting development'

His niece, Katherine Blackerby, is believed to be buried at St Peter and St Mary Church in Stowmarket, Suffolk.

Experts hope to take a DNA sample from her grave in the near future.

"It is a very exciting development," said James Halsall, the Gosnold project spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich.
This could herald a breakthrough in people's understanding about the origins of the USA
Dr William Kelso

"For the first time a scientific project has been given the go ahead to seek to extract DNA material to establish the identity of a family member.

"It has taken a lot of work and co-operation between the parish, diocese and national church authorities in Britain and American scientists."

Archaeologists have begun removing the stone floor at the church in an excavation expected to last several days.

Experts have said it is not necessary to exhume any remains as they plan to dig a shaft to extract a small piece of bone from the femur or teeth of the skeleton for DNA sampling.

'Historical importance'

Church spokesman Nick Clarke said it was rare for permission to be granted for excavations of this kind.

"However, the Jamestown team emphasised the historical importance of the work and stressed the small scale nature of the excavations.

"We are very pleased to be able to help," he said.

About two years ago, US archaeologists found a nearly intact skeleton outside the site of the Jamestown Fort, on the east coast of America, which they believe is Captain Gosnold's.

The estimated dating of the grave and the ceremonial artefacts found with the skeleton suggest it belongs to Captain Gosnold.

Dr William Kelso from the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities - the historical society that is the driving force behind the excavations - said: "I am ecstatic that we have been given permission to carry out this work.

"This could herald a breakthrough in people's understanding about the origins of the USA."




SEE ALSO:
DNA bid for US 'founding father'
31 Jan 05 |  Suffolk


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