Bone Knife

Project details

  • Date

     March 29, 2018

  • Task

     Study Collection

  • Category

     Bone, Foodways

  • Object number – 7993-JR
  • Material – Bone
  • Place of Origin – England
  • Date – 1600-1610
  • Context – James Fort, Structure 185
  • Location – Vault
  • Category – Foodways

The archaeological collections of Jamestown Rediscovery include 301 table knives—either the handles or the blades, or a combination of both. This is not surprising because at the time of the James Fort settlement, knives were the main implement for eating. No forks and very few spoons have been recovered from the 1607 to 1624 James Fort period contexts. Forks, uncommon at the time, were reserved for elaborate carving sets of the elite, and while spoons were common, they were typically made of wood or pewter, which decay in the Jamestown soil.

The handles of the knives vary greatly in style, material, and decoration. Included among them are multiple Virginia Company-supplied knives with simple handles made from sheep metatarsals. A few other handles are more refined, and are made of multiple materials, including pearl, horn, amber, and copper-alloy. These belonged to the higher status gentlemen as symbols of their wealth and refinement.

This knife handle is unique in the collection; therefore it certainly was individually owned, and likely belonged to a gentleman. Made of bone, the acorn-shaped terminal is decorated on opposing sides with a small ivory inlay surrounded by a thin copper ring. The copper stained the surrounding bone copper green. The grip is decorated on opposite sides with incised and stained quatrefoil flowers and curlicues. Each flower petal contains an ivory inlay.