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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 6

The Excavation and Historical Identification of Rocky Mountain House

by William C. Noble

Artifact Descriptions (continued)


Eleven different commodities included under this heading comprise 1.6 per cent of the total artifact inventory.


Five gunflints from flintlock weapons are represented in the artifact sample from Rocky Mountain House. All are planoconvex in cross-section, and all but one are from pits within building II.

The gunflints may be classified into two types based on the method of manufacture and colour. All specimens of dark black flint are products manufactured by sectioning long flint blades. This type is generally recognized as British and is characterized by having well-defined sharp parallel ridges on the convex surface. In contrast, all honey-coloured or tan gunflints are made from single spalls struck from a core. These gunflints are distinguished by a well-defined bulb of percussion on the convex surface, and are generally considered to be of French origin.

Table 6: Hunting and Subsistence Items


Gun sear1

Spherical lead balls25

Spherical lead shot127

Lead spue1


Lead sinker1

Melted lead pieces6

Pelt stretcher1

Bone, shell and bark artifacts16


In the following descriptions the interpretations of the different types of guns represented according to the gunflint sizes are taken from Dr. Carlyle S. Smith's analysis of the gunflints from Kipp's Post (Woolworth and Wood 1960:268).

46 Gunflints, shot and lead pieces. a, black blade gunflint from pit 15 in building II; b, badly worn black blade gunflint from pit 15 in building II: c, black blade gunflint from south gateway of extended fort; d, rectangular tan spall gunflint from pit 5 in building II; e, spherical lead ball of 17 mm. or .669" calibre: f-g, spherical lead balls of 14.5 mm. or .570" calibre; h, spherical lead ball of 13 mm. or .512" calibre; i, spherical lead ball of 13.5 mm. or .530" calibre: j, spherical lead ball of 9 mm. or .354" calibre: k, waste lead sprue: l, different calibres of lead shot; m, vial filled with lead shot; n, threaded lead pipe from west of building II; o, triangular lead piece.
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Black Blade Gunflints

There are three specimens of this type. The first (Fig. 46, a), is O-shaped with two rounded corners. It measures 24 mm. by 23 mm. and has been worn from use. This size is from a horse pistol or gun with a medium-sized lock. Its provenience is from pit 15 within building II.

The second gunflint of this type (Fig. 46, b), is badly worn from use. It is rectangular in form, measuring 23 mm. by 20 mm. Again the size of this specimen falls within the range for a horse pistol or gun of medium-sized lock. This specimen is also from pit 15 within building II.

The third specimen (Fig. 46, c), is larger and not as worn as the two previous gunflints. It measures 29 mm. by 24 mm. with a thickness of 9 mm. This is a typical British flint from a carbine or gun with a large lock. It is from the south gateway in the extended fort.

Tan Spall Gunflints

There are two specimens of this type. The first (Fig. 46, d), which is rectangular, measures 30 mm. by 26 mm., with a maximum thickness of 9 mm. occurring at the bulb of percussion. The large size of this gunflint indicates that it is from a musket or other type of gun having a large lock. This specimen is from pit 5 within building II.

The second specimen has an incomplete crescentic O-shape similar to the French grande fine ronde gunflint illustrated by Bourlon (1907: Pl. 2). The width of this specimen is 30 mm., with the maximum thickness of 8 mm. occurring at the bulb of percussion. The incomplete length measures 24 mm. The proportions of this gunflint suggest that it is from a musket. It was found at the 21 in. depth of pit 4 within building II.

Comparisons of the Rocky Mountain House gunflints with those from other western forts are limited. The two illustrated black blade specimens from Kipp's Post (Woolworth and Wood 1960: Pl. 58, b-c) are similar to one from Rocky Mountain House (Fig. 46, c). No tan spall gun flints occur at Kipp's Post (1826-30), but several do occur at Fort Michilmackinac (Maxwell and Binford 1961: Pl 5, b), and appear to be similar to the Rocky Mountain House specimens.

Maxwell and Binford (1961: 99) demonstrate by chi-square analysis that the tan spall gunflints from Fort Michilimackinac predate the blade varieties, yet both types continued to be used during the late years of the fort's occupancy. The data from Rocky Mountain House suggests that both blade and spall gun flints were used during the Hudson's Bay Company occupation.

Gun Sear

This single specimen represents the only iron gun part from the entire site. It is L-shaped and has a 4 mm. diameter hole through one end for hinge attachment. This sear is from pit 4 within building II.

