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Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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What Did Virginia's James Fort Colonists Eat?

Monday, November 20, 2017

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that archaeologists are analyzing food waste left behind by the James Fort colonists and recovered in 2006 from a ground water well. The bones are thought to reflect the period after the Starving Time, the winter of 1609-1610, until 1617, when the governor’s residence was built on the site. “We know a lot about 1607 through 1610, we know a lot about the 1620s on, but this has been a period that has been largely absent from our record to date,” explained assistant curator Hayden Bassett of Jamestown Rediscovery. A “rough sort” of the tens of thousands of bones suggests the colonists ate horses, rats, and venomous snakes during the Starving Time. Cattle bones were scarce in the years before 1610, when meat was shipped from England in barrels, but became more common after live cattle arrived in Virginia in 1610 or 1611. The fact that the team has found few remains of wild deer could reflect the pressure Native Americans put on the colonists, and their reluctance to leave the safety of the fort. To read more, go to "Jamestown's VIPs."

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