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Ancient and modern methods of arrow-release.
Part 7 of 17

Some notes in regard to Persian archery may be found in "Hansard's Book of Archery," p. 136.

The "Archers' Register" published a number of notes from a manuscript copy of " Anecdotes of Turkish Archery procured from Constantinople by Sir Robert Ainslie, and translated by his interpreter, at the request of Sir Joseph Banks, Baronet, 1797," from which we quote :-
"The bow, instead of being drawn with three fingers on the string, according to our mode, was drawn by the right thumb, with the arrow placed on the string immediately above it. A thumb-piece, or guard of bone, answering the purpose of our 'tips,' was worn. It covered the ball of the thumb, one end being made as a ring and passed over the joint. A projecting tongue in the inside prevented the string slipping off the guard into the angle of the thumb formed by the bent joint. The inside of the guard was lined with leather. A curious contrivance, consisting of a horn-groove several inches in length, fixed on a foundation of wood attached to a leather strap and buckle, was fastened on the bow-hand. The groove projected inwards. The arrow was laid in this groove, which rested on the thumb, and was rather higher on the outside, as the arrow was shot on the right side of the bow, on the contrary side to what it is in England."

There are doubtless other forms of release, but those already given probably comprise the principal and most efficient ones.

At Singapore I was enabled to secure, through the kindness of D. F. A. Hervey, Esq., of Malacca, a Malay release of the Temiang tribe, originally from Sumatra. The bow was held in an horizontal position (a hole being made in the centre of the bow through which the arrow passed), the three fingers bent over the string, and the arrow held between the first and second fingers, the thumb straightened, and the little finger partially straightened and bearing against the string as in the figure (Fig. 19). This was a weak release, and was used only in the shooting of small game and fish. An entirely different form of release is used by this people in shooting fire at the spirit of sickness. The bow is perforated as in the bow above mentioned ; the arrow has a shoulder near the distal end which prevents it passing through the hole, and the nock is fastened to the string. A ball of inflammable material is loosely placed on the end of the arrow, and when the arrow is released it is suddenly checked by its shoulder striking the bow and the fire-ball is projected into the air by its momentum. The release in this act is shown in Fig. 20.


The first finger passes above the string and under the arrow, the thumb being straightened and the arrow grasped between the thumb and finger. This is a most awkward and inefficient release ; and as the descriptions of this and the previous Malay release were given me by an old man, who was at the time being questioned by Mr. Hervey in the interest of philology, it is possible that the releases may have been incorrectly described.

The releases thus far given comprise those forms which have been studied from life.

It now remains for us to examine the releases of ancient peoples which are made known to us through illuminated manuscripts, frescos, rock sculpture, and other graphic methods. From the conventional way in which many of these are depicted, great difficulty is encountered in properly interpreting the exact method of release intended. In many cases, especially in certain forms of the ancient Egyptian, as shown in the frescos, and early Grecian, as represented on their decorative vases, it is well nigh impossible to recognize any mode in which the arrow could be drawn. In some cases the release might be intended to represent either of two or three kinds. That many releases are represented incorrectly there can be no doubt. In figures of Egyptian archers, the hand is depicted as daintily pulling the arrow in a way that could not possibly accomplish the drawing of a stiff bow; and that the Egyptian archer used a stiff bow is seen in the vigorous manner in which he is represented as bracing it with knee pressed against its middle, while tying the cord above.

It will be best, however, to give a description of those releases that can be clearly interpreted, beginning with the Assyrian. I had a brief opportunity of studying the wonderful collection of Assyrian slabs at the British Museum, and also the Assyrian collections at the Louvre. In the various scenes of war and hunting so graphically depicted, the most perfect representations of archers in the act of drawing the bow are given.