Historic Jamestown is a National Park site and includes the current and past archeological digs at the site. Started in 1994, archeological digs have been undertaken to discover the original site of the fort along the James River. This site is different than the reconstructed fort you will find at Jamestown Settlement (see post).
Where: 5 minutes away from Jamestown Settlement, 15 minutes from Williamsburg, 2.5 hours southeast of Washington, D.C.
Cost: Adult $12, Kids under 18 free; usually you can use the national park pass, not during Covid
Time: 2- 4 hours
Mom score: 5/5
Kid score: 4.5/5
Best part: Archeology in action and the kids interacting with awesome adults who obviously love their jobs.
Worst part: Nothing!
Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the New World after the disappearance of Roanoke. The original location of the Jamestown Fort was lost until rediscovery by archeologists in 1994, and more has been uncovered until today.
This is National Park Service site https://www.nps.gov/jame/index.htm which runs the area, visitor center, and bookstore. It is, however, run in conjunction with nonprofit Preservation Virginia which is in charge of the archeological digs and Archaearium museum. Entrance to the museum is included in the park ticket.
I suggest that you take a tour first and then tackle the areas based on what you were not shown previously. And go back to revisit what you were!
On the day of our visit, we participated in an excellent hour-long archeology tour led by one of the resident archeologists. She gave us a brief history of the area but focused on the archeological finds of the site, previous and current. We discussed the church, burials, Jane’s cellar, and the fort.
Multiple tours are available during the day on different topics. A history tour was available later the day we visited led by a costumed guide. The schedule varies by day so check on their website.
When we arrived, it was several hours until the first tour, so we took this opportunity to drive around Jamestown Island. Choosing from the 3-mile or 5-mile one-direction driving loops, explore the land as the colonists would have seen when they landed. Along the way, there are pull outs to read historical markers, see the landscape, and even park to get out and walk to the water. Be on the lookout for wildlife and look up for the bald eagles. We saw a pair as we were crossing over the bridge to get to the island.
Archeology Dig Site
There may be multiple sites at a time depending on what area is currently being excavated. There are archeologists on site daily working an active dig; check online for their schedule. It is strongly encouraged to go talk to them. They are more than willing to answer your kids’ many questions, describe the process, and show you their current finds.
Don’t rush from the Visitor Center to the Jamestown. Stroll slowly along the path and stop to look for animals including otters, muskrat, and turtles. We watched an otter swim by when we were there.
The archeology museum which houses on-site artifacts including armor, household objects, coins and skeletons. You should visit here after talking to the archeologists. Let the kids see where the excavated treasures end up. Plan for at least 45 minutes to explore.
Look inside the cellar and hear the story! It was admittedly one of my morbid kids’ favorite parts of Jamestown.
Visit the Glasshouse where America first began manufacturing products for England through glassblowing. The site of the original is under a protected building, but the current operation allows for you to watch glassblowing using traditional techniques. There is also a small gift shop if you need some special souvenirs.
The visitor center museum is closed other than the bookstore. However, the archeology museum is fully open although there is a one-way visitor flow. Snack bar is open to take out only. During Covid, they are unable to accept national park passes, and you have to pay the normal rates.
The only bathrooms are inside the restaurant but are nice and clean.
At the café past the fort, there are good tables for eating a snack or meal next to the water where you can watch the ferries cross the river. The food at the café looked pretty good – maybe bring snacks for kids and plan to eat a nice grownup lunch.
It is an archeological site so expect lots of talk of skeletons and burials. Cannibalism is discussed in tours of Jane’s Cellar. Jane is the name given to the girl whose bones were found in the cellar. The skull was found to have tooth marks from the starving time desperation of the Jamestown population. The actual artifacts are in the archeology museum as well as two articulated skeletons.
Jamestown Rediscovery: Historic Jamestown, Dig Deeper – Amazing videos by the resident archeologists talking about their work and current discoveries
This section of the website has downloadable activities that would make the visit more memorable if you had already done some at home.
Grab your packet at the Visitor Center!
Apart from the obvious books about Jamestown, take this opportunity to learn about archeology. However, I’m still working on finding some great books about archeology and not digging up dinosaurs! Let me know if you find some.
- What is the significance of the James River? Trace it on the map.
- What did we see about the land that would have made this a good site for the settlers to land?
- What other types of archeological sites have you visited?
- What kind of studies do you have to learn to be an archeologist?
- What kind of history can you learn about the area where you live?
- What artifacts would people find of our life in 300 years?
- What could have caused the erosion of the land to make the fort extend into the water currently?
- Why was this area good for the first glassblowing site? What materials did they need?
- Jamestown Settlement – Now that you’ve seen the ruins rediscovered, go see the full picture of what it might have looked like when colonized. Learn about more of the history in the Jamestown Settlement museum.
- Ride the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. It’s free. See the land from the James River as the settlers would have crossed.
- Visit the site of the Lost Colony of Roanoke at Fort Raleigh Historic Park in North Carolina. Only three hours south.