Commenting on the Hudson's Bay trade guns during his 1820-21 journey to the Athabasca Department, Sir George Simpson (1938:408) said:

The Trading Guns (marked Wilson) are not to be compared with those of "Barnets" make which the NW Coy-import, the Locks are badly finished, soft in the hammer, the Tumbler and Shear not properly tempered and the pan loses the Powder: the NW locks are altogether better finished and bridled inside or the Tumbler covered.

Spherical Lead Balls

Twenty-five spherical lead balls constitute the sample from Rocky Mountain House (Fig. 46, e-j). Three of these are so misshapen that calibre measurements are not possible. All of the lead balls are mould-made and cut from a sprue. Each of the three misshapen balls has portions of lead pared from it, possibly done in an effort to reutilize the lead for recasting of new balls.

Spherical lead balls such as the Rocky Mountain House specimens are for use in smoothbore muzzle-loading weapons. The calibres represented range from .354 in. to .669 in. A frequency count of these various calibres indicates a unimodal curve of distribution, thus ruling out the possibility of a distinction between the calibres used by the North West and Hudson's Bay companies. If such a difference were indeed real, then it would show up as a bimodal distribution curve.

The represented calibres and their numerical abundance are: one specimen of .354 in. (9 mm.); two of .512 in. (13 mm.); five of .530 in. (13.5 mm.); seven of .551 in. (14 mm.); three of .570 in. (14.5 mm.); three of .591 in. (15 mm.); and one specimen of .669 in. (17 mm.). Clearly, the apex falls at the .551 in. calibre which probably was most useful in bringing down deer or heavier game.

The spherical lead balls have a very confined distribution within the fort. They are predominantly from pits and buildings, particularly building II which accounts for 15, or 60 per cent of the sample. Two of the three misshapen balls were found 30 ft. outside the southern end of the fort.

In all, the range in ball calibres from Rocky Mountain House compares favourably with those from other forts. At Kipp's Post (Woolworth and Wood 1960: 268), the range is slightly greater, but the predominant calibres fall between .527 in. and .566 in. Similar results appear at Fort Michilimackinac where 68.5 per cent of the lead musket balls are between the .54 in. and .59 in. calibres (Maxwell and Binford 1961: 107).

Spherical Lead Shot

The recovered 127 spherical lead shot constitute one of the most numerous artifact items from Rocky Mountain House (Fig. 46, l-m). The sizes vary considerably from 3 mm. to 6 mm., representing seven different calibres. A frequency count of these different sizes shows a bimodal curve with one peak at 3.5 mm. (.134 in. or no. 3 shot), and the second at 5 mm. (.197 in. or T shot).

Within this lead shot inventory, 19 shot measure 3 mm. (.118 in. or no. 6 shot); 24 measure 3.5 mm. (.134 in. or no. 4 shot); 21 measure 4 mm. (.157 in. or no. 1 shot); 7 measure 4.5 mm. (.177 in. or BB shot); 41 measure 5 mm. (.197 in. or T shot); 13 measure 5.5 mm. (.217 in. or TT shot), and 2 measure 6 mm. (.236 in. or no. 4 buckshot).

Table 7: Distribution of Spherical Lead Balls

Building I.530"1

Building II .551"

Building II (pit 4) .354"

Building II (pit 5).512"1

Building III (pit 6).551"1

Building V.570"1

North corner bastionmisshapen1

Open centre of fort.530"1

South gateway.570"1

Pit 2.530"1

Outside fortmisshapen


When the distribution of the lead shot is plotted over the site it becomes apparent that most of the specimens are from pits and building II. Ninety-eight (77.2 per cent) pieces of shot are from pits with 41 specimens (32.3 per cent) represented from pit 10 alone; an additional 21 specimens (16.5 per cent) occurred loose among the floorboards of building II. The following table presents the provenience of the lead shot recovered from the fort.

Table 8: Distribution of Lead Shot
ProvenienceNumberPer cent

Building II2116.5

Building II (pit 4)1612.6

Building II (pit 5)32.4

Building II (pit 15)1310.2

Building III (pit 6)10.8

Building VI (dump adjoining pit 10)118.7

Pit 143.1

Pit 286.3

Pit 104132.3

Pit 1110.8



According to today's standards, differences in shot size are correlated with the type of bird or small game to be hunted. It is inferred here that such was also the case in the past. It seems probable that the smaller 3 mm. to 4 mm. shot in the bimodal frequency curve are convenient sizes for shooting ducks, grouse, pheasants, pigeons or other upland game birds. The second curve in the bimodal frequency represents larger shot sizes between 4.5 mm. and 6 mm. These sizes are effective in shooting geese, swans, cranes or small game such as rabbits and beaver. Frequently the early traders' documents refer to different types of shot (e.g., swan shot, beaver shot and bird shot). The evidence found at Rocky Mountain House tends to support these distinctions.

