Tobacco seed discovery suggests industry's roots They are little specks no bigger than the period that concludes this sentence, but they represent the germ of something enormous: fortune, empire and a national vice that would visit a slow death on millions of people. Three 400-year-old tobacco seeds recovered recently from the ooze of a colonial well in Jamestown, Va., appear to be the first and earliest-known evidence of cultivation by English colonists of a plant that would become the cash crop of a New World empire, a form of living gold that would eventually be shunned as a cancer-causing scourge. Now, just as Americans progressed from the public health threat of tobacco to the threat of obesity, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown is refocusing attention on the "golden weed" because tobacco played a key role in turning around the colony's fortunes. The commemoration began last year with a series of events that will culminate in a three-day celebration this May highlighted by a visit by Queen Elizabeth II. The results of the microscopic analysis of the seeds will be presented this week at the Society for Historical Archaeology conference in Williamsburg, Va. The seeds were found, along with the remains of wild food collected by the colonists, in a 15-foot-deep well dug sometime after 1610 at the site of the first permanent English-speaking settlement in North America. Scientists also found the seeds of indigenous wild plants that the colonists also obtained for food, including blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries, cherries, grapes and persimmons. The remains of hickory nuts, acorns and beech nuts that had been hulled but not eaten suggest that the colonists had gathered those before they were ripe. But Steve Archer, an archaeobotanist for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, said those finds suggest that the colonists, facing starvation because of their own folly and ineffectual attempts to make do, had been taught by Native Americans what to eat. "The guys in Jamestown were not just stumbling around the woods stuffing things into their mouths," Archer said. "They had never encountered a persimmon before. What someone had to do was show them how to eat them, particularly since persimmons are not edible until they're practically rotten." Tobacco seeds are rarely found at archaeological sites because of their tiny size, dry burial conditions and practices by growers that removed the seeds from the plants. But in a study funded by National Geographic magazine, Archer recovered the tobacco seeds by sifting through samples of goopy mud recovered from an early well built by the colonists. Archer said further testing, through DNA analysis, could shed light on whether these seeds came from the highly desirable, milder Nicotiana tabacum species grown in the West Indies or the harsher, more powerful Nicotiana rustica grown locally by natives. John Rolfe, a Jamestown colonist better known as the husband of Pocahontas, somehow got his hands on the West Indies strain of tobacco seeds and began growing them in Virginia. In March 1614, Rolfe sent four barrels of tobacco to England; four years later, the colony shipped 49,528 pounds, according to the book "Love and Hate in Jamestown" by David A. Price.