Recently I was taken to some woodland on a limestone ridge overlooking the Gartempe river. Nothing unusual there. I'm frequently to be found exploring such sites, either alone or in the company of friends who are experts in some aspect of the natural and cultural history of the Touraine. In this case the site we encountered was intriguing, but none of us had the expertise to explain it.
The stone would have been relatively easy to extract.
On the summit of the ridge there was exposed limestone and evidence of a quarry. Nothing unusual there either. These small quarries exist all over the place and can date from just about any time in the past.
What caught my attention was the horizontal channel cut into the limestone face. Obviously a seam of flint had been extracted, whereas much of the limestone had been left in situ. Naturally when one thinks of flint extraction in the Touraine one automatically thinks of the prehistoric. But something about this site made me wonder if it could have been later, and if so who would have been using flint other than Stone Age man.
Exposed limestone with evidence of quarrying and blocks being removed.
Once I started thinking about it and doing a few internet searches a possible answer appeared -- gunflint, for flintlock firearms in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Gunflint apparently needs to be hard black flint and in the field below this quarry we had found a lot of pieces of black flint, which is a little bit unusual for this area. But was it the right quality for gunflint? I don't know, but it made me wonder -- was this a gunflint quarry?
When the flintlock firearm mechanism was invented in the early 17th century it didn't take long for it to become widely used and all the old known prehistoric sites were scrutinised for any remaining useful seams of flint. During the Napoleonic Wars the Touraine became the principle producer of gunflint for the French army and it was an important cottage industry. Flint mining and knapping was undertaken in the winter, when there was less to do in the fields.
The channel where the seam of flint would have been is clear in this photo.
So...I just wonder...
Further Reading: A post about central France (Indre, Indre et Loire and Loir et Cher) as the centre of the French prehistoric flint tool and later gunflint production on the Ohio History Connection Archaeology Blog. French gunflints have been found all over the world. And it turns out that whilst British gunflint is black, French gunflint was more highly regarded, and not black. It seems that you can even still buy French gunflints, to make your reenactment events even more authentic.