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JudeT

Rock, Fossil Or Musket Ball?

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Hi All

I've always had a great fascination for fossils and rarely go for a walk without bringing weird stones or fossils back in my pocket. Yesterday I found a wonderfully symmetrical rock or fossil with a small sticking-out nodule. It's almost exactly one inch across and weighs 38 grams.

post-11618-0-12474200-1365778610_thumb.jpg

I would love to know what this is. We have even wondered if it was actually a musket ball, but having checked it with a magnet it appears it's not metal. That seemed to leave fossils or geology, so I thought I would ask here. For some reason for me it's a most fascinating item.

Many thanks

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If it was lead, a magnet would not have any effect. Is the material soft? Try taking a needle and seeing if you can push it in like you could with lead, which is much softer than most other metals.

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I can see why you are considering a musket ball! I found what I believe to be one a couple months ago... Curious to hear what this is. :)

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I think the nipple on the ball kind of eliminates a musket ball, but then again I haven't shot a musket in a long time (well never). Perhaps a ball bearing might be an option. It does remind me of an iron ore concretion. Welcome to the forum and good luck with an identification.

Jim

Old Dead Things

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Concreation with something in it ! :)

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I just pulled out what I thought to be one and does look a little different but shape is the same... Including a bump. Mine may not be an actual musket ball either though. Definitely metal though. :)post-8801-0-65193400-1365782259_thumb.jpg

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Thanks everyone!

I've tried RichW9090's needle test and the needle doesn't penetrate at all. Now looking at the test suggested by painshill but I'm not sure how to carry out the test. I have a tile. Do I just scrape the rock across it? I have tried that and most times it just gouged the tile but two or three times it left a yellowish mark. I'll read more about ironstone concretions. I wonder how they're formed and how they can be so perfectly round. DLB said it's a concretion with something in it - any ideas what that something could be?

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Thanks everyone!

I've tried RichW9090's needle test and the needle doesn't penetrate at all. Now looking at the test suggested by painshill but I'm not sure how to carry out the test. I have a tile. Do I just scrape the rock across it? I have tried that and most times it just gouged the tile but two or three times it left a yellowish mark. I'll read more about ironstone concretions. I wonder how they're formed and how they can be so perfectly round. DLB said it's a concretion with something in it - any ideas what that something could be?

Yep... just swipe it to and fro like you were using a crayon, with firm pressure. Then blow the dust away so you can see the streak underneath. If you're getting a yellowish mark it's likely predominantly limonite or goethite but concretions like this are frequently a mixture of iron oxides with other minerals. Ironstone concretions most usually come out of sandstone through which iron-rich groundwater has percolated. They need a nucleus of some kind to form around and build up in layers of precipitated minerals around it. It's most usually a marine shell but a fragment of anything organic will do the trick. In general, the smaller that nucleus the more likely the concretion is to be a perfect sphere. The nucleus might no longer be intact or apparent. It can decay and leave the decomposition gases to act as a trigger.

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Yep... just swipe it to and fro like you were using a crayon, with firm pressure. Then blow the dust away so you can see the streak underneath. If you're getting a yellowish mark it's likely predominantly limonite or goethite but concretions like this are frequently a mixture of iron oxides with other minerals. Ironstone concretions most usually come out of sandstone through which iron-rich groundwater has percolated. They need a nucleus of some kind to form around and build up in layers of precipitated minerals around it. It's most usually a marine shell but a fragment of anything organic will do the trick. In general, the smaller that nucleus the more likely the concretion is to be a perfect sphere. The nucleus might no longer be intact or apparent. It can decay and leave the decomposition gases to act as a trigger.

Many thanks. There is a lot of sandstone around here, and millions of years ago the whole place was under water. Some of the fossils are amazing. I think I need to buy a book guide book so I can look up my finds. Thanks for all the info it's been fascinating. :)

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Based solely on appearance the "stone" reminds me of the Moqui Marbles of Southern Utah.

