9. Horns Used in Bows
The statement that five or six pieces should be contained in the horns of an extra heavy composite bow that is built for the c purpose of achieving the greatest length of cast—which means competition, or flight, bow—is of both great importance and great obscurity, for the text does not tell us whether the pieces are to laid in superimposed strata, or set end to end, or arranged in so other manner.
Composite bows that are backed with the horn of the carabao, water buffalo, may not necessarily have more than one piece of horn in each arm so far as length is concerned, and as for thickness: the raw horn in its entirety as it comes from the head of the animal has such thick walls for most of its length that it would seem adequate for any bow. However, we are not certain that extra heavy bows may not need the reinforcement of a second layer, though we know of no direct evidence to that effect. At any rate, Mustapha Kani—in giving detailed instructions on how to saw strips of carabao horn—never mentioned more than a single strip from the top or bottom of the original horn, and gave no hint of its ever being reinforced by the addition of other layers.
The horn in our six-foot Chinese bows-which is undoubtedly carabao, is exposed to view without a wrapping and is twenty four inches long in the upper limb and twenty-two in the lower. The horn in our fifty-five inch Sind bow is about sixteen inches in each limb, though it is hard to form a certain opinion because both limbs are entirely covered by what looks like painted and highly decorated parchment. Both horns seem to run into the four inch grip and from end to end they measure about thirty-four inches-which, by the way, fits very well into the length of an arrow which is advised by "some others" on page 104. Halfway along each arm there is a concealed but indubitable wrapping of sinew which may be for the simple purpose of guarding against separation of the horn, wood, and sinew at that critical point, or may support a splicing of two pieces of horn.
We own a magnificent pair of carabao horns, from the Philippines, each of which measures thirty-four inches from root to tip; undoubtedly of a size and thickness that would do for any composite bow, but we have also seen half a ton of carabao horns that were imported from India by an American bowyer, and our impression was that perhaps a majority of them would not provide strips more than from eight inches to a foot in length that would be good enough for bows. It is obvious that strips as short as that would have to be spliced end to end to the number of from four to six in almost any sort of composite bow.
In the case of the Arab bow, however, we can discard the consideration of carabao horn because the manuscript states in several places that the horn was that of the goat. Angora goats and similar breeds that have spirally curled horns can be ruled out at once, however long their horns may be. The common goat that is found all around the Mediterranean coast has horns that satisfy the requirements for simple curvature, as we said on page 161, but they are not nearly as long as those of the carabao. Allowing for the pointed tip and scrawny base, the bowyer might find it hard to get satisfactory strips that were more than ten inches long and most horns probably would not yield that much.
The two pairs of slips, or strips, that make up the horn in our Korean bow, which look like steer but might be goat, add to twelve and a half inches in the upper limb and eleven in the lower; the two upper ones being seven inches each—joined by an overlapping splice of one and a half inches—and the lower being seven and six inches with an overlap of two inches. This difference in splicing would make it seem that the amount of overlapping was guided largely by convenience.
Goat horns being somewhat limited in length, on the average, it seems to us that the need for several pieces should not be at all unusual. In fact, if the Arab bow were "three cubits and a finger" in length, we hardly see how the use of multiple spliced pieces could be avoided. But the text specifies that the horns of the competition bow should be the width of two fingers shorter than the arrow and, on page 118, it defines the length of a competition arrow as nine fists. Assuming four inches for the fist, that would give an even yard for the length of the arrow and about thirty-four inches for the combined length of the two horns with their interposed ibranjaq. The ibranjaqs in Turkish bows are very narrow—about a quarter or half an inch—and if they were similar in Arab bows we can disregard them and consider each horn of the competition bow to have measured about seventeen inches. It seems doubtful to us that such long strips of horn could be cut in their entirety from a goat; they would have to be built up in the bow out of smaller pieces.
However, the inference derived from the text is that the sole purpose of using five or six pieces of horn in the competition bow is to make it stronger—meaning thicker, not longer—and this is confirmed by the statement that the arms should be round rather than flat. The arms of our dissected Chinese bow were each nine sixteenths of an inch in thickness, of which two sixteenths were sinew, four sixteenths wood, and three sixteenths horn—indubitably a single layer. The arms of our Sind bow are seven eighths, or nearly an inch, in thickness. If the proportions were similar to those in the Chinese bow the horn might be as much as five sixteenths of an inch thick. Remembering that our author has said, on page 88, that "the more horn it has the stronger it is," we may assume that a half inch of horn, or even more, would not be unreasonable.
As the horn slips in our Korean bow are only one sixteenth of an inch thick, five or six could be laid on top of each other without transcending acknowledged limits, but it would seem to be a foolish bowyer who would build up such an involved structure when he might use much larger pieces with better results and less difficulty. Besides, counting six laid for height and six spliced for length, the total would be thirty-six—a number which exceeds the bounds of credibility.
Why could there not be some such arrangement of pieces, for example, as two layers of three each with the splices of one layer set against the middle of the pieces of the other?
In the absence of the direct evidence which would be afforded by the dissection of a bow backed with goat horn, we may assume that the horny layer was sometimes built up of smaller elements than—before the translation of the present text—we had suspected were used, and that the arrangement of them was left to the bowyer.
To test these theories, we took the Sind bow to the hospital and had its spine X-rayed. Four pictures of the same portion were taken with varying technique but the results were not satisfactory because of the fact that some pigment—probably lead—greatly obscured the internal structure. Nevertheless, we could determine definitely that the horn and sinew each measured about three eighths and the wood about one quarter of an inch. We could not be certain that tapered splicing existed under the ligature of sinew but we thought we detected an oblique line which suggested it. In this, however, the hope of discovery may have taken command of the eye.