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Bows

Replicas of ancient bows

Part 1 of 2

In an effort to obtain a Turkish composite bow for trial I visited the supply depot of Mr. Francis Banner­man, of New York, a dealer in antique arms. He had several Turkish bows, but all were in such a stage of dis­integration that they were incapable of being used. I therefore constructed (pl. 9, figs. 1 and 2) a composite bow of cow's horn sawn in strips ½ inch wide and 12 to 14 inches long, glued on a base of hickory 4 feet long, ¼ inch thick, and 1¼inches wide, which had been pre­viously bent by heat into a strongly reflexed curve. On the back of this hickory were laid one hundred strands of number 3 surgical catgut and a strip of thin rawhide. The whole form was carefully rasped into shape and encased in thin rawhide, bound at intervals with linen thread. The general plan of the bow followed the de­scription of the Egyptian composite bow found in a tomb at Thebes supposed to be of the time of Rameses II. This specimen has been carefully described by Dr. von Luschan.[3] I also took into consideration the dissection of a Persian bow detailed by Mr. Balfour.[4] My com­pleted product was a very powerful and well made bow, representing excellently this type of implement. Length, 48 inches, the width of the mid-limbs 1¼, the thickness ¾ of an inch. A cross-section is oval. The string is of linen, 90 strands Barbour's number 12. This bow weighs 85 pounds when drawn 29 inches.

With this bow I hoped to exceed the American flight record of 290 yards made by Maxson in 1891. But so far the best flight from it has been 9 yards less than the record and was made under unusual circumstances. The bow was shot both with the Ishi arrow, which it cast 250 yards, and a 25-inch bamboo flight arrow, shot through a 5-inch papier mâché horn. By this latter device it was able to shoot 266 yards ; but with an especially light bam­boo arrow 30 inches long, having a birch foreshaft, tipped with the jacket of a 30 calibre army rifle bullet, the shaft being feathered with very minute soft owl feathers, I was able to shoot 274 yards. Upon one occasion when the string broke at the moment of recoil, the arrow flew 281 yards, which is the farthest shot ever made in our experience on level ground.[5]

The "Mary Rose" bow. It is a strange circumstance that with all the wealth of material in the line of archery tackle which existed in England up to the seventeenth century, there should be preserved not one single speci­men of the English longbow or arrow. One hears of the marvelous deeds of English archers of old and the strength of their artillery, yet we have no specimens of this fleeting glory to view in reverence. The only real link between romance and reality lies in the existence of two unfinished staves found in the sunken vessel, "Mary Rose." This English ship went down off the coast of Albion in the year 1545. She was recovered in 1841. There were on board, besides matters of no interest to archery, two yew staves in good preservation which measure 6 feet 4¾ inches, with a girth of 4½ inches ; in the mid-limb the circumference is 4 inches, and 1 foot from the tips the circumference is 3¼ inches.[6] There were no nocks on these bows and no handgrip. Because of their age they have never been bent, weighed, or shot Their strength has been variously estimated from 75 to 100 pounds.

In order to have some reasonable data on the subject of the famous English longbow, I undertook the construc­tion of a replica of these bows (pl. 9, figs. 3 and 4). I selected a very fine grade of Oregon yew seasoned five years, red and clear grained, running 40 lines to the inch; there was ⅜ of an inch of white sapwood. Of this yew I made a bow the exact dimensions of the "Mary Rose" longbow. The finished stave had a formidable appear­ance, and to look at it, one would say that it was a very powerful weapon, probably pulling over 85 pounds, and must have a correspondingly long cast.

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