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It’s possible for there to be a small nipple sticking out of a musket ball, but that would indicate it hasn’t been used. The projection would be the remnant of the “sprue” where the molten lead was poured into the mould. That would be cut off with a pair of snips before use. Shot that was put inside a shell to act as shrapnel (grape shot or canister shot) might not be trimmed off with the same degree of care and could be iron or lead (and occasionally brass). If it were iron, it would be magnetic, even if heavily corroded.

Musket Shot would always be lead and non-magnetic and nothing like as large as an inch across. Also, if it has been in the ground a while it tends to have a greyish or white oxidised powdery coating. Like this one, which is English Civil War period:

attachicon.gifMusket Ball.JPG

Jude’s item looks like an ironstone concretion to me. Those can be perfectly spherical or have one or more knobbly bits sticking out of them, and the colour and appearance will depend greatly on how they have weathered. Like these:

attachicon.gifIronstone Concretion 1.jpgattachicon.gifIronstone Concretion 2.JPG

Also, from the measurements, I estimate the density as approximately 4.4g/cc which is far too low for lead (or even iron) and much more consistent with rock/mineral.

Ironstone concretions are rarely magnetic and if so, normally only weakly. Time for a streak test (on the unglazed side of an old ceramic tile). Hematite streaks red-brown, limonite and goethite streak yellow-brown, pyrite streaks black (or greenish black). Magnetite streaks black or grey and is strongly magnetic but not normally present in round concretions except as an accessory mineral at low levels. Lead would have an unmistakable grey metallic streak… but I’m sure it’s not lead.

Lissa’s item looks much more like a piece of shot, but it doesn't look as if it has spent much time in burial and (although it's the right kind of size) might still be canister shot rather than a musket ball. Try a magnet and a streak test on that one too. It’s not difficult to calculate the density accurately if you have access to a decent balance and a pair of calipers. That will at least tell you for sure what metal (or alloy) it might be.

Thanks painshill and I will be trying those tests! I found it last fall in a bunch of clay we dug up when putting in a fenced in yard for our dogs. Stood out because it was so round and the clay was orange... I remember when looking it up thinking it had to be a musket ball (certainly could be possible given my area), but did think it looked oddly "newish" also. :) I just immediately thought of it when I saw the title and picture on this post. Thanks for all the great advice and info!!! :)

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A lead ball of 1" diameter will weigh 1750grains, 1/4 of a pound, or 113.39 grams. For anyone interested in shotguns, this is how they get their names. 12 gauge = 12 round pure lead balls the diameter of the bore to the pound. a 10 gauge is 10, etc. Bit off topic, but just saying its most likely not a musket ball, which would be made of soft and purer lead (youd be able to scratch it and see shiny silver if its lead, also.)

Cheers!

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A lead ball of 1" diameter will weigh 1750grains, 1/4 of a pound, or 113.39 grams. For anyone interested in shotguns, this is how they get their names. 12 gauge = 12 round pure lead balls the diameter of the bore to the pound. a 10 gauge is 10, etc. Bit off topic, but just saying its most likely not a musket ball, which would be made of soft and purer lead (youd be able to scratch it and see shiny silver if its lead, also.)

Cheers!

Yes... I calculated the density at about 4.4g/cc whereas unalloyed lead has a density of 11.3g/cc. Strictly speaking a 4-gauge ball weighing 113.4g would have a diameter of 1.052 inches whereas an exact 1 inch ball would be B-gauge and weigh 97.3g.

In either case those are unusual calibers relating to relatively rare weapons. The 4-gauge musket (rifled or otherwise) is what is normally called an "elephant gun" most suited to big game hunting in Africa and Asia. Not the kind of weapon widely used in France, I would suggest.

Edited by painshill

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Yeah, I was thinking who would be flinging around 4 bore loads in France. As far as I know none were made or went there. Not a common beast at all. Since you seem to be interested in elephant guns, have you seen Cal Pappas book British Bore Rifles? Good read. Henry Morton Stanley carried one on the Livingstone quest.

They're on my "to build" list. Most "4 bores" were between .9-1", and this not a true 4 anyways.

Sorry for the detail.

