Get the Lead Out: Towards Identifying Ammunition on Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Battlefields and Settlements

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This report details the results of the 2017 Get the Lead Out! Workshop that was conducted by the LAMAR Institute and National Park Service in June, 2017, funded through a grant from National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. It also incorporates data from an earlier 2015 workshop, as well as elemental data collected by researchers since 2012. Small arms ammunition in America, throughout the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries, consisted of round soft-metal balls. These were mostly lead, although archaeologists have documented other metals such as pewter and silver as additives. Available small arms and related ammunition varied by military unit, and included pistols, rifles, trade guns, carbines, fowlers, and large caliber wall guns, as well as American, French, Spanish and English weapons. Macroscopic identification of associated bullets alone limits battlefield interpretations.

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Participants at LAMAR pXRF Workshop

Seibert and Elliott present a formalized regimen of lead ball analyses that combines elemental characterization (portable X-Ray Fluorescence, or pXRF) along with traditional descriptions and quantitative measurements. Traditional analysis documents diameter, weight, firing condition (impact evidence, rifling, worming, ramrod impact, casting evidence), alterations (chewing, cutting, carving), other post-depositional damage (rodent gnawing), and archaeological context. The elemental information collected by pXRF shows promise in identifying ore sources, contaminants introduced, firing condition, age, and military association. If combined with other data from lead ore sources, including isotope studies, baseline information can be developed for comparison among battlefield assemblages and incorporated into a global dataset with the purpose of better understanding the geographic distribution of military supplies and military strategy at macro global and regional levels, as well as at micro-battlefield levels.


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