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Research on the Hill leads to rare artifacts in Jamestown

By Kari VanDerVeen
July 4, 2012

Alexandra Garrett '12 holds the 1698 Spanish silver coin that she unearthed during her training at the Jamestown Archaeological Field School.

On the first day that students learned to screen for artifacts at the Jamestown Archaeological Field School, Alexandra Garrett '12 found a 1698 Spanish silver coin — a rare example of a precious metal in Jamestown and a piece that will play a key role in dating the excavation site.

The excitement of the 300-year-old find helped Garrett realize that she is exactly where she should be. And, she says, she wouldn't be there had it not been for the experience she gained through St. Olaf College's Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program.

Through the program, Garrett teamed with Associate Professor of History Steve Hahn in researching Woodes Rodgers, a man twice appointed as Royal Governor of the Bahamas in the 18th century and the individual responsible for bringing order to the pirate lair at Providence Island. In working on the project, Garrett examined the governor's correspondence with British officials — much of it unpublished — and learned to draw conclusions from the materials.

"Because I independently read and transcribed primary British National Archives documents, I gained the slowly dying skill of paleography," Garrett says. "The experience put me one step ahead of other applicants to the Jamestown Archaeological Field School because not all undergraduates have the chance to engage directly in early American history research."

And it was Hahn, who was trained as an archaeologist before becoming an early American history professor, who advised Garrett that the work taking place on Jamestown Island, the site of the first permanent English settlement in America, was "truly pathbreaking."

She's now halfway through the the highly competitive summer program at the Jamestown Archaeological Field School, which is hosted by Preservation Virginia and the University of Virginia. She'll receive graduate credit through the University of Virginia for the six-week introductory course in archaeological fieldwork, and will leave with an understanding of the methods and theories of fieldwork as well as practical skills in excavation and recording.

"We are working on uncovering the recently discovered remains of the 1607 James Fort and the 1608 James Town," says Garrett, who last summer was one of 30 students nationwide selected to participate in the Gilder Lehrman History Scholars Program.

When her work in Jamestown comes to an end later this summer, Garrett will attend the Denver Publishing Institute. She plans to work in publishing for a year before applying to a Ph.D. program in colonial American history.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or