Lead Shot

by Avery JonesCART Archaeological Technician

While picking through our water screened soil samples from Feature 5, we have found a great deal of lead shot. Had we not taken the extra time to bag and process the sediment after quarter inch screening, we would have certainly missed these artifacts entirely! Lead shot appear as very small, dense balls and stand out amidst the backdrop of gravel.

After collecting such a large sample of it, I began wondering what information they might be able to tell us. As with any of our artifacts, clues can be found which indicate mode of manufacture. During the Industrial Revolution technology evolved rapidly with each new method leaving signature markings on the goods produced. With these artifacts placed within an established timescale, archaeologists are able to make inferences of when a site was inhabited as well as the socio-economic status and preferences of the inhabitants.

Lead shot was first cast in a mold. Shot produced in this way have “the same characteristic sprue cut, and sometimes a mold seam visible” (Sivilich 2016). The Rupert Method, a process by which molten lead was fed through a strainer and dropped from height into cold water, followed the mold-cast method. Lead shot produced by this process left signature dimple marks on one side, giving it somewhat of an apple-like appearance. This method was able to “rapidly produce lead shot, making it a very practical method,” however, until the introduction of the increasingly efficient Shot Towers in the late 18th Century, lead shot was fairly expensive for the average person to utilize (Sivilich 2016).

Dimple-marked lead shot seems to constitute the majority of what we are finding from our current project (See Figure 1). The lead shot is also of a size which would indicate that it was intended as bird shot, rather than buck shot which would be larger and intended for bigger game.

Figure 1: Lead shot produced using the Rupert Method with signature dimple marking.

As of yet, we have not been able to process enough of our pickings to perform a comprehensive analysis. Once we have completed the samples taken from Feature 5, the large cellar, I am hoping to implement a sampling strategy to guide our preliminary findings. I imagine this could be conducted by choosing test units in each corner of the feature and two in the middle. The idea is that analyses based on location of the test unit and depth of test unit stratum can be made to possibly indicate time and activity related to the fill deposits (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: Feature 5 Test Unit Map


Sivilich, Daniel M. 2016. Musket Ball and Small Shot Identification: A Guide. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma.


About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
This entry was posted in Archaeology, Artifacts. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Lead Shot

  1. Wahoo says:

    Informative and interesting post on lead shot and the Rupert Method. Also see link to site about shot towers. http://www.pssatrap.org/shot-towers-2/shot-towers-page-1.htm. Fascinating stuff. How could I have lived to the ripe age of 67 and never have heard of shot towers?


  2. Pingback: Day 24 of Virginia Archaeology Month | C.A.R.T. Archaeology

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