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Preservation Virginia > Jamestown Rediscovery > Exhibit > Jamestown Fort: Rediscovered > The Things > Food


Food What did the first colonists eat? The animal bones from food supplies found in a pit dating prior to 1610 reveal that the 104 men and boys who landed at Jamestown survived primarily on fish and turtles. The colonists also dined on rays, birds, oysters, raccoons, and other native Virginia animals, as well as provisions of beef and pork they brought from England. There is no indication from the pit that the men were relying on domesticated animals for food in the first couple years, although one elderly horse appears to have met this fate.

Archaeologists have also found evidences in the faunal remains of two events that took place prior to the pit's filling in 1610. One is the arrival of colonists in the spring of 1610 after having been shipwrecked on Bermuda for a year. Bones of a Bermudan bird, called the Cahow, as well as the bones of tropical fish, indicate food prepared by the once-marooned individuals for their short voyage to Jamestown. Once they arrived, they shared their meager supplies with the starving colonists who greeted them. The other event is the Starving Time of 1609-1610. The bones of butchered horses, dogs, rats, poisonous snakes, and musk turtles all indicate desperation on the part of the hungry men.

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