Bear Claws
Bobcat Bones

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are the most widely distributed wildcat in North America. Since the local extinction of mountain lions (Puma concolor) in the 1980s, bobcats are now (at least officially) the only species of wildcat in Virginia. This southern member of the lynx genus has a distinctively short ‘bobbed’ tail, tufted ears, and weighs between 20 and 30 pounds. They are solitary nocturnal hunters that mainly prey upon small game and rodents, but can kill a small or weakened white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) if the opportunity arises. Bobcats can live in a wide variety of habitats but are currently concentrated in the costal swamps and mountainous regions of Virginia, avoiding areas of human activity.

Bobcats were among the species of note to the first Jamestown settlers, who were impressed by the variety and abundance of Virginia wildlife. In particular, the numbers of many predatory species in England had been greatly reduced by targeted hunting by the beginning of the 17th century. Early English sources describe the wildcats, ‘poulcats’, ‘muske catts’, and cougars of Virginia, and the Index of Indian Words included in the Complete Works of Captain John Smith includes three words for wildcat.

The bobcat remains found at Jamestown were all excavated from two cellar features which both predate 1610. It is possible that these bones represent food remains from the starving time when desperate settlers reported that “haveinge fedd uponn horses and other beastes as long as they Lasted we weare gladd to make shifte wth vermine as doggs Catts Ratts and myce.” However, as the Virginia colony became a more successful commercial enterprise in the following decade, wildcat skins became a sellable commodity. Bobcats, along with other more familiar fur animals such as beaver, otter, and fox, were hunted for their pelts. Extracting raw materials for export back to England was a key element of the colonial enterprise, and these furs were a valuable natural resource.