Did you know that very old seeds can be recovered by archaeologists? Very occasionally at Jamestown, 400 year old seeds survive and can be studied by researchers called archaeobotanists. An archaeobotanist identifies and uses seeds to answer a number of research questions. Planting and growing crops for food was an essential part of survival for the early colonists. Some seeds have been excavated near the James Fort site, providing evidence of a few early foods.
Many of the seeds studied represent local varieties, indicating that the English colonists were incorporating new foods into their diet, likely with knowledge gained from the Virginia Indians. Pumpkin/Squash (Cucurbita sp.) seeds are some of the most commonly found seeds on the site. Similar to harvest times today, pumpkin and squash would have provided important nutrients in the cooler months. Evidence of corn (Zea Mays) has been found in many contexts at James Fort – from pollen recovered in the soils (as individual charred or burned kernels) and even as whole cobs excavated from submerged contexts.
Researchers can study what environmental conditions may have been like 400 years ago and can even assess the seasonality of activities occurring on the site. Plants were used in many aspects of daily life in the seventeenth century, and finding and identifying seeds can illuminate activities that may only be understood through the documentary record. Plants were cultivated as food for people and animals and many medicinal treatments were derived from various flora.