CHAPTER THREE ANCIENT SOURCES
With the current state of research within the field of ancient archery outlined, attention can now turn to a variety of source material from Egypt (3200-1323 BCE), Mesopotamia and Elam (3800-1850 BCE), Siberia (2250-2000 BCE) and Europe (5500-2070 BCE). It is in no way the intention to describe every possible textual reference, artifact and image that relates to archery in the ancient world. Rather, the thesis will focus on sources most often used by scholars to either affirm or deny the existence of the composite bow, aided by representative examples to provide sufficient evidence that the resulting conclusions are valid within a broader context. Additionally, it should be noted that at several points throughout the thesis the author will refer to artifacts and images that are not associated with the ancient world at all. These later examples, drawn from later Medieval Europe, both pre and post-Columbian North America and the occasional reference to modern archery are introduced on a purely comparative basis to illustrate that a given design, practice or draw weight is both possible and has existed historically rather than remaining purely theoretical, or only possible with the advent of modern materials such as fiberglass or carbon fiber. Sources within this chapter are divided first by type, then by region and finally by reverse chronological order. It should be noted that not all sources are given equal coverage due to differences in their applicability to this study and amount of available information.
Physical remains of bows from the ancient world are rare, as the constituent materials of wood, bone, horn, antler and most particularly sinew are all subject to physical degradation. The few examples which have fortunately survived offer a wealth of information to modern scholars (Whittaker, 2010, p. 199). Visual and x-ray analysis reveal material composition, including such details as composite, laminate and joined construction and the types of materials used. This often includes the species of wood (Insulander, 2002, p. 52; Soar, 2005, pp. 2, 4; Zammit and Guilaine, 2005, p. 63; Cartwright and Taylor, 2008, p. 77; Western and McLeod, 1995, p. 88). Exact measurement of physical dimensions and profile allow for the possibility of modern recreations and data for mathematical models which, if carefully done, can provide an accurate estimate as to draw weight, and given examples of arrows typical to the period and culture, arrow velocity and estimates on maximal range. Close examination of wood grain can at times even provide information as to the size of the tree or limb from which a given bow was made, details which provide clues to resource usage for a particular culture (Soar, 2005, p. 2; Hamm, 2002, p. 194). Destructive testing can also reveal tree species and the type of animal used for sinew, horn, antler, baleen or bone in cases of composite construction, and also opens up the possibility of C14 dating (Thomas and Kelly, 2006, pp. 184-5; Grant et al., 2008, pp. 102-3).8
The largest collection of complete bow artifacts (both composite and of self construction) found to date was recovered by Howard Carter during his excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamen (1332 – 1323 BCE) (McLeod, 1970, p. 2; Griffith Institute, 2004). The recovery of 27 composite bows is extraordinary in its significance. Only 10 other partial remains of composite bows have been discovered in Egypt, all dating to between 1600 and 1200 BCE. All of the composite bows recovered from Tutankhamen’s tomb consist of a wood core with a sinew back (the side facing away from the archer) and a horn belly (the side facing toward the archer), save four, which consist solely of a wood core and sinew backing (McLeod, 1970, p. 32). McLeod goes on to state that all but three of the bows (bows 370jj, 596n and 596o as indexed by Carter’s notes) have an angular profile. McLeod does not describe the profile of these bows, and no pictures of these particular artifacts exist other than them being bundled together in a jumbled mass in their original positions as found in the tomb. McLeod may have been basing his interpretation on the fact that the term « angular » does not appear on Carter’s original note cards for these artifacts, which are also sadly devoid of sketches. A careful examination of the accompanying descriptive text written by Carter however shows that the three bows in question are either similar or identical to the construction of other bows in the same grouping. Working back through the associated note cards shows that the bows referred to as being similar or identical are in fact angular (Griffith Institute, 2004).9 As such, while it is certainly possible that the three bows described by McLeod have a different profile, there is no evidence to support this conclusion, and it is possible that Carter simply failed to write the term « angular » on every card, particularly if dealing with bows of a consistent profile. As the bows are were found in a mortuary context, it should be noted that while the majority of weapons would have been usable, some were purely ceremonial. Most notably bow #48h was partially encased in gold, likely making it unsuitable for actual use (McLeod, 1970, p. 12). Another (bow #370ll) is a mere 34cm in length, potentially making it functional as a toy, but not for hunting or war (McLeod, 1970, p. 23; Leibovitch, 1938, p. 148). A number of other bows (#48f, #48g, #48i, #48j, #48k, and #370ff) recovered from the tomb were highly decorative, including details such as inscriptions and extensive decoration done in gold leaf and even small inlaid chips of blue glass (McLeod, 1970, pp. 3-17; Griffith Institute, 2004). While bows #48h and #370ll would not have been usable, their profiles remain consistent with the other composite bows found both within the tomb and from other sites (McLeod, 1958, p. 397; Blyth, 1980, p. 34; Howard, 2011, p. 8).
