This artifact was an exciting find because both the iron hammer head and the wooden handle have survived. This is rare on archaeological sites because normally wooden items degrade over time. In this case, the artifact spent 400 years alongside other trash in the waterlogged, anaerobic environment of James Fort’s second well. Bacteria that normally would eat away at the organic wood couldn’t develop without oxygen in those conditions, preserving the wooden handle for us to piece back together this almost complete tool. As you can see in the image, the handle is no longer attached to the hammer head, providing a possible clue as to why this hammer was thrown away 400 years ago.
Hammers of different styles have various specific uses. This one, due to its size, weight, and shape, is likely a carpenter’s hammer, and was used for large scale building. The Jamestown collection includes at least 28 hammers, most of which are similar to this one.
Tools like this hammer would have been crucial in the early years of James Fort. Construction and maintenance of buildings on site was ongoing from 1607 to 1624, as the needs of the colonists evolved and the settlement became more permanent over time. This tool may have been used to construct the palisade fort walls, the first or second churches, or any number of the other mud and stud buildings on site. Most of the early fort period buildings were made of wood, although architectural styles changed over time as bricks were produced in greater numbers locally, and were used to build structures which required less ongoing maintenance. This includes the Church Tower, which still stands today.