Stone age after the Stone age: Gunflint

These are gunflints from the 18th century. They were part of a flintlock mechanism, that became popular during the early modern  (

In Germany the Duke of Brunswick was the first, who introduced flint lock rifles for his territorial troops in 1687 only one year after the English army was equipped with flint-locks about the year 1686. In France, the Miquelet gun-lock, a Spanish invention, was first introduced in 1630, but the stone, if flint was really used at that time, had not, at all events, been subjected to any manufacturing process. By the year 1703 the soldier was armed with a musket, but he had to find his own flints which were often used in a rough state. It was not until the year 1719 that a manufacture of gun-flints was regularly established in France.The Austrian Emperor Joseph II called up the population of his monarchy to search new flint localities with qualities similar to the well known French mines. Finally such sites were found near Krakow, where black and hard flint was obtained by mining activities (“Podolische Flintsteine”). Prussia, on the other hand never had mines with quality flint that could be exploited and therefore had to import gunflints from other countries.

The great time for mining and the production of gunflint were the Seven Years’ War, a global military conflict between 1756 and 1763, and the Napoleonic wars. Gun-flints were superseded in Europe by percussion locks during 1786-1840, and this change was almost complete. In the colonies flint locks were commonly used until the mid of the 20 century. The colonial powers, did not want colonialised people to be equipped with better quality arms.

Gunflint making in many regions was a typical cottage industry, organized by individuals and small groups working in homes and workshops, with middlemen who bought flints at markets for export and to fill government contracts. The mining and processing of flint usually occurred during winter, when there was no field work to do. The competence for this kind of work was educated by the parents to their children. Flint was mined locally by hand. Labor was usually organized according to three main steps. The cracker or quarterer broke raw nodules into suitable sizes for making cores. The flaker produced long blades from these cores. The knapper finally segmented the blades, and trimmed the finished gunflints. A good flaker could make 10,000 flakes a day, keeping a couple of knappers busy. A good knapper produced 3000-4000 finished flints a day, and productive enterprises exported millions of gunflints yearly. Inhalation of silica dust from the flint-working process caused silicosis, an interstitial lung disease, which led to tuberculosis and lung fibrosis. Many knappers died in their forties.

One important flint manufacture was situated at Brandon (Suffolk, United Kingdom). The Brandon and Santon Downham “floorstone” flint – the same as is found at the near Grimes Graves, which was an important flint mine district during the Neolithic, could be knapped to produce long blades  which, in turn, could be cut into four or five reversible gunflints. It was from the 1790s, when local flint-masters obtained contracts to supply the British Army that Brandon became the centre of the gunflint industry. It had two elements: the extraction of the raw material, involving up to 40 miners working singly down 9 meter shafts with galleries at their base, and the knapping of the flint at workshops in Brandon. During the Napoleonic Wars there were 13 workshops with about 160 knappers producing up to 1,140,000 gunflints a month. ‘Brandon black’ gunflints were highly prized for their low rate of misfire. When the army adopted the percussion cap gun in the 1830s, output was reduced to supplying smaller colonial markets and the production of flint and chalk blocks for buildings. Now, gunflints were exported to North and South America, Africa, New Zealand, Spain, Russia, China and Malaya. During the Crimean War Brandon supplied eleven million flints annually to the Turkish Army, and there were then three masters employing thirty-six knappers. Brandon flints were still in use in Abyssinia in 1935, and even in 1950 2,000 gunflints were being made each day, mainly for export to Africa.

Several trools that were used in the prodution of Gunflints (France about 1700)

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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4 Responses to Stone age after the Stone age: Gunflint

  1. Dominique HOOTELE says:

    Do you know if these black gunflints are british or hollander ?
    I have over 200 gunflints I found by myself near Mons (Belgium) and I try now to classify all the different styles of them.


  2. Katzman says:

    Hi Dom

    They were found near New York- I have no ideal about their classification – Maybe some one of my readers?

  3. Giorgio Chelidonio says:

    As far as I know these kind of double edged black gunflints are from Brandon /Suffolk UK. Give a look to this 1940 short movie :

  4. Katzman says:

    Very informative movie!-thanks….

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