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Ancient and modern methods of arrow-release.
Part 9 of 17

In regard to the bow-hand, the thumb is sometimes represented as straight and guiding the arrow, and in other cases as braced inside of the bow. In this connection it may be interesting to note that in the earliest Assyrian bows the ends of the bows are straight and blunt, the nocks being a simple groove and the string being tied whenever the bow is braced, as in certain modern Indian and Aino practice. Other bows are shown at this period with a nock somewhat oblique, and it is possible that the string might have been looped and slipped into the notch, as in the modern English bow.

In the later slabs, that is 650 B.C., the ends of the bow are shown abruptly bent, the bent portion in some cases being carved to represent a bird's head. In the bracing of this bow the string has a permanent loop, and the assistance of a second person is required to slip this loop over the point of the nock while the archer is employed in bending the bow, which is done by drawing the ends of the bow towards him, the knee at the same time being pressed in the middle of the bow. (Figs. 28, 29, 30.) In the earlier reign, the arrows are shown with larger nocks and the barbs, long and narrow, with their outer edges generally parallel to the shaft. The nock end of the arrow is bulbous, as before remarked; and if this is correctly represented it would settle the question as to the primary release being: the, one intended. In the later slabs, the arrow has shorter barbs, with the feathers tapering forward towards the point, and the nock end of the arrow is not bulbous.

A more careful study than I was able to give to these sculptures may probably modify the general statements here made concerning; the variations in time of the bow and arrow.

Concerning the practice of archery among the ancient Egyptians, Wilkinson in his classical work mentions only two forms of release. He says their mode of drawing the bow was either with the thumb and forefinger or with the first and second fingers.[5] Rawlinson makes the same statement.[6] These two forms as defined by these authors would be the primary and Mediterranean releases.

If the representations of the drawings and frescos in ancient Egyptian tombs, as given by Rosallini, Lepsius, and others, are to be relied on, then the ancient Egyptians practiced at least three, and possibly four, definite and distinct methods of release.

That many of the releases depicted in these old sculptures and frescos are conventional simply, there can be no doubt; indeed, some of the releases are plainly impossible, notably that form which shows the archer daintily drawing back a stiff bow with the extreme tips of the first two fingers and thumb. Again, the figure of Rarneses II. (see Wilkinson, Vol. I., p. 307), which shows the bow vertical while the shaft-hand is inverted, that is, with palm uppermost, is an equally impossible attitude. Other releases identify themselves clearly with forms already described, and with slight latitude in the interpretation of the conventional forms we may identify these as belonging to known types.

The earliest releases are those depicted on the tombs of Beni Hassan of the time of Usurtasen I., which according o the conservative chronology of Professor Lepsius dates 2380 B.C. Here the Mediterranean release is unmistakably shown. The following figure (Fig. 31) from these tombs, copied from Rosallini's great work, indicates this form of release in the clearest manner. In these figures it is interesting to observe that the arrow is drawn to the ear, and also that the archers are represented as shooting with the left as well as with the right hand.

Making a stride of over a thousand years and coming down to the time of Seti I. (1259 B.C.), we have represented a release as well as a mode of drawing the arrow above and behind the ear, which recalls in the action of the arm certain forms of the Mongolian release. (Fig. 32.) It is true the attitude of the hand might be interpreted as representing the thumb and bent forefinger as shown in the primary release, but the free and vigorous drawing of the bow as shown in the figure could not possibly be accomplished in the primary form with a bow of any strength. Furthermore, the attitude assumed by the Manchu and Japanese archer in the Mongolian release vividly recalls this picture of Seti. Egyptologists state that Seti I. was occupied early in his reign with wars in the east and in resisting the incursions of Asiatic tribes ; and we venture to offer the suggestion that during these wars he might have acquired the more vigorous release as practiced by the Asiatics.[7] Whatever may be the method depicted in the drawing of Seti, it is quite unlike the releases of the time of Usurtasen, and equally unlike the figures of Rameses II., which are so often portrayed.