Beef, Venison, and Imported Haddock in Colonial Virginia: A Report on the Analysis of Faunal Remains from Jordan's Journey

Part of the Jordan's Journey (44PG302) project

Author(s): Joanne Bowen

Year: 1996


In 1984, Henry Miller completed his synthesis of dietary patterns in the Chesapeake, beginning with the first years of settlement as the colonists began to establish plantations and following with how dietary patterns changed as the plantation economy evolved. In this very important piece of work, Miller observed that wildlife helped to sustain the colonists through the early years. On the average, wildlife (excepting oysters and crabs) provided up to 30% of all meat consumed. Only later, during the final decades of the seventeenth century, when forests had been turned into fields, did wildlife drop off as an essential source of food.

While Miller established wildlife’s essential importance to the early colonists, there remain questions to be answered. We have yet to determine the extent to which Native Americans provided venison and other foods; how domesticated stock adapted to an environment that Native Americans had molded for thousands of years; how the mix of domesticated stock shifted as fields and pastures became established; and how peoples of varying economic means carved out a subsistence during these early years.

As Jordan’s Journey has captivated all archaeologists who have had the privilege of working on this site, so too has it captivated the zooarchaeologists at Colonial Williamsburg. Never have we seen such a range of fauna.

The Jordan’s Journey faunal remains offer another view of early subsistence. Identifications and biomass estimates offer an interpretation that differs significantly from the view laid out by Miller. While colonists hunted a diverse array of wildlife, it is clear that imported fish were far more important than local fish, a view that defies the historical interpretation of rivers teeming with fish which sustained colonists who would have otherwise starved. Additionally, what seems even more surprising is that cattle were far more important than pigs even at this early date, a fact that belies our understanding of early subsistence and animal husbandry. Lastly, it is now possible to make statements on the role goats had in establishing a subsistence system in this region. Using techniques now being incorporated into North American zooarchaeology on a routine basis, we have looked closely, for example, to see if goats, who adapt well to undeveloped lands, were some of the early arrivals, or whether sheep, who require protection and pasturage, were introduced early on.

Cite this Record

Beef, Venison, and Imported Haddock in Colonial Virginia: A Report on the Analysis of Faunal Remains from Jordan's Journey. Joanne Bowen. 1996 ( tDAR id: 6085) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8DB7ZS3

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 1620 to 1635

Spatial Coverage

min long: -77.498; min lat: 36.633 ; max long: -75.41; max lat: 39.368 ;

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