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 in shape, 16 feet by 20 feet. The superstructure of the building was supported by posts set deep in the cellar floor. Blacksmithing and other metal working waste covered the floor of the cellar 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. Ventures in metalworking were seen by the Virginia Company as important to the company’s success. In 1607 John Smith reports that, “Our best commodity was iron which we made into little chisels.”

Eventually the metalworking in the cellar came to an end and the floor of the cellar was raised with clay. With the floor’s raising, a curious feature was built consisting of three burnt wooden sills, burnt clay, burnt subsoil, and two small postholes. The function of this feature is a mystery. The cellar was then altered one final time with the addition of two large bread ovens carved into the clay wall of the cellar. With the addition of these ovens the cellar transformed into a bakery, and piles of ash from the ovens were found strewn about the cellar floor.

The cellar was abandoned after the ovens eventually collapsed and the building above the cellar fell into disrepair. The cellar then became a trash pit. The artifacts from these trash layers date to the first quarter of the 17th century. Notable finds include ivory chess pieces, deer antlers, linen fabric, a decorative mother-of-pearl fish, and a Roman oil lamp. The lamp may have been brought over as a “curiosity” or collectable by one of the gentlemen. A cache of arms was also found in the trash layers, which included several dozen sword hilts, a basket-hilted sword, a close helmet, and armor breast and back plates. Another highlight was a copper pendant found on the floor of the cellar that may depict a Virginia Indian and could have been used in the fort as an identification badge.



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