This small object found in 2009 is a combination silver whistle and coral teething stick made for a baby’s use. Like many modern teething toys, the two silver rings encircling the whistle made a pleasant jangling sound when it was shaken in a child’s grip. Chewed to ease a teething baby’s pain, the coral stick on one end was also believed to have apotropaic—or magically protective—properties. A portable X-ray florescence spectrometer was used to confirm the stick was 94% high-quality silver, just a bit below the silver content of a coin of the era.
Given as a gift to an upper-class child, the teething stick was brought to Jamestown prior to 1610 when it was lost or discarded. In the 17th century generally, and especially at Jamestown, death rates for adults and children alike were high. Perhaps the stick was thrown away because the child died and the stick was no longer necessary or held unhappy reminders of a lost child. It was recovered with other refuse swept into the colony’s first well, a feature that was quickly filled as the colony began recovering from the Starving Time and rebuilding their settlement.
Read more about this object in the February 2013 Dig Update.