Sunday, October 1, 2023

Jamestown Rediscovery Completes Analysis of Faunal Remains Recovered from James Fort’s Second Well

Associate Curator Alexis Ohman analyzes part of the faunal contents recovered from Jamestown’s second well. (Courtesy of Jamestown Rediscovery Foundatiton)

JAMESTOWN — Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation has concluded a two-year zooarchaeological analysis of Jamestown’s second well, in which hundreds of thousands of animal bones were discovered during 2006 excavations.

The project was completed through a grant from The Conservation Fund which was matched by donors to the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation.

While previous faunal analysis at Jamestown has focused on contents from the early Fort period and Starving Time (1607-1610) and after 1620, faunal material from the second decade of the 17th century had not yet been analyzed until this project.

According to a Dec. 9 release from Jamestown Rediscovery, Jamestown’s second well is believed to have been dug in 1610 or 1611 but quickly became damaged and was used as a trash deposit until around 1617 or 1618.

The well’s contents represent an unexplored period of change and food challenges for the colony at Jamestown after the Starving Time Winter of 1609-10.

Faunal analysis of earlier Fort-period features showed that colonists were heavily dependent on English supplies and trade with Virginia Indians.

During the Starving Time, when trade was cut off, colonists were forced to rely on many unconventional animals for survival, including raccoon and opossum.

These types of species were found to be less abundant in the second well, with what appeared to be more of a focus on animal husbandry and other locally available wild species, particularly white-tailed deer.

Martial law placed strict control over all food resources, forcing a shift from individuality to communality at James Fort in terms of animal husbandry, agriculture, and cooking. In the second well, cattle remains were found in the lowest of any period at Jamestown, reflecting the written law that livestock brought from England were to be protected and not consumed.

Wild resources such as venison, fish, turtles and fowl represented over 40% of the contents found in the second well, suggesting that hunting and fishing were also prominent in that period.

While it is unclear whether these resources came through the colonists’ hunting and fishing efforts or through trade with the Virginia Indians, it could be a combination of both, according to Jamestown Rediscovery. The First Anglo Powhatan War came to an end in 1614 which began a period of peace between the two groups.

The foundation said that the analysis reveals the growing food security of the English at Jamestown and the New World as local wild and domestic resources contributed to available food supply, which provided a diverse, but stable food diet for the colonists.

Jamestown collaborated with a team of zooarchaeologists throughout the project, including Dr. Joanne Bowen, who retired from her longstanding position as Curator of Environmental Collections at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 2016.

The team also included Stephen C. Atkins, who worked alongside Dr. Bowen at Colonial Williamsburg as Associate Curator of the Environmental Collections, and independent contract faunal analyst Susan Trevarthen Andrews.

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