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On the Structure and Affinities of the Composite Bow
Part 1 of 3

General PITT-RIVERS spoke upon the subject of the paper, and has since forwarded the following remarks:—

Mr. Balfour's paper has been sent to me for my remarks, but I regret that having since been engaged in a tour of Inspection of Ancient Monuments for the Government, I have not had time to do more than read it over cursorily. It appears to have been much modified since it was read before the Institute.

The subject of the distribution of the bow formed part of the developmental series of objects which I presented to the University of Oxford in 1884, and as Mr. Balfour has been charged with the superintendence of my collection since the lamented illness of Professor Moseley, he has had an opportunity of studying the collection and of accumulating additional evidence about the specimens contained in it. The bow occupied fifteen pages of my descriptive catalogue of the weapon department of my museum, which went through two editions in the hands of the South Kensington Authorities, before the collection was presented to Oxford, and of these, six pages were devoted to the class of bow to which I gave the name of "composite" in order to distinguish it from the plain bow.

The general idea that I endeavoured to give expression to in connection with the composite bow was, that it probably originated through necessity in a region in which suitable elastic woods for the plain bow were not to be procured; because it is used exclusively in the north, in which part of the world such woods do not, or in early times, probably did not grow in great profusion; because it is quite unknown in southern and tropical regions where such woods do grow habitually, and also because there is distinct evidence that in India and China the use of the composite bow came in from the north.

Supposing that this class of bow was adopted through necessity, from the absence of proper wood for making a plain bow, and that it was of very early origin, then, as we know that in times following the Drift period, the cold region, in which nothing but drift wood could be obtained, extended much further south than is the case at present; and we have also evidence that the Esquimaux in some places now adopt this form of bow because they can get no better, and that people resembling the Esquimaux in their arts and implements are known to have inhabited as far south as the French caves, the same cause may have led to its adoption in early times further south in the world and in places where no necessity for such a makeshift exists at the present time.

The perishable materials of which the composite bow is composed make it impossible to trace its history by means of ancient specimens. In the case of bronze and stone implements we are enabled to arrange them with some certainty in the order in which they were invented or introduced, but in the case of objects so subject to decay as the bow, and especially the composite bow, it is only by means of survivals that we can form any conjecture as to the order in which they arose; and this is always an uncertain process, because degeneration of form is as prevalent in all the arts of life as improvement. In nearly all arts it is possible to obtain and arrange specimens so as to represent continuous stages of perfection or imperfection arising as much from carelessness in manufacture, want of intelligence, or the absence of suitable materials on the one hand, as from the exercise of inventive genius, increased skill, or increased facility for obtaining better materials or more perfect tools on the other hand. No certain clue can be arrived at as to whether the several objects are to be regarded as successive links in an ascending or a descending scale.