Seven bone needles with pierced hole on one end
Bone Needles

Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists have found nearly 200 iron sewing needles from England that colonists would have used to mend clothes, tents, or even sails. Scattered amongst the European needles, archaeologists have also found several bone needles. Is this evidence that Algonquian women were in the fort, manufacturing? In 1612, Pedro de Zuniga, the Spanish ambassador to London, informed his king that 40 or 50 Jamestown colonists had married Virginia Indians. Were such “marriages” legally recognized by English officials or were they temporary liasons?

Algonquians called needles “pocohaac” and used them to make clothing, nets, ananson (mats), and baskets. These needles are made from deer, Eastern Elk, or pig — another sign of the interaction between the English and the Native population, since the colonists introduced pigs to Virginia in 1607. Two other artifacts made from Eastern Elk bone have also been found at James Fort: a flesher and an antler that was modified into a wall hook.

With the scarcity of female colonists in the first few years, Indian women filled a need by doing the work they were already trained to do. One such job was to use needles to produce finely woven mats the Virginia Indians used to cover the exterior of their houses and line their floors. The colonists came to value these mats: primary documents report that the indigenous textiles were highly sought after to adorn the “homely” structures of the fort’s first few years and allow people to rest comfortably on the ground.

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