Colonial Williamsburg Research Division Web Site

The Zooarchaeological Collection

Colonial Williamsburg’s zooarchaeological collection is one of the largest in eastern North America, with a database that includes more than 1.1 million bone fragments from over 160 sites. Recovered between the 1960s and the present, this collection spans the growth of environmental archaeology from the recognition of bones as artifacts to the collection of even the smallest fragments. The strength of this collection lies in the breadth of sites represented: urban to rural, poor to wealthy, and white to enslaved African-American households. Over a fifty-year period, both scholars and students have taken advantage of this strength, pursuing questions related to dietary patterns, seasonality, provisioning, animal husbandry, landscape, and livestock ecology.

Current Research with the Collection

Butchery Studies

Working together with Foodways staff, historians, and William & Mary students, Colonial Williamsburg’s zooarchaeologists are conducting actualistic research to determine eighteenth- and nineteenth-century butchery techniques. Research has focused on characteristic marks left by chopping tools, chopping techniques, meat cuts, and how they changed in response to the commercialization of meat processing.

The Study of Williamsburg and its Environs: The Provisioning Study

Working with historians to answer the question of how townspeople supplied themselves with food, Colonial Williamsburg’s zooarchaeologists developed an approach to place Williamsburg’s marketplace in its regional context. During a multi-year project supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, we analyzed previously-excavated faunal assemblages from urban and rural seventeenth- to early nineteenth-century Chesapeake sites, to compile a regional database composed of well over a hundred faunal assemblages. This database has become the basis from which Chesapeake zooarchaeologists have reconstructed the provisioning of meat and looked at animal husbandry as it responded to elite planters, who began producing beef, mutton, and pork for sale in Williamsburg. Research has also explored urban provisioning, showing how urban households procured meat by drawing upon their own resources, people they knew in the countryside, the marketplace, and local merchants. As research moves forward with new initiatives, this database, which is being constantly expanded, has become a resource for zooarchaeologists, students, and historians alike.

Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS)

The Zooarchaeology Laboratory has collaborated with Monticello archaeologists on this web-based initiative to analyze faunal remains from enslaved African-American sites located in the Chesapeake. Aimed at making archaeological data accessible to scholars everywhere, DAACS has developed classification and measurement standards that enable scholars from different disciplines to integrate maps, artifact and faunal records, and other relevant information. In recent years, the DAACS project has addressed several other sites from the Chesapeake, the Carolinas and the Caribbean.

The Study of Animal Husbandry, Landscape, and the Ecology of Food Production

Drawing upon the regional faunal database, zooarchaeologists are actively engaged in exploring how the development of an agrarian subsistence system based in tobacco culture molded and altered the Chesapeake, a landscape that had been modified by Native American populations for many thousands of years. Current research initiatives are drawing on this faunal evidence to explore dietary patterns, slaughter patterns, and morphometrics. Increasingly zooarchaeologists are working with evidence drawn from archaeobotanical remains, pollen, phytoliths, and stable isotopes.