Of the composite bow artifacts from Egypt which do not come from Tutankhamen’s tomb, all are in worse condition than those recovered by Carter, and most remain undated (McLeod, 1958, p. 397). Two fragmentary composite bows were however recovered from the tomb of Ahmose Penhat, « Attendant and Fan-bearer » to Thutmose I, and can therefore be dated from between 1526-1508 BCE. Another artifact, intact save for a missing grip, dates to either the end of the 17th or the beginning of the 18th dynasty and thus can be dated to roughly between 1600 and 1500 BCE (McLeod, 1962, pp. 15-16). In addition to the above artifacts, a selection of non-composite self bows has also been recovered in Egypt. Typically double convex in profile, the earliest of these (with the exception of the Den-Setui artifact) date to the 11th dynasty, or roughly 2000 BCE (Rausing, 1967, p. 70; Donato, 1994, 42).
The oldest bow artifact from Egypt is of joined construction, and consists of a pair of shaped Oryx horns mated together with a wooden plug, and recovered from the tomb of Den-Setui, fifth king of the first dynasty, Egypt (Rausing, 1967, p. 70; Baker, 1992, p. 77). Dated to between 3200 and 2950 BCE, the bow consists of at least two separate materials, but as the wooden plug does not make up any part of the working portion of the limbs, it is best categorized as a segment bow of joined construction.
Moving from Egypt to Siberia, a series of sixteen partially intact bow artifacts have been recovered from graves in the Pribajkalja region northwest of Lake Baikal. Consisting of two, or in one case three, pieces of overlapping antler, these bows of joined construction have been identified by varve-dating to between 2250-2000 BCE (Michael, 1958, p. 12; Rausing, 1967, pp. 119-120; Mörner, 2014, p. 73; Ridge, 2016). These artifacts have received relatively little attention even within the field of history of archery, probably due to the fact they were recovered from a location which is not typically associated with composite construction. The importance of these artifacts however exceeds the meager scholarly attention they have garnered thus far as they represent the oldest known bow artifacts which are certain to be of composite construction. While only the belly laths remain, the fact that other layers at one time did exist is assured, as unlike wood, horn or baleen, a bow cannot be constructed solely out of antler, as it would snap under tension without being either glued or bound to a sinew backing and/or a wood core (Collon, 1983, p. 53; Elmy, 1968, p. 20; Gibbs, 1984, p. 32). While these artifacts could potentially represent a technological anomaly, later iconographic analysis done in Chapter Seven will show that a transition from self to composite construction occurred at least several centuries prior to 3000 BCE. In addition, the location of the find, combined with iconographic evidence from Mesopotamia, Elam and Europe is indicative that composite construction was potentially more widespread in the second and third millennia BCE than commonly believed.
MESOPOTAMIA AND ELAM
In Mesopotamia and Elam, no extant bow artifacts have been found to date. Woolley, in charge of the excavation of the royal cemetery at Ur (circa 2300 BCE) however recovered what he believed to be decorative copper finials from a bow (Woolley, 1934, p. 226). While similar in appearance to finials shown in contemporary and later artwork of angular profile, exact identification remains unverifiable as no trace of the wood to which the finials were (presumably) attached remains. This is despite the discovery of numerous bundles of artifacts of approximately arrow length (50-70cm) having both metal heads and nocks (Woolley, 1934, p. 49). Additionally, to date no iconography depicting bow use has been recovered from Ur, a point in marked contrast to the spear and javelin use shown on the Battle Standard of Ur (2685-2645 BCE) (Moortgat, 1969, pl. 260).
