Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Head and Shoulders Can't Stop These Flakes: Gunflints at FSJ

Leveling out for Open House
            Down at the fort site we are very busy starting to prepare for the Open House. Everyone is digging as fast and efficient as they can to try and reach another level before we have to close up for our visitors. We are uncovering more exciting features as we go, but you’ll have to come to the Open House this weekend to see!! While you’re there looking through all of our wonderful artifacts, you might come upon a small square stone-like-thing in one of the display cases. Odds are it’s a gunflint and I’m here to give you some background so that you’ll get a smug sense of satisfaction when you can identify it before your friends and family. You can even drop a few of these facts about it if you want to seem extra intelligent.
             A gunflint is a piece of flint that would be struck with the gun’s hammer in order to produce a spark in order to ignite the gun. At Fort St. Joseph we find a variety of gunflints. The fort was a center for trade and a military outpost so a large concentration of gun parts is expected. The types of flints we find are not limited to one type of gun. We find gunflints that would serve both trade and military guns. We find flints from different countries which makes sense because the French, English and Spanish occupied the site at different points in time. We can use differences in gunflint types to answer questions about who lived at the fort and what they were doing.
            The type of gunflint we are most familiar with at Fort St. Joseph were originally invented in France in 1610. This type of gunflint is found in colonial settlement sites throughout North America. Though originally a French innovation, production of gunflints was not limited to the French. Other countries manufactured different gunflints based on the types of resources they had available. For example, flints that range from olive brown to honey-colored flints are typically associated with the French. Flints that range from black to grey flints are typically associated with the English because those were the stone materials on hand in each country for production.
European flints you can see in person at the Open House
             The general shape of gunflints can be attributed to two main types of manufacturing that produced either gun spalls or blades. Gun spalls (or gun flakes) were made individually by taking pieces off a core that had been pre-prepared. There isn’t documentation on how they were made but we are able to replicate them by studying the pieces that have survived. Spalls are made by creating blades from the cores of flint and then breaking off individual flakes from these blades. 
            By looking at the wear of the gunflint you can also tell how long it was used. Gunflints are suppose to be replaced after so much use, so when we find flints with heavy wear beyond the norm, we could hypothesize that gunflints were harder to come by leading to the flints being used long after they were suppose to be replaced. If we found gunflints with very little wear it could indicate that gunflints were readily available to replace ones being used.
            At Fort St. Joseph we have also found gunflints distributed fairly evenly across the site, not limited to certain pits or areas. Past analyses on the gunflints at Fort St. Joseph indicate that most of the gunflints found were of French origins. The majority were also found to be a trade gun variety, instead of military or small arms. The flints found are fairly uniform which would suggest that they were mass produced and shipped into the Great Lakes regions to supply the fort and to use in trade.
            Now you have at least three good facts to flaunt when you come to the Open House this Saturday and/or Sunday. We’ll see you there! 


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