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I know this post isn't originally mine but since adding the pic of what I thought might be a musket ball above I have found 2 more while digging a garden behind our house in Washington, PA. Any thoughts on whether these are musket balls or buck shots? The houses right here were built late 60's early 70's so no hunting this close to our house since then. Really hoped musket ball but finding 3 in my backyard is seeming pretty unlikely. I have no fine weighing or measuring tools so hoping these two new finds may reveal a detail I'm not aware of... :)

Here's the 2 new ones I found.

post-8801-0-87498600-1407266303_thumb.jpgpost-8801-0-92536100-1407266338_thumb.jpg

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Are they lead? If so, is this their condition from the ground?

I would expect a musket ball (were it an old one) to have acquired a crust of lead oxide.

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This is their condition from the ground! All I did was rinse the mud off. (So maybe not lead?) The original one was dug out of a hole when we were digging for a fence post. The smoother one of these 2 popped out when I was shoveling 6-8 inches deep. The other one I missed and my daughter picked off the top of the dirt pile. It almost has brain like grooves in it. The last 2 were in a darker clay like soil if that even makes a difference? The second one surprised me but the 3rd was a shock. Why I'm now doubting my hope of musket ball... lol

Edited by lissa318

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Musket ball lead is soft, and can be surface cut easily with a knife. If they are indeed lead, they are not of any great vintage, else they would at the very least be quite dull, and more likely would have developed a white-ish rind.

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Hi Lissa

You may not have any measuring equipment but surely you've got a magnet somewhere in the house? Even if those are metal, we still don't know if they're ferrous metal. As Auspex says, if they are lead musket shot they should have a white or grey oxide coating (as pictured earlier in the thread), as well as being non-magnetic. Concretions would not normally be magnetic and - if so - usually only very weakly. They look pretty uniform in size, so I would guess man-made. if they're magnetic they could still be "shot" but not musket shot. Canister and grape-shot for cannons was sometimes made from iron and that would quite likely be found in small groups.

The other possibility is that they are milling balls which would probably be cast iron or mild steel, depending on their age.

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Ok so they are definitely magnetic. Not musket then... Thanks guys! I need to look up canister and grape shot, plus milling balls now. ;) I am not familiar with these kinds of things... lol. You're help was certainly appreciated. :)

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If they were milling balls they would be magnetic. Usually, they're ceramic but may have a steel core or be entirely steel. These are steel examples:

post-6208-0-78148300-1407276262_thumb.jpg

[pic from chinasourcingblog]

Canister shot or grape shot remains a possibility since they weren't always lead.

Edited by painshill

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If they were milling balls they would be magnetic. Usually, they're ceramic but may have a steel core or be entirely steel. These are steel examples:

attachicon.gifMilling Balls.jpg

[pic from chinasourcingblog]

Canister shot or grape shot remains a possibility since they weren't always lead.

Thank you. :) I pulled out the original one I found and tried to get a decent pic of all 3. Do the milling balls have the upraised dots like you can see in the first and last ones in this picture? I'm having a hard time telling from your picture. My original one is to the far right... They aren't looking like the milling balls to me but what do I know?!?! lol. I still have a bit of digging to go for my garden and hoping I find more! Although they are driving me a bit crazy not knowing what they are... ;)

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post-8801-0-76133100-1407278189_thumb.jpg Edited by lissa318

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They’re not as regular in size as I thought. They’re crudely cast and I would guess they are early canister shot. This is a canister for a 12-pounder from the Civil War era. The iron balls were packed into the canister with sawdust round them.

post-6208-0-66876200-1407280929_thumb.jpg

["MHS canister shot" by Minnesota Historical Society - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.]

See the “nipples” on some of them (from the “sprues” where the molten metal was poured into the mould) and also the mould seams and size variation? That shot would be about an inch and a half in diameter. Shot for a 6-pounder would be about an inch in diameter, so I would guess yours might be from a 3-pounder. Those were light artillery pieces lugged around by infantry and could be pulled by a single horse. The British widely used such a weapon known as the “grasshopper cannon” in rough terrain frontier areas of North America in the 18th Century for example. Ames also made a 3-pounder from around 1840-1860, primarily used by townsfolk as a civil defence artillery piece. It would be too small for a Civil War field artillery piece although I guess in the early days of the war there was a lot of improvisation, but more in the South than the North.

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