Bone Needles

Project details

Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists have found nearly 200 iron sewing needles from England that colonists would have used to mend clothes, tents, or even sails. Scattered amongst the European needles, archaeologists have also found several bone needles. Is this evidence that Algonquian women were in the fort, manufacturing?

Algonquians called needles “pocohaac” and used them to make clothing, nets, ananson (mats), and baskets. These needles are made from deer, elk, or pig — another sign of the interaction between the English and the native population, since the colonists introduced pigs to Virginia in 1607. In 1612, the Spanish ambassador to London informed his king that 40 or 50 Jamestown colonists had married Virginia Indians. Were such “marriages” legally recognized by English officials or were they temporary liasons? With the scarcity of female colonists in the first few years, female Indians filled an obvious need by doing the work their society had trained them to do.

One such job was to use needles to produce finely woven mats the Virginia Indians used to cover the exterior of their houses and line their floors. The colonists came to value these mats: primary documents report that the indigenous textiles were highly sought after to adorn the “homely” structures of the fort’s first few years and allow people to rest comfortably on the ground.