Finally, the addition of copper finials is, unto itself, insufficient to attribute composite construction according the definitions outlined in Chapter Two as they would be decorative rather than functional and as such would not result in an increase in bow performance or materials strength. As such while potentially indicative of archery, the belief that the copper finials could potentially be associated with a bow remains problematic. Finally, while a number of traditional bows of a recurve design have inflexible (static) wood or bone ears, the addition of comparatively high-mass bow limb tips made of metal would unduly reduce arrow speed, a factor dealt with in more detail in Chapter Six.
Excavation of a burial mound in Northern Poland in 1980 contained what may be the burnt remains of a composite bow (Klochko, 1987, p. 16). As a part of the excavation, a line of charcoal and ash dating to the Early Bronze Age of the region (2310 – 2070 BCE) was found in the shape of a strongly reflexed unstrung bow as a part of the recovered grave goods. This particular find, while indicative rather than conclusive of composite construction, is important for its geographical and cultural separation from the previously discussed artifacts in both Egypt and Siberia. Straddling the demarcation between the Lausitz Culture and the Nordic Bronze Age sphere of influence, the find lends support to the possibility that composite construction technology may have been more widespread than previously believed. Measuring 90cm from tip to tip, the outline shows what appear to be ears from a static recurve design, with a total reflex of 25cm, too much recurvature for a bow of self construction of this length. Analysis of the charred remains show that while the main body of the bow contained a core made of coniferous wood, the ears consisted of deciduous wood.
Certainly the size and shape are indicative of a composite bow, and the use of a different wood for the ears of a bow with a static recurve design would be typical, but analysis of the charred remains could neither confirm nor deny the presence of horn, antler or sinew (Klochko, 1987, p. 17). This failure to identify any non-wood material from the burnt remains precludes the possibility of confirming composite construction. Depending on the dimension of the original un-burnt item the artifact, if it indeed was a bow, could have been a non-functional ceremonial offering or perhaps even a short bow of low draw weight of laminate construction similar to the laminate bow recovered from Tuva (Godehardt et al., 2007, p. 115; Čugunov et al., 2003, p. 135).
Other, partial artifacts of an earlier date also exist, although they were found outside of the region typically studied by ancient historians. Of these several partial, broken and nearly intact bow artifacts have been found in Germany and Switzerland dating to the Mesolithic circa 6000 BCE (Burov, 1981, p. 376). Other partial bow artifacts have also been found in Denmark dating to circa 7000 BCE and in England dating to 2600 BCE but none show any clear indication of composite construction (Zammit and Guilaine, 2005, p. 63; Rausing, 1967, p. 40; Soar, 2005, p. 5; Rausing, 1967, p. 45). Finally, a self bow has been recently recovered from a Neolithic site in Spain. Dating to 5200-5000 BCE, the Spanish artifact appears to be the oldest intact bow artifact yet found in Europe (Barcelona, 2013). All of these artifacts however are definitively of self, rather than composite construction, limiting their usefulness to the current thesis.
In addition to physical artifacts, a number of references are made to bows in ancient written sources. Unfortunately, the majority of these sources provide no information with regard to bow construction and the majority date centuries if not a full millennium or more after the inception of composite technology and so are of limited use to the primary focus of the thesis, with the discussion of Odysseus’ bow being the most notable example (Homer, Odyssey, 21). That being said, a number of details can be gleaned from these sources that, taken together, provide evidence of typical bow ranges in the ancient world from which a potential range of draw weights can be inferred. The results indicate that bow draw weights remained consistent at approximately 23kg in draw weight, and that while bows of “heroic” draw weights most likely did exist, such weapons were the exception and in some cases, such as with Amenhotep II, are almost certainly the result of political propaganda (Spotted-Eagle, 1988, pp. 15-16; Rausing, 1967, p. 29; Decker and Klauck, 1977, p. 40). Finally, the source material provides insight into the culture from which it came, such as the social distancing of rulers in both Egypt and Mesopotamia from both the masses and nobles alike.
