JAMESTOWN, Va. - Archaeologist Danny Schmidt began showing the distinguished lady in the aqua coat and black gloves the latest objects his team had prodded from dirt packed here 400 years ago.

Suddenly he stopped and realized the importance of the moment. He looked at the pale 81-year-old woman and said, "Welcome to James Fort."

It was a greeting that echoed across four centuries yesterday, as Queen Elizabeth II stood on the ground by the mile-wide James River where the ragged subjects of an earlier British sovereign established the colony that would become the United States of America.

It was the second day of a six-day visit, planned, in part, so the queen could mark the 400th anniversary of the establishment in May 1607 of the country's first permanent English-speaking settlement.

The queen, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and a royal entourage, was formally welcomed to the settlement by Vice President Cheney and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

It was the queen's second visit to Jamestown - she visited as a 31-year-old monarch in 1957 to celebrate its 350th anniversary - but the location of the fort was not discovered until 1994.

"I think she should be here for this occasion," said Frances Davis, honorary state president of the Virginia Society Colonial Dames XVII Century. "The birth of a nation saved our mother nation."

The royal couple spent much of the day steeped in the details of Colonial American history.

The queen was whisked from stop to stop in a caravan of black sedans and SUVs, to be greeted by children with flowers and women in shoulder sashes and sun hats.

Throughout the day, the queen led the way, at times looking weary, but walking forthrightly, smiling now and then, as her aides and entourage trailed.

The royal couple first visited Jamestown Settlement, the state-owned gallery and living-history museum, and then went to Historic Jamestowne, the island site a few miles away where remnants of the original fort were discovered and where archaeologists are still at work. The queen strolled along the walk leading to the fort, several hundred people lining both sides of her path, snapping pictures and applauding.

She had lunch outside the Governor's Palace in the Colonial Williamsburg Historic District, then toured the College of William and Mary.

She and her husband left for Louisville last night to attend the Kentucky Derby and planned to return to Washington tomorrow.

See more on Jamestown's 400th anniversary celebration via go.philly.com/jamestown EndText