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A Study of Bows and Arrows


Saxton T. Pope


A contest of strength between peoples will always interest human beings; rivalry in the arms and imple­ments of war is one of the fascinations of national com­petition. It is therefore a matter of interest both to the anthropologist and the practical archer to know what is the actual casting quality and strength of the best speci­mens of bows of different aboriginal tribes and nations of the world. And, as further incentive to this study, is the rapid disappearance of archery as civilization advances.

In the following experiments a detailed test of the shooting quality of a series of bows was undertaken, and with it certain correlated experiments concerning the penetration of arrows. Most of these bows were selected from hundreds in possession of the Museum of Anthro­pology of the University of California. They are the best preserved and strongest specimens in that large col­lection. In no instance is it apparent that age has led to deterioration in their strength. In fact, the greatest modem flight shot—four hundred and fifty-nine yards— has recently been made by Ingo Simon at La Tourque, France, with a Turkish composite bow reported to be nearly two hundred years old.[1] Age increases the brittle­ness, resiliency, and casting power of a wooden bow up to the point where fragility renders it unsafe to shoot. In all our tests we broke only two bows: a specimen from the Yukon, and an Osage Indian bow. To insure that no personal element of muscular weakness entered into the problem of the casting power of these weapons I had them shot by an old and experienced archer, Mr. W. J. Compton, a very powerful man and one accustomed to shoot the bow for more than thirty years. I also was able to draw the strongest of these bows, and myself checked up the results.