Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Rising waters threaten Jamestown’s survival

Water covers grass and walkways throughout Jamestown. In the foreground, James Fort is dry.
Screen capture
VPM News Focal Point
Water inundates parts of Jamestown after strong, offshore storms and high tides in 2022.

Rising water caused by climate change is putting Jamestown at risk. Some estimates say parts of the site could be underwater within the decade. 



ADRIENNE McGIBBON: David Givens is the Head of Archeology at Jamestown. He's facing a growing threat.

DAVID GIVENS: The whole island, and particularly the property in which we work, it's very low line. We always have known that, and the colonists knew it too.

ADRIENNE McGIBBON: Water from the James River is rising because of climate change. It's slowly washing away the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America.

DAVID GIVENS: Water is what brings us all here, and water is what may take it all away, right?

ADRIENNE McGIBBON: In 1607, about 100 Englishmen arrived here and began the settlement. Archeological work has been happening here for 30 years, part of an effort to better understand the site's history.

DAVID GIVENS: What we're really out here to do is to excavate down to the layer in which there is native horizon. In other words, the former Virginia Indian interaction out here. And then the colonists are punching through that, right?

ADRIENNE McGIBBON: 18 inches underground, the story of what happened here takes shape.

DAVID GIVENS: Now, this appears to have been a plowed field, and so a lot of the things we find are jumbled up. This little guy here is always interesting to find. These are glass beads that were brought by the English to trade with Virginia Indians. This is a late, you know, sort of early fort period, Virginia Indian projectile point, which would've been on the end of an arrow.

ADRIENNE McGIBBON: They dig an area, map it, cover it back up, and then...

DAVID GIVENS: Go back in the future once we understand what it is we found fully, like a building, and dig it.

ADRIENNE McGIBBON: But the rising water is forcing them to speed up that work.

DAVID GIVENS: Tides in the water has been rising in the central part of the property, to where we've lost 10 acres to inundation. So, 10 acres is now underwater.

ADRIENNE McGIBBON: The rate of land loss is so alarming that in 2022, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put Jamestown on its list of the 11 most endangered historic places.

DAVID GIVENS: There are some models that are very scary, sort of, within my career. So within the next, maybe 10 years.

ADRIENNE McGIBBON: More generous estimates say the site could be underwater by 2075.

DAVID GIVENS: That is not only a possibility, it's going to happen.

ADRIENNE McGIBBON: So far, they've excavated an acre and a half in and around James Fort. There's still more than 20 acres of property yet to be explored.

DAVID GIVENS: We're trying to evaluate this property and make decisions, as dirt surgeons would, about what it is we're going to do to understand, go in and dig, and preserve and interpret this shared past.

ADRIENNE McGIBBON: In the current budget, the Virginia General Assembly has proposed $1.5 million for environmental studies and archeology at Jamestown.


Related Articles
  1. Virginia cities are banking on a boom from casino gambling
  2. Awakening Virginia’s Algonquian language
  3. The Quest for Federal Recognition