This artifact may be recognizable to us today because it looks very similar to the grate that you may find inside your outdoor grill. This gridiron would serve a similar function – it was used over a fire to cook food, probably meat or fish. Gridirons would be a useful cooking implement in early Virginia because they don’t need to be suspended from above, rather they are sturdy enough to sit within the coals, allowing for food to be cooked at a high temperature. Gridirons could also be used to hold a cooking pot above a fire if the meal being prepared required a lower level of heat to be maintained or for warming. Gridirons of similar styles have been used for many years, some of the earliest examples were found in the kitchens of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
This artifact also contributed its name to what is now known as American football. Gridiron football was so named because of the arrangement of the lines on the field mirroring the shape of this cooking tool.
When found at the bottom of a well that was filled in the 1620’s, this artifact appeared to be still in usable condition, so it is unclear why it was thrown away. Many similar gridirons have a long handle, allowing the cook to move the tool away from the fire easily while the gridiron itself was still hot. This one doesn’t have a handle piece, which may be why it was thrown away. Possibly different types of cooking tools had begun to appear in Virginia to support the growing population, and this tool was not used as frequently. Besides this mostly intact example, fragments of gridirons have been found in a few early fort period features, including Pit 5, the Factory, the Second Well, the Blacksmith Shop/Bakery, and the Kitchen Cellar, indicating that the gridiron was used for cooking in the earliest years of James Fort.