Artifact of the Month: When is a Cup not a Cup? November 1, 2020 Author: Terry Williams, QAR Conservator First x-ray of QAR1211.000 The QAR Conservation Lab has literally thousands of artifacts needing treatment. With so many objects and so few conservators, priorities are a must. One way this is done is by evaluating x-rays to identify unique or diagnostic objects within each concretion. Reading x-rays is part science, part art. Take this x-ray for example. The artifact broke in half shortly after recovery and was x-rayed on two films, with no obvious link between the two concretions. The first caught our attention: what was the mystery copper alloy object? Cup? Bowl? Artifact for a ritual? With the presence of this unusual artifact, the concretion was given high priority and work on it began. The object was retrieved, and work continued on the remainder of both parts of the concretion. This concretion was already fractured to some degree and fell away cleanly from the object in some places. Lo and behold, a pistol was uncovered. The cup as it turned out was actually the pistol’s butt cap. Pistol out of concretion Once uncovered, research began attempts to identify the pistol, or barring that, at least to determine some features that would help date it. This is a little more complicated than one might think. At this time in small arms construction, there was ready exchange of parts, retrofits, or repairs done with what was available. Often the best way to identify a weapon is by looking at the maker’s mark. Unfortunately, 300 years in salt water was not kind to the iron surfaces; the lock face was corroded past the point of visibility or existence of the marks. Pistol design also changes little over the next few decades, making it even more difficult to pin down. With that in mind, clues point to it being a James II pistol, circa 1685. These guns are characterized by a brass butt cap, iron trigger guard, partially octagonal barrel that becomes round at the muzzle, and trigger offset slightly to the side, all features found on QAR1211.017. Complicating the dating is the simple style of butt cap which persists well into the 18th century. It also has a rounded, “banana”-shaped lockplate and octagonal (8-sided) and round barrel, which are early markers, leading some experts to date the pistol c.1690-1710. Underside of pistol, with wood in good shape and showing offset position of trigger There are some excellent samples of wood associated with the pistol. In time, researchers may determine what type of wood it is. With this added information it may be possible to further pin down the identity of the pistol. The pistol is currently undergoing desalination; once complete the wood will be treated with a bulking agent to ensure stability – a process years in the making. Sources: -Blackmore, Howard. British Military Firearms 1650-1850. London: Herbert Jenkins, 1961. -Rolston, J.M., Kimberly Kenyon, and Terry Williams. “Yes, Sir. All Was in Arms:” An Account of the Small Arms Discovered on the Wreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge (1718),” Poster presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference, New Orleans, 2018. -Erik Goldstein, Senior Curator of Mechanical Arts & Numismatics, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, personal communications, 2019-2020. Images: -X-ray of concretion QAR1211.000, showing the copper alloy cup. Image by NC Dept of Natural and Cultural Resources. -Pistol removed from concretion. Image by NC Dept of Natural and Cultural Resources. -Underside of pistol. Image by NC Dept of Natural and Cultural Resources.