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Silver Ear Picker

A status symbol and hygienic tool, this ear picker was found at the James Fort site by APVA Preservation Virginia archaeologists and undoubtedly belonged to one of Jamestown's early gentlemen. The ear picker is in the form of a sea creature -- probably a dolphin -- which was a popular image during the adventurous sea explorations in the Age of Discovery.

Made of silver, this tool was a costly status symbol, and the owner would have proudly displayed it to represent his status, probably suspended from a chain attached to a belt around his waist.

Ear pickers, though not all of silver, were used by all levels of society in medieval and post-medieval England. As was the fashion for many of these tools, this one is double-ended. The pointed end was used to clean teeth and nails, and the spoon-shaped end was used to remove earwax. The 17th-century English knew about plaque, which they called "scale" or "surf," and they were encouraged by their doctors to scrape their teeth frequently. They also knew that a buildup of earwax could cause deafness. As gross as that may seem to us today, the earwax was often saved and used for coating sewing thread to make it stronger and easier to use.

One of the most visually interesting artifacts found at the excavation, reproductions of the ear picker in the form of a pin or pendant are available from the AVPA Museum Store, or from the museum store at the Dale House in Historic Jamestowne. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this item will go toward funding the APVA Jamestown Rediscovery project.

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