Museum Monday: Jamestown Material Culture – #BLOG365 Day 26

I have the urge to start every one of my Museum Monday object posts with “This is one of my favorite objects.” Obviously, I have a lot of favorite objects!

So I will be more specific. This object is one of my favorite to use for inference and observation. Most people don’t know what it is when they first look at it. Any ideas?


When I did object-based lessons in my classroom I often used the Library of Congress Tool for Analyzing Primary Sources which focuses on observation, questioning, reflection. As often as possible I used images like the one above that do not offer perspective. There is no way of knowing how big or small this object is which makes it a good choice for an object-based lesson. My students were encouraged to focus first on what they could see, then offer up questions, and finally infer. It takes a lot of practice for students to contribute only observations in the first round of discussion. Typically they jump to inferences. There is tremendous value in only sharing what you can see and it encourages students to look critically at objects. Here’s how one of those sessions might go:

Observation (what do you see?)

  • pointy on the left with a scoop on the right
  • silver
  • fishlike shape in the middle with mouth open
  • indentations on the fish like scales
  • the object is S shaped
  • there is a hole in the middle top

Questioning (what questions do you have about this object?)-

  • how big is it?
  • why is it pointy on one side with a scoop shape on the other end?
  • does the fish symbolize something?
  • what is the hole at the top used for?
  • what was the object used for ?
  • what is it made of?
  • who may have used it?
  • how old is it?
  • where is it from?

Reflection (what do you think it is?)-

  • a piece of jewelry or a necklace
  • a cooking utensil maybe for fish

This is actually a 17th century multi-purpose tool, an ear picker/nail picker/teeth cleaner. The scoop part was for collecting ear wax. Although at its basic level this object is for grooming, collecting ear wax would have been helpful in colonial times. Wax was used for a variety of purposes like sewing. It was worn as an accessory which explains the loop at the top. That fishlike shape in the middle is actually a dolphin.This object is usually called the ear picker and would have probably belonged to a member of the upper class. It is made of silver and measures about 2 inches. The ear picker was found during archaeological digs at Historic Jamestown. If you visit Jamestown you can purchase a reproduction. Of course, I own one! The reproductions can even be used in the classroom for the same activity above. Take this activity a step further by comparing it to grooming tools today.

This is definitely an object that promotes a lot of dialogue in the classroom. But, I also like to use it to introduce students to the story of archaeology at Jamestown and Dr. William Kelso. For many years the theory prevailed that the original Jamestown settlement had been washed away. Kelso believed this to be incorrect and in 1994 began excavations. It didn’t take him long to find evidence of the original fort and today over 2 million artifacts have been recovered. To me, Kelso’s story teaches our students to persevere. He and his archaeology team know that eventually the Jamestown site will be washed away by the James River and they are in a race to preserve the story of America’s first permanent English settlement.

To read more about Jamestown check out the Jamestowne Rediscovery site:




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