From Metal Working to Food Production

In the summer of 2006, archaeologists discovered a James Fort period (1607-1624) cellar located in the north end of the fort. The structure was rectangular, 16 feet by 20 feet. The superstructure of the building was supported by posts set deep in the cellar floor. Blacksmithing and other metalworking waste covered the cellar floor in the form of tiny spherical iron droplets and scales, lead droplets, and numerous crucible fragments. From this evidence, it was clear that the cellar initially functioned as a metalworking shop. The Virginia Company saw ventures in metalworking as important to the company’s success. In 1607 John Smith reports that “Our best commodity was iron which we made into little chisels.”

Metalworking in the building ended by 1610, and the cellar floor was raised with clay. An unidentified feature consisting of three burnt wooden sills, burnt clay, burnt subsoil, and two small postholes was built on the raised floor. Around June 1610, two large bread ovens were carved into the clay wall of the cellar. The cellar became a bakery, and piles of ash from the ovens were found strewn about the cellar floor.

The cellar was abandoned by 1617 after the ovens collapsed and the building fell into disrepair. The cellar then became a trash pit. Artifacts from the trash layers date to the first quarter of the 17th century. Notable finds include ivory chess pieces, deer antlers, linen fabric, an incised mother-of-pearl fish, and a Roman oil lamp. The lamp was probably brought to Jamestown by one of the gentlemen as a “curiosity” or collectible. A cache of arms found in the trash layers includes two dozen sword hilts, a basket-hilted sword, a close helmet, and armor breast and backplates. A copper pendant recovered from the cellar floor depicts the profile of a Virginia Indian. It may have been intended for use as an identification badge in the fort.



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