Grave mystery remains unsolved

IT is a story that could have been lifted straight off the pages of an Indiana Jones script - and it was played out in a sleepy Suffolk village, under the intense glare of the world's media.

IT is a story that could have been lifted straight off the pages of an Indiana Jones script - and it was played out in a sleepy Suffolk village, under the intense glare of the world's media.

But the unique and audacious bid to prove once and for all that bones found in the USA are those of one of America's unheralded founding fathers, Suffolk-born and bred Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, seems to have failed.

Back in June, a team of American archaeologists descended on tiny All Saints Church in Shelley, near Hadleigh, intent on unearthing the bones of Gosnold's sister, Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney.

Granted ground-breaking permission by the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the team found what they thought were her remains and hoped DNA tests would prove the identity of the American bones.

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However, exhaustive testing has now shown that the skeleton uncovered in Shelley was not that of Elizabeth Tilney, rendering any DNA comparison useless.

But the story does not end there. Now a digitally-created image has shown for the first time the face of the man whose remains were discovered in a distinguished grave just outside the historic James Fort site in Jamestown, Virginia, in 2003.

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And the picture is being compared with paintings of other members of the Gosnold family to add more credence to the American claims that the man is Capt Gosnold.

Dr William Kelso, director of archaeology for Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA Preservation) said: “We succeeded in obtaining DNA, but we now know from laboratory tests that we did not find the remains of Gosnold's sister Elizabeth Tilney.

“Unfortunately, the sample we tested was a mismatch because it came from a woman who was too young to be his sister and was not related to him.

“It's surprising and disappointing - but still all the archaeological and historical evidence here says that we've got Captain Gosnold.”

Gosnold led an expedition to establish the first English-speaking colony in the New World and, in 1607, landed in Jamestown - now known as Virginia - before dying just three months later.

His legacy was largely confined to footnote in the history of the USA before the Jamestown grave was found two years ago, boasting a decorative captain's staff that had been ceremoniously placed along one edge of the coffin lid.

“We have never found any other ceremonial objects in Jamestown burials, so we know this was someone very special,” said Dr Kelso.

“We still know that Elizabeth Tilney is buried in that church in Suffolk. I think we'll leave it as things are - the church has been quite co-operative - but maybe some day we could do more.

“We gave it our best shot this time. This would have been a hard scientific fact to add to what we already know.

“The real plus of the whole process is that we now know that we are able to get DNA from 400-year-old remains.

“Too bad it didn't work absolutely perfectly, but there's a lot of other research to do - it's not a dead end.”

Of the new facial image, Dr Kelso added: “We're comparing it to paintings hanging in Christchurch Mansion and Otley Hall of Robert Gosnold III and Gosnold IV, his uncle and second cousin.

“The image has been created by a very experienced medical illustrator and they look very similar so far.

“There's a very distinctive nose - it looks more like him than it doesn't, that's for sure. We're doing all we can.”

It is most likely that the bones unearthed in Shelley church were in fact those of Anne Framlingham, who died, aged in her mid-50s, in 1601 or 1602.

Anne, who was born in 1544, married Philip Tilney of Shelley Hall in 1561 and helped entertain Queen Elizabeth I at the hall the same year.

James Halsall, a spokesman for the diocese, said: “Thorough research showed that Elizabeth's grave was likely to be in the northern part of the chancel close to the Tilney chapel.

“However, we knew other members of the Tilney family may have been buried in this area and it seems we have confirmed this.”

Nick Clarke, diocesan communications director, added: “It's disappointing. We gave what was the very first permission for this sort of excavation to take place and all the research that we could do pointed to the spot where we dug.

“We don't have any regrets. It was a very worthwhile project - the conclusion is disappointing - but my colleagues in the states are still convinced that they have found Bartholomew Gosnold.”

Of the possibility of another dig excavation at the church, Mr Clarke said: “You can never say never but the only reason that the dig was given permission was that the research into the history and genealogy was exhaustive and the method of extraction was also very careful.

“Unless something completely untoward were to emerge then I can't see permission being granted for another dig. It was never going to be a rummage for bones.”

?The dig at Shelley was sponsored by the National Geographic channel, who were to make a documentary featuring the excavation.

However, in light of the results, the programme will now focus on the first year of the Jamestown settlement. It will not be shown in the UK.

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