Tests cast doubt over Gosnold bones

NEW evidence has cast doubt over claims that bones discovered in America are that of Suffolk explorer Captain Bartholomew Gosnold.The Church of England gave unique permission in June last year for scientists to retrieve DNA from the remains of a woman buried in All Saints church, in Shelley, near Hadleigh, who was thought to be Gosnold's sister Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney.

By Danielle Nuttall

NEW evidence has cast doubt over claims that bones discovered in America are that of Suffolk explorer Captain Bartholomew Gosnold.

The Church of England gave unique permission in June last year for scientists to retrieve DNA from the remains of a woman buried in All Saints church, in Shelley, near Hadleigh, who was thought to be Gosnold's sister Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney.

Dental and bone tests were carried out to assist in determining the age of the Shelley woman and it was suggested that she was no older than 51 when she died.


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Elizabeth meanwhile died in 1646 aged in her late 60s, at the time leading scientists to believe they had failed to find the woman they were looking for.

The DNA sample was compared with material taken from a grave in Jamestown, believed to be that of adventurer Gosnold, who was a leader of the expedition which established the first English speaking colony in America in 1607 and is often referred to as an unheralded founding father of the USA.

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And the DNA comparison showed the individuals were not related - which led American scientists to conclude in November that the age of the remains in Shelley discounted the possibility that they were of Elizabeth.

But the results have since been examined by the Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Christian Burials in England.

And it has now decided the original conclusions drawn by the American scientists remain open to interpretation and the remains believed to be Suffolk explorer Gosnold might not be his at all.

For they say that similar bone tests conducted on 17th and 19th Century remains in Christ Church Spitalfields in London revealed a tendency to under-age older individuals.

They suggest the woman could be much older than claimed, therefore making it possible the remains were in fact Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney.

If true, this would mean the remains in America are not in fact Captain Gosnold. To clarify the situation, the Jamestown scientists were asked to conduct further tests.

Carbon tests on the Shelley remains showed the date of death to be 1690 plus 50 years.

This puts the date of death close to that of Elizabeth, diminishing but not totally excluding the possibility that the Shelley skeleton was that of Anne Framlingham, an alternative that British historians had offered when the results of the DNA comparison were first made public. Anne died in the 1590s.

Nick Clarke, spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: “While there can be no definite conclusions drawn from the battery of tests which have now been completed, scientists here believe it is likely we did uncover the remains of Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney last summer in Shelley church.

“If that is the case, then the DNA result would rule out the American remains being Bartholomew Gosnold.”

But Bill Kelso, director of Archaeology at Historic Jamestown, said: “Until questions about these new interpretations are answered and we can learn more from further tests, we will continue to rely on the historical and archaeological evidence that so far tips the scale to Gosnold.”

British funding has been secured to conduct further tests looking at minerals to examine whether the man discovered in America could have grown up in Suffolk.

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