Complete spoons group shot
Complete spoons group shot
  • Object # – Various
  • Material – Pewter, Copper Alloy
  • Place of Origin – England
  • Date – Late 16th and 17th centuries
  • Context – Various
  • Location – Collections
  • Category – Foodways

Most of the eating implements found at Jamestown are knives with bone handles. Knives were multipurpose tools used in food preparation and consumption and as tools or weapons. Far rarer in the Jamestown collection are spoons. Jamestown Rediscovery’s archaeological collection includes over 500 knives or parts of knives, but fewer than 100 spoons have been recovered, and of that total, only four are complete!

Spoons were essential for consuming stews, porridges, and sauces served during the early fort period at Jamestown. Interestingly, in the 17th century, spoons were also given as gifts and used for ceremonial or religious purposes. One example is the Coronation Spoon, the oldest surviving piece of the British Crown Jewels. Possibly dating as early as the 12th century, it was used to anoint King James I during his coronation ceremony in 1603, just four years before the founding of Jamestown. It is still part of the British Monarch’s Coronation ceremony today.

The spoons in the Jamestown collection are made of pewter, copper alloy, or other alloys, including metals like tin, zinc, lead, and copper in various percentages. They are datable based on changes in their styles and shapes over time. The 17th-century spoons recovered archaeologically at Jamestown illustrate a few different styles. Unfortunately, most are missing their bowls because they easily break due to the thinness of the metal. Nearly all the surviving bowls are “fig-shaped,” the most common shape in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Most handles are plain or too degraded to identify decoration; however, the twisted handle of one of the few intact spoons is perhaps the most decorative in the collection.  Another complete spoon illustrates a change in spoon shapes that occurred in the late 17th century. This spoon has a trifid-shaped terminal and “egg-shaped” bowl, which along with other recovered items, helped date the Wine Cellar.

Many spoon handles in the collection are represented only by the end of the handle: the terminal or knop. Several different terminal styles are represented in the Jamestown collection, including “seal-tops,” a “maiden-head,” a hoof, a heart-shape, a pyramidal terminal, an acorn, and “baluster-knops.”  Four spoons in the collection are stamped with maker’s marks, although most are difficult to decipher due to wear and degradation. While maker’s marks can sometimes aid in dating artifacts, specific makers of Rediscovery’s spoons have not been identified. Check out this blog post to read about the spoon recovered in the fall of 2023 from the Governor’s Well.

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