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Author Topic: LOST PORT ROYAL - Jamaica  (Read 5538 times)
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« Reply #15 on: May 14, 2009, 11:22:31 am »

Excavating a sunken city: Brick
paving and building walls.

                                               Putting a face on disaster

Indeed, Hamilton has had the good fortune to get to know many of the colonial residents of Port Royal because the English, even 300 years ago, were prodigious bureaucrats, compiling mountains of documents -- wills, lawsuits, deeds, commissions, commercial records -- that bring to life the occupants of the now-submerged metropolis of Port Royal.

Take some pewter  plates Hamilton's team found in two buildings. The plates bore an unknown "touch mark" that was an invaluable clue to the identity of their maker, a fellow by the name of Simon Benning. Benning's will and other documents, subsequently unearthed in England, provided an intriguing record of his family. It is highly unusual, to say the least, to have a written portrait of a craftsman whose work was found in an archeological excavation.

Port Royal, says Hamilton, belongs to an elite group of archeological sites that includes Pompeii and Herculaneum, Roman towns frozen in time by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. These sites are undisturbed; unlike most terrestrial sites, the archeologist is not bothered by debris from intervening human occupations. In submerged Port Royal, furniture, tableware, shoes, cooking implements, tools and anything else that might have been tucked away in a home or business remain largely in place.

The earthquake, Hamilton told The Why Files, "sealed in everything that was going on at 11:43 a.m. on June 7, 1692." The precise time is known because a pocket watch, its hands frozen at the instant of disaster, long before waterproof watches, was recovered during some of the first excavations of the site in 1960 by Edwin Link. The pinpointing in time of the disaster, says Hamilton, was a first for archeology.

"We are getting a glimpse of everyday life at a given point in time," Hamilton says, noting that while pieces of eight and royal treasure grab the public spotlight, what truly interests scholars is how the average citizenry lived, worked and played. A site like Port Royal is where the archeologist really "finds out about the ins and outs of everyday life."

Even so, some catastrophic sites have the feel of kings.
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