Everything you describe is consistent with a kernel which does not have ext3
compiled into it.
> EXT2-fs: ide0(3,8): couldn't mount because of unsupported optional feature
> Kernel panic: VFS: Unable to mount root fs on 08:08
That is an ext3 filesystem in the "needs journal recovery" state. ext2
cannot mount that until either fsck or the ext3 kernel driver has run
grep EXT3 .config ??
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