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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. scientists have used high-tech detective work to identify the remains of four leaders of Jamestown, the New World's first successful English colony, more than 400 years after they died, the Smithsonian Institution said on Tuesday.
The research also provided new insight into life and death and the importance of religion in the Jamestown settlement in Virginia, about 80 miles (130 km) south of Washington, the Smithsonian said.
The men were identified as the Reverend Robert Hunt, Captain Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman and Captain William West. All of them helped guide the colony during its difficult years after its founding in 1607.
“This is an extraordinary discovery,” said James Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, which teamed with scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to identify the bodies.
The four were found buried within Jamestown’s 1608 church, which fell into disrepair in 1617. The burials were investigated in November 2013, according to the Smithsonian.
Researchers used archaeology, skeletal analyses, chemical testing, 3-D technology and genealogical research to identify the men who lived and died when the settlement was on the brink of failure due to famine, disease and war.
About 30 percent of each skeleton was recovered, and the scientific team was able to determine the men's rough ages at death, the Smithsonian said.
Researchers also conducted chemical analyses to examine diet, the presence of heavy metals and the men's origins. The style of coffins and artifacts also led scientists to identify the remains.
Hunt, who died at about age 39 in 1608, was the first Anglican minister at Jamestown, the Smithsonian said.
Archer died in late 1609 or 1610 at 34 during the "starving time," a period when about 250 settlers died from disease, starvation and Indian attacks, the Smithsonian said.
He led some of the earliest expeditions in the Jamestown colony. Researchers also found a small silver box on top of his coffin that is likely a Catholic reliquary, the Smithsonian said.
Wainman died at about 34 and was the cousin of the Virginia governor, Sir Thomas West, the Smithsonian said. Wainman was the first English knight to be buried in America.
William West died at about 24 in 1610 during a skirmish with Powhatan Native Americans, the Smithsonian said. Scientists found scraps of a military leader's sash near his body.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Will Dunham