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Home > Books > Mason > North American Bows, Arrows and Quivers > The Arrow - Part 1
The Arrow
Part 1 of 9

"The ancient arrow-maker
Made his arrow-heads of sandstone,
Arrow-heads of chalcedony,
Arrow-heads of flint and jasper,
Smooth and sharpened at the edges,
Hard and polished, keen and costly."
       LONGFELLOW.

The continent of America furnishes excellent facilities for the study of the arrow. Every variety of climate, material, and land or water game are here, to create an indefinite diversity of structures.

In its simplest form, the arrow is a straight rod pointed at one end, perhaps in the fire, and notched at the other end for the bow-string. But such a missile would be of little worth; and so the arrow has undergone many modifications in answer to the demands of the hunter. The parts of a highly developed arrow are the following:
(1) The shaft; of which it is necessary to study the material, the technique, the form, the length, the grooves, and the ornamentations.
(2) The shaftment; which is that part of the shaft upon which the feather is fastened. This section of the arrow varies in length, in form, and greatly in ornamentation, because it is the part of the weapon upon which bands and other ornamental marks are usually placed.
(3) The feathering; or the strips of feather or other thin material laid on at the butt of the arrow to give it directness of flight. The study of this feature includes the method of seizing; the attaching to the shaftment; the position of the feather, whether flat or perpendicular to the shaft; the manner of trimming the plume; the line, whether straight or spiral, upon which each feather is laid, and the glue or cement.
(4) The nock; or the posterior end of the arrow, seized by the fingers in releasing. This is a very important feature in the study of this weapon. For instance, the Eskimo arrows have flat nocks, while all other arrows in the world seem to be more or less cylindrical or spherical. In some the form is top-shaped; in others, bulbous; in others, cylindrical; and in others, spreading, like the tail of a fish or swallow. In modern arrows a footing is added to the nock.
(5) The notch; or cut made at the end of the arrow to receive the bowstring. Each stock of aborigines has its own way of making this cut at the end of the arrow; and this characteristic, born of the mate-rial, though seemingly unimportant, is frequently helpful to the student in deciding upon the tribe to which the arrow belongs.

(6) The foreshaft; or that piece of hard wood or bone or ivory or antler laid into the anterior portion of the shaft and trimmed to a symmetrical shape. It serves the double purpose of making the front of the arrow heavier than the rear, and also affords a better means of attaching arrow-heads or harpoon barbs of special form.
(7) The head; or that anterior part of an arrow which makes the wound or produces the result. Before contact with the white race, aborigines were wont to make their arrow-heads of stone, bone, wood, shell, and even of cold hammered metal. The study of the arrow-head involves the point or blade, the faces of the blade, the facettes and serrations and notches of the expanding blade, the butt or tang for attachment, the barbs, and sometimes the barb piece, which is an extra bit of bone or other substance fastened to the posterior end of the stone head to multiply the number of barbs. (Plate LV, figs. 2,3.)

Now, each one of these parts may be varied in number, in form, in material, in artistic finish; or one or more may be wanting. It will be seen therefore at once what an excellent instrument the arrow may be for the study of the natural history of invention, how it has been influenced by climate and by material resources, how it has been modified for definite functions, and has developed complexity with age.

It will readily be seen from an examination of the foregoing analysis that the creation of an arrow involves a great many of our modern crafts. In every locality the arrow-maker has shown, first of all, a wonderful acquaintance with the materials at hand, as though he had searched all the resources of the mineral, vegetable, and animal world, and after studying all there was, had selected the best. We are not able now to discover that the savage could have found any better material within his own environment. For the selection and creation of the shaft there was demanded a knowledge of the best kind of woods, and the invention of knives, straightening apparatus, "sandpaper," dyeing apparatus, and glue or cement of some kind. In fastening the various parts of the arrow together sinew was employed. The savage stripped from the leg or the neck of one of the larger mammals a mass of sinew which he allowed to dry. It was then carefully pounded and shredded. When he was ready to use this material he placed several of the strips or fillets in his mouth until they became thoroughly soaked with saliva. Then, holding with his left hand the parts to be attached and one end of the sinew fillet, he held the other part of the sinew in his right hand and revolved the arrow shaft with the left, holding the parts still together until one or two turns were made. He could then use the fingers of his left hand in smoothing down the sinew and directing its course, while with the right he held the unwound portions tight and directed the sinew to its position. When the wrapping or seizing was nearly finished the loose end was carefully drawn under the last turn or two, pulled tight, and cut off, so that neither end was visible. The whole was carefully rubbed down and allowed to dry. The sinew in drying shrunk very much and bound the parts firmly together. (Plate I, fig. 6.)

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