There was no evidence of cartridges or percussion caps at the fort.

Lead Sprue

Sprues such as this twisted specimen (Fig. 46, k) are formed from excess lead left in a spherical lead ball casting mould. This sprue is from a six-cavity mould indicated by the presence of six short circular plugs left on the specimen. Each of these plugs measures 6 mm. in diameter and they are spaced 11 mm. apart. The length of the spue is 11.1 cm. with a width of 1.0 cm.

This specimen is from the area just north of the north end of building III.


Two fishhooks are included in the inventory of subsistence items (Fig. 50, c-d). Both are made from steel wire and are eyeless. Each has been fashioned from 2 mm. thick round wire, with a shank 3 cm. long. The curve forming the hook is quite wide, and the tip of the curved shank has been longitudinally split. A barb was produced by folding one of the longitudinally split halves to one side and sharpening it.

Both specimens come from pit 15 within building II. It seems probable, therefore, that they belonged to one of the inhabitants of building II.

Lead Sinker

Only one lead sinker is known from the site (Fig. 51, e). This excavated specimen is 4.8 cm. long and tapers to a blunted circular point. The maximum width of the weight is 8 mm. Located 3.5 mm. from the top of the specimen is a 1 mm. wide hole through which a string or line could be threaded. The sides of the lead shank around this hole are flattened. It seems probable that this specimen is a lead fishing weight although it may be a plumb line weight.

This sinker comes from within the central area of building V.

Melted Lead Pieces

There are six pieces of melted lead in the artifact assemblage (Fig. 46, o). The illustrated piece is triangular, but most of the other portions are irregular in shape. A spherical lead droplet is from pit 10 as is the illustrated piece. There is no distinctive distributional pattern for the other melted lead pieces. No doubt many are wastes from larger pieces melted to cast balls.

Pelt Stretcher

This well-preserved pine board skin stretcher is direct evidence of some of the hunting activities at the fort. The stretcher is paddle-shaped and has been sawn from a 43 cm. long half-rounded slab. The blade measures 36 cm. long by 16.5 cm. wide by 3.7 cm. thick. A 1.7 cm. wide hole is located more or less centrally, 5.8 cm. from the distal end of the square-sawn blade. This hole may have been used for pegging or thong stringing. The proximal end of the stretcher has a short, hand-sawn rectangular handle which measures 7 cm. long by 5.5 cm. wide by 3.4 cm. thick. The entire rounded dorsal surface of the stretcher is charred and scorched.

A pelt stretcher of this style is used in "case-skinning," where the animal's pelt is not slit and spread open. The size of the stretcher is suitable for small game such as rabbits. From its provenience behind and outside the single-hearth fire. place of building I, it seems reasonable to infer that this item was used by one of the men living at the fort.

Bone, Shell and Bark Artifacts

This category is incomplete due to the fact that the bone analysis for Rocky Mountain House has not yet been completed. Bison scapulae and sectioned horse bones were identified in the field. (See pits 2, 10 and 12). To be added to the bone inventory, however, are 16 other artifacts.

Antler Tines

A total of seven sawn and discarded antler tips were found during excavation. These range in length from 3.4 cm. to 10.5 cm. and appear to be predominantly from deer. All were found within buildings or pits and two carved specimens definitely represent homemade plugs for powder horns. The following table lists the specimens and their provenience.

Table 9: Distribution of Antler Tine Tips
Specimen No.

Building I(carved plug)961

Building II(carved plug)128

Building II (pit 4)

Building II (pit 15)

Building IV

Pit 10

In addition, two large portions of deer antler are clearly identifiable. These have each been sawn off at either end. One specimen is from within building VI, the other immediately adjacent to the west side of building IV.

One pronghorn core (Antilocapra americana) is present. This measures 21 cm. long and has been obliquely sawn off at the base. It is from the open centre of the fort, east of the fur press base.

A large antler burr, possibly from a moose, came from the exterior palisade trench west of the northwest corner of building III. It has been sawn off and has a diameter of 5.8 cm.

Freshwater Bivalve Shells

Two specimens of freshwater bivalves recovered from the fort enclosure indicate another subsistence source. One fragmented specimen is from pit 2 and the other, a large complete half measuring 11.8 cm. long by 5.7 cm. wide, came from the upper level of pit 10 underlying building VI. It seems probable that these shells were taken from the nearby North Saskatchewan River.

Cut Birchbark Rolls

Three rolls of cut birchbark came from within building II. They are each 2.5 mm. thick and measure 2.4 cm., 3.2 cm. and 4.1 cm. in width. These are probably small canoe repair patches. Similar specimens are recorded from Kipp's Post (Woolworth and Wood 1960: 276).

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