Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gotta light?

We take matches and propane lighters for granted, but what if--in the Colonial period--you wanted to start a fire or light a pipe? Well, if lucky, there would be a fire in a neighbor's hearth from which you could borrow an ember. Otherwise, you start from scratch, or rather, from a strike-a-light.

Several weeks ago, while working on a project in southern Prince George's County, Maryland...a half hour or so north of Port Tobacco...the GAC team recovered a very small flake of what appeared to be English flint (pictured at right). It is only three-quarters of an inch long, about a half inch wide, and about 0.15 inches thick. The magnified images clearly show that small flakes were removed from around the edges on both sides.

I think these flake removals were unintentional, or a byproduct of striking this small flake on a piece of iron or steel, the resulting sparks lighting a bit of tinder with which to start a fire.

Since I was taking pictures of the flake with my digital microscope anyway, I amped the magnification to 200 diameters to see if there were any fossil radiolaria (plankton) or sponge spicules in the matrix. These fossil invertebrates commonly occur in sedimentary flints and cherts. There were none to be found, but I did identify several minute bits of iron, one of which appears in the right-most image. It may be possible to identify the source of this stone, or at least to verify that it is English flint rather than a North American chert. We did find some other Colonial or Early Republic artifacts around this find.


No comments: