A group of archeologists has identified human remains of four individuals, believed to be among the leaders of the earliest English settlers in Virginia's Jamestown. It took scientists years to identify the bones of an Anglican priest and three military officials, buried for more than 400 years in the earthen floor of what was Jamestown's oldest Protestant church, which was opened from 1608 to 1616.

To determine the identities of the four men, the researchers used multiple lines of evidence, including archeology, skeletal analyses, chemical testing, 3-D technology and analyses of their family descent. According to the researchers, the men lived during a crucial point in the history of the settlement, when it was on the brink of failure due to famine, disease and conflict.

“What we have discovered here in the earliest English church in America are four of the first leaders of America,” James Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, told the Associated Press (AP). “There's nothing like it anywhere else in this country.”

human-remains-Virginia-Jamestown The four men ranged in age from 24 to 39. Photo: Donald E. Hurlbert / Smithsonian Institution

The bones, first discovered in November 2013, were poorly preserved, and only about 30 percent of each skeleton could be recovered by the scientists. However, the researchers could determine the sex of the individuals and their approximate ages at death. The ages of the four men ranged from 24 through 39.

According to the researchers, the remains belonged to Rev. Robert Hunt, Jamestown's first Anglican minister, who served the colony until his death; Capt. Gabriel Archer, a nemesis of one-time colony leader John Smith; Sir Ferdinando Wainman, who is believed to be the first knight buried in America; and Capt. William West, who was killed in a battle with the local Powhatan indigenous tribe.

“Two of the men, Archer and Hunt, were with the first expedition, which established Jamestown in May 1607. And the other two, Wainman and West, arrived with Lord De La Warr and helped save the colony three years later. These men were among the first founders of English America,” Horn said in a statement.