copper aglet
Rumbler Bells
  • Object number – various
  • Material – Copper Alloy
  • Place of Origin – England
  • Date – c. 1607-1610
  • Context – various
  • Location – Collections
  • Category – Featured Finds

These small bells, called rumbler or crotal bells, could have had many uses at James Fort. There are over 80 of these in the Jamestown collection, and many were found in contexts which date to the earliest fort-period (ca. 1607-1610), including the First Well, the Blacksmith Shop/Bakery, and the Factory. Occasionally archaeologists recover just the tiny spherical peas that were inside these bells, striking the interior walls to make the distinctive ringing sound.

Many of the rumbler bells in the Jamestown collection were made in two halves. After the small rumbler pea was placed inside, the two halves would be crimped or soldiered together. Crotal bells have been found in English contexts dating as early as the 13th century, however around the year 1400, this style of bell was manufactured using a new method. The new methodology enabled the body of the bell to be molded in one-piece, miraculously containing the rumbler pea inside. Because this manufacturing method has not changed much from the 1400’s onward, it can be hard to date the bells in the Jamestown collection other than by understanding the context they were found in. Very occasionally, bells were stamped with a makers mark, but none have been identified on the bells found at Jamestown.

The bells vary in size, with the largest approximately 28mm in diameter, and the smallest at about 15mm in diameter. This size variation suggests that this style of bell was used for different purposes on the site. These bells could have been worn on clothing, used in falconry or as signaling tools, exchanged between the English and the Virginia Indians, or perhaps incorporated into religious ceremonies.