A farm field overlooking the York River in Tidewater Virginia is believed to be where Pocahontas interceded with her powerful father Powhatan to rescue English Capt. John Smith from death. But the real story—according to many Virginia Indians, historians, and archaeologists—is that this land was the center of a complex, sprawling empire ruled by Powhatan long before the first permanent English settlement in America was founded in 1607. It was called Werowocomoco, which roughly translates to a "place of chiefs," and 57 privately owned acres believed to once be a part of it will be preserved forever under an agreement years in the making and to be officially announced Friday.
Only a fraction of Werowocomoco has been explored, perhaps just 2%. After decades of research, archaeologists used the writings of Smith and others, ancient maps, and detective work to conclude with near-certainty that this was Powhatan's seat of power about 15 miles from Jamestown. But the discovery of Werowocomoco can be credited to a purebred dog belonging to the land's owners: Lynn Ripley would remove debris that could cut her dog's paws, and found arrowheads, spear tips, pipe stems, and pottery shards. The clincher was the discovery of copper, which was valued by the Indians as gold is today. "I am absolutely convinced this is Werowocomoco," says a retired state archaeologist whose hunt for the empire dates to the 1970s. "It makes no sense for it to be anywhere else." (Read more Pocahontas stories.)