MYCENAE, GREECE AND ROME
As previously mentioned in Chapter Two, a number of sources allow for the estimation of range of the « average » composite bow as used in the ancient world, or at least in the ancient world from 700 BCE to 700 CE (McLeod, 1965, p. 4). Herodotus, Thucydides, Statius, Xenophon, Polybius, Strabo, and Vegetius all provide examples in which a known distance can be identified or reliably estimated (Herodotus, 8.52.1, 9.22-23; Thucydides, 3.20.3; Statius, Thebaid, 6.351-354; Xenophon, Anabasis 1.8.17-19, 4.3.1-6, 4.3.17-18; Polybius, 6.31.10-14; Strabo, Geography, 14.1.23; Vegetius, Epitoma rei Militaris, 2.23). The usefulness of this « average » range of between 150-250m in practicality likely extends across a much greater span of time, as for the vast majority of human history draw weights have remained stable at between 18-23kg and the same bows were used for both hunting and for war in antiquity (Spotted Eagle, 1988, pp. 15-16; Baker, 1992, p. 79; Rausing, 1967, p. 29). Cross-referencing of these ranges, outlined previously in Chapter Two by McLeod, are consistent with test ranges of modern composite bows made of traditional materials as well as the author’s own personal experience with flight (long distance) archery (McLeod, 1965, p. 13; McLeod, 1972, p. 81; Baker, 1992, p. 115). Taken together, this strongly supports that the ranges reported in Greco-Roman sources are generally accurate, and that these distances were achieved with bows that were not significantly above average in draw weight for both the ancient and modern archer (perhaps topping out at 25kg in draw weight).
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF FIGURES
LIST OF TABLES
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
CURRENT STATE OF KNOWLEDGE
METHODOLOGY AND CHAPTER PROGRESSION
CHAPTER TWO: NOMENCLATURE AND LITERATURE REVIEW
HISTORICAL CONSTRUCTION TERMINOLOGY
PROPOSED CONSTRUCTION TERMINOLOGY
HISTORICAL PROFILE TERMINOLOGY
PROPOSED PROFILE TERMINOLOGY
THE ADVANTAGE OF COMPOSITE CONSTRUCTION
DATING THE INCEPTION OF COMPOSITE BOW TECHNOLOGY
CHAPTER THREE: ANCIENT SOURCES
MESOPOTAMIA AND ELAM
MYCENAE, GREECE AND ROME
MESOPOTAMIA AND ELAM
MESOPOTAMIA AND ELAM
CHAPTER FOUR: BOW MECHANICS
ENERGY INPUT FACTORS
UNSTRUNG BOW PROFILE
THE DRAW-FORCE CURVE
FACTORS INFLUENCING ENERGY OUTPUT (INEFFICIENCIES)
BOW LIMB MASS
OTHER SOURCES OF INEFFICIENCY
CHAPTER FIVE: EXAMINATION OF BOW/CHARIOT RAILING INTERFERENCE
CHAPTER SIX: PHYSICAL TESTING
INITIAL BOW CONSTRUCTION
CONTROL TESTING: WOOD BELLY SLATS
MATERIALS TESTING: CONCLUSION
PROFILE TESTING: CONCLUSION
MASS TESTING: CONCLUSION
CHAPTER SEVEN: ICONOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS
METHODOLOGY FOR THE ICONOGRAPHIC IDENTIFICATION OF COMPOSITE CONSTRUCTION
ICONOGRAPHIC CONVENTIONS IN EARLY MESOPOTAMIA AND ELAM
QUESTIONS OF CONSISTENCY
ANGULAR PROFILE: 2300-1850 BCE
DOUBLE-CONCAVE PROFILE: WORKING RECURVE DESIGN, 2400-1900 BCE
DOUBLE-CONCAVE PROFILE: STATIC RECURVE DESIGN, 3800-2400 BCE
CHAPTER EIGHT: CONCLUSION
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT