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Gun Barrels - The two main kinds of firearms that appear in the Outlander series are the musket and the pistol. Muskets of the mid-18th century were incredibly long and heavy, with barrels approximately 46” long. Pistols were much smaller, but just as they were shorter, so was their range. Both types of weapons were typically muzzle-loaded, meaning that the gun powder and ammunition were pushed into the barrel from the front. Although skilled shooters could reload quickly, it was not practical in close combat to stop and do so. Instead musket barrels could be converted into blade weapons with the addition of a bayonet, or the iron barrel could act as a handle for using musket and pistol butts as blunt force weapons. Photo images and xrays of gun barrels:Pistol Barrel, Date: ca. 1689-1711, Site Name: King’s Reach, Site Number:18CV83/444 - This pistol barrel was recovered at the King’s Reach site, which was the first dwelling built by Richard Smith, Jr. when he came of age in 1689. Smith was a well-to-do planter and Captain of militia whose probate inventory listed 3 pairs of pistols, 20 pounds of gunpowder, and 140 pounds of shot among his possessions when he died in 1715.  This pistol predates that inventory, however, because Smith moved from the King’s Reach dwelling to another part of his property in 1711 after building a larger brick house. Evidently the pistol this barrel belonged to had been dismantled and discarded before the move. The barrel is about 9.5 inches long, and x-radiography shows that it once had a smooth bore measuring about 16 mm (0.62”) in diameter, though it  is now pitted by corrosion. The brightest areas show where x-rays passed through the most intact metal, while cloudy gray and black areas show where corrosion or other damage has chipped away at the iron. The barrel was recovered in soil that had been plowed for hundreds of years after the site was abandoned, so it probably got knocked around many times.; Musket or Fowling Piece Barrel, Date: ca. 1690-1750, Site Name: Garrett’s Chance, Site Number:18PR703/61 -  This gun barrel is broken, but its size indicates that it was once a long musket or fowling piece barrel. The musket was the typical weapon of the military, with a stock slightly shorter than the gun barrel so that a bayonet could attach to the muzzle. A fowling piece, or fowler, was the precursor to the modern shotgun. Intended for civilian use, fowlers generally had stocks that extended to the muzzle. Both weapons were very long in the 18th century, with the total length typically falling somewhere between 60 and 85 inches.  This gun barrel is octagonal in cross section and x-radiography shows that it had a smooth bore that is about 20 mm (0.787”) in diameter. It could fire musket balls,  lead buckshot, or both packed together as “buck and ball” loads. Its range would be about 50-80 yards, but it was not strong on accuracy. If the x-ray had revealed a bore that had regular grooves in a spiral pattern, that would be indicative of a rifle, which was designed to create spin on the projectile, increasing both accuracy and range. While rifles were available in the 18th century, they were not as flexible in terms of the kind of ammunition used, and they were harder to keep clean.  Based on the smooth bore and the context of the archaeological site where it came from, chances are good this gun was a civilian fowling piece. Excavations at Garrett’s Chance uncovered a modest 16.5’ x 20’ post-in-ground house that was occupied from the late 17th to early 18th century. The inhabitants were most likely tobacco planters who kept a fowling piece for hunting and personal protection.; Photo image of an xray of a loaded pistol, where the bullet is clearly seen in the chamber: The Importance of X-Rays - X-rays are important for documenting all kinds of metal artifacts, especially those made of iron. X-ray images show the condition of the artifact and they can reveal internal features and surface elements that are hidden by corrosion. This is especially important for gun barrels because firearms are sometimes abandoned fully loaded, as was the case with this example from the 2nd Battle of Bull Run. Conservators at the MAC Lab are responsible for cleaning and treating artifacts so that they will not deteriorate, and when this gun was sent to the lab the first thing they did was x-ray it to see if it was loaded. It most certainly was, and although the weapon had been buried for over 150 years, the gunpowder was still in place and could potentially go off, making for a dangerous situation. The conservators had to call in experts on unexploded ordinance to drill into the gun barrel and disable the charge while causing as little damage to the historic weapon as possible. Now the gun can be treated safely.
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