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Port Royal Archaeological Excavations

underwater diver swimming over ruinsIn 1981, the Nautical Archaeology Program of Texas A&M University, in cooperation with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) and 

diver examining patterned bricks underwater

the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), began underwater archaeological investigations of the submerged portion of the 17th-century town of Port Royal, Jamaica.  Present evidence indicates that while the areas of Port Royal that lay along the edge of the harbor slid and jumbled as they sank, destroying most of the archaeological context, the area investigated by TAMU / INA, located some distance from the harbor, sank vertically, with minimal horizontal disturbance.

In contrast to many archaeological sites, the investigation of Port Royal yielded much more than simply trash and discarded items. An unusually large amount of perishable, organic artifacts were recovered, preserved in the oxygen-depelted underwater environment.

Together with the vast treasury of complimentary historical documents, the underwater excavations of Port Royal have allowed for a detailed reconstruction of everyday life in an English colonial port city of the late 17th century.

The Port Royal Project concentrated for 10 years on the submerged 17th-century remains on Lime Street, near its intersection with Queen and High Streets in the commercial center of the town. At present, eight buildings have been investigated.  The work has resulted in a more detailed body of data on the buildings and their in situ artifacts than any previous excavations at Port Royal - on land or on under water.

The construction features of five of the investigated buildings exemplify the variety of architectural styles found in the city's center.  Some were well-built, multi-storied brick structures, while others were simple, earth-bound frame buildings, hastily erected, with no intention for them to last. In several instances, a small core building was constructed, and then rooms were tacked on as needed, until the structure formed a complex. Both brick and timber buildings have contributed significantly to our understanding of 17th-century town planning, architecture, diet, cooking activities, and other aspects of daily life.

drawing of the five fully investigated buildings

Drawing courtesy of Oliver Cox (1984)

Each of the five fully investigated buildings has a compliment of records that pertain, in some way, either to the owners, or the makers of the associated artifacts. Each Building links to it's own individual page.

BUILDING 1 -  A well-built brick building that consists of two construction phases and which has six ground-floor rooms divided into three separate two-room combinations.  These rooms were used as a probable pipe shop, a tavern, and a combination wood turner/cobbler's shop.

BUILDING 2 - A poorly preserved, frame building to the west of Building 1. It has a plaster floor.

BUILDING 3 -This building, with its raised sills on a mortar foundation and interrupted floor sills at the corners and at major intersections, lies east of Building 1.  Its front rooms have plastered floors, and one room has a sand floor.

BUILDING 4/5 This, the final building that has been excavated thus far, is a large, rambling complex consisting of at least six rooms and three back yards.  The complex is approximately 65 ft. wide and over 40 ft. long and represents at least two, and possibly three, different houses or combination houses/shops.

This well-preserved brick building complex has plastered walls, brick floors, and wooden door sills. The initial construction phase consisted of Rooms 1 and 2 and the sidewalk at the front of Building 5. Room 1, the large room to the west, has a plaster floor, while the smaller Room 2 has a herringbone brick floor and a stairwell. Rooms 3 and 4, which were added in a later construction phase, are tacked to the south of Room 2.  Their purpose may have been to join an exterior kitchen to the building, represented by Room 4. Both back rooms have common bond brick floors, and Room 4 contains a large hearth and oven.

Building 4, which consists of at least two rooms, is located to the east of Building 5. It also has a hearth. The presence of half-brick-wide interior walls dividing Rooms 1 and 3 of Building 4 indicate a much less substantial, one-story building addition. Horizontal displacements, seen most readily at the east end, in Room 3, have skewed the floor and walls several feet.

Building 4/5 has produced more in situ artifacts than any building thus far excavated. To the front of the building, in what would have been a part of Lime Street, a large section of a fallen wall was discovered. This wall may have fallen out from Building 5 or from a building to the north. It was in this area of the fallen exterior wall that we found the wooden frame of a four-partition window with leaded glass panes within a wrought-iron frame. Numerous other artifacts were found in association with the building, including two sets of 28 Chinese porcelain Fo Dogs and a minimum of 28 Chinese porcelain cups and bowls. Pewter plates, candlesticks, a brass mortar, an English tin-glazed vase, a decorated Dutch Delft plate, a gold ring, a pearl with a gold attachment, silver forks and spoons, and many encrusted metal objects that are awaiting identification, conservation, and analysis were found in the same area.

The remains of a young child was uncovered from under the bricks of the fallen front wall just outside of the two adjacent front doorways.  The remains of two more children were found in Rooms 3 and 4.  The remains of a ship, which ripped through the front walls and tore through the floors of the four rooms on the east side of the building complex, have also been identified.

Review Theses and Dissertations from Port Royal Research



© 2000 Copyright and All Rights Reserved by Donny L. Hamilton
Last modified May 21, 2001.
Citation Information:
Donny L. Hamilton
2000, Port Royal's Excavated Buildings, World Wide Web, URL,, Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University