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Drinking Water In Jamestown

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In the fall of 1609, several hundred European settlers were struggling to survive on swampy Jamestown Island, riding out a brutal drought and hoping for boatloads of supplies. Evidence from waste pits suggests that the settlers, who first arrived on this land in May 1607, feasted on deer, turtles and sturgeon during their first year in the New World. They’d eat up all of the domestic stock-the dogs and the horses. They’d get down to eating rats and even poisonous snakes. As the winter wore on, scores of Jamestown's inhabitants suffered from diseases associated with malnutrition and contamination, including dysentery, typhoid and scurvy.

"It's like a sewer that never gets flushed. The colonists are drawing water out of the same place where human and animal waste are being deposited." For the first time, researchers are approaching this hypothesis from a scientific angle,collecting and analyzing groundwater and sediment from the former site of Jamestown's shallow wells.
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Lending support to Earle's conjecture, the team determined that saltwater from the James River and a nearby swamp seeps into Jamestown's aquifer, pushing salinity levels past the safety zone for human consumption.

"Any organic matter they deposited hundreds of years ago is gone," he explained, "So we are analyzing the waters for fecal coliform and looking for goose droppings as a proxy." This type of contamination allowed diseases like dysentery and typhoid to spread quickly through the colony and continue circulating, Hancock
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