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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Losier

Artefact of the Week Series: Don't jump the gunflint!

Updated: 4 days ago

At first glance, one might think this is just an ordinary rock... this, however, is a gunflint!

Gunflints were manufactured primarily by the British and French from the 17th to 19th centuries, with some modern heritage manufacturers still making them for antique and firearm enthusiasts. Gunflints are part of a flintlock musket and are integral to their function. On a flintlock musket mechanism, the flint would be placed into the hammer of the gun, which is the part that gets pulled back and cocked into position. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer springs forward, causing the flint to strike a piece called a "frizzen," which would create a spark, igniting the gunpowder and sending the musket ball out of the gun toward its intended target.

Flintlock musket firing mechanism from: Holly, Don & Wolff, Christopher & Erwin, John. (2015). Before and After the Fire: Archaeological Investigations at a Little Passage/Beothuk Encampment in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. 39. 1-30.

While other pieces of muskets can be found at archaeological sites, the flint is the most commonly found because they regularly broke off or fell out of the gun after repeated use. They are also the trickiest piece of the musket to date because they are not marked like the other pieces of the gun usually would be. There are ways that can help estimate the date and the manufacturer's location. The flintlock weapon became popular around the 1650s as earlier weapons tended to misfire, which was less common with the flintlock mechanism. The way that the flint is shaped is also an indication. The earliest way to make gunflints was to break off a piece of chert or flint to create a flake and knap this flake to get it into the right shape. Later, they were cut from large slabs of chert. We can see small knap marks along the end of this gunflint, which may indicate that it is from an older manufacturer. The colour and shape of the flint can also be an indicator but are not definitive determiners of its location or origin. Generally, French flints tended to be honey orange or brown with rounded back, while British flints could be more gray or black with a flatter back. This flint is gray. Given that this gunflint was found in a sector where ceramics dates from the Newman & co occupation of Turpin's Island and the general aspect of the flint, this gunflint could have been manufactured in England.


Charlotte Cameron

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