This blog includes updates from the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project sponsored by Western Michigan University in partnership with the City of Niles, the Fort St. Joseph Museum, Support the Fort, Inc. and other community groups. The Project is dedicated to archaeological research, education, community service learning, and intensive public outreach. The Principal investigator of the Project is Dr. Michael Nassaney.
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
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
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.
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
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!