Cow Skull. Domestic Cow, Bos taurus, from the Rich Neck Plantation Site, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1750-1765. OH: 5 ½”; OW: 18”; OD: 12.”
Environmental Archaeological Materials
Eastern Oyster. Crassostrea virginica, from the Anderson Armoury Site, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1730-1755.
Ham. Rear limb of a Domestic Pig, Sus scrofa, from the Anderson Armoury Site, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1730-1755.
Colonial Williamsburg’s collection of historic-period environmental remains is a treasure. Since the 1960s, archaeologists have recovered a vast number of faunal remains, oyster shells, and archaebotanical remains from sites located in and near the Historic Area. Together they provide valuable information on a broad array of issues concerning early Virginia colonists and their relationship to the environment, including the changing landscape, agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, provisioning in Williamsburg, dietary practices, and cuisine, among others.
The zooarchaeological collection is one of the largest in eastern North America, including more than 1.1 million bone fragments from over 160 sites. The strength of this collection lies in the breadth of urban and rural sites representing poor and wealthy households and European and enslaved African-American occupants. Over the last 50 years, both scholars and students have taken advantage of this strength, pursuing questions related to butchery practices, dietary patterns, cuisine, seasonality, provisioning, animal husbandry, and landscape ecology.
Oyster shells are another exceptionally important part of the environmental collection, and on-going research is beginning to provide information on a number of factors related to human-landscape interaction. Analyses are showing that historically oysters were harvested from nearby streams and waterways, and that by the turn of the 19th century these local oyster populations were being impacted by provisioning rural plantations and urban residents.
The archaeobotanical collection is increasing with each new research project. The earliest portion of the collection was retrieved in the 1950s and 1960s, and features unique objects such as a sealed bottle with preserved cherries from the Wetherburn’s Tavern site. Starting in the 1980s, Colonial Williamsburg’s archaeologists began systematically collecting soil samples, from which specialists used various techniques to extract seeds, pollen, and phytoliths (microscopic silica inclusions produced in many plants). These archaeological collections are providing information on dietary practices and changes in Williamsburg’s urban landscape.
For information on archaeological research at Colonial Williamsburg click here.