Targeting Prey by Bow and Arrow

An arrow-tip from the Tenerian, where a grand variety of such artifacts can be observed.

In the historical and ethnological record, many human groups have added the bow and arrow to their repertoire of hunting technology. Experimental data indicate that bow and arrow may have some potential advantages compared with other hunting techniques. Bow and arrow technology:

  • Bows and arrows are distance weapons, decreasing the risk for the hunter to be attacked by the wounded pray.
  • In the hand of an experienced hunter the bow and arrow by technique is characterized relatively high kill rates
  • They are appropriate for game animals of various sizes
  • They can be used in conjunction with a variety of hunting strategies
  • Projectiles can be fired by the hunter from a variety of positions

However, the bow and arrow was neither universally adopted nor used exclusively among hunting groups, as can be shown by the use of spear and atlatl based weapon systems in a number of prehistoric and historic settings.

The time-depth of the bow and arrow technique is not known. During the last years, it became clear that some classes of MSA-points (e.g. Stillbay points), dated to 80-50 k.a. BP are statistically indistinguishable from ethnographic dart tips regarding their geometrical characteristics. In addition traceological evaluation and impact fractures confirmed their use as projectiles. These observations raise the possibility of ancient spearthrower use in Africa.

Light weighted projectiles, that may have been used as arrow-points are usually bladelet / blade based and only known from the late MSA/early LSA in Africa (at Mumba and Nasera, Enkapune Ya Muto and Ntuka River 3 Stratum 15/16), the Middle East (Ahmarian; e.g. at Kebara) and in Europe (Protoaurignacian e.g. at Fumane, Isturitz and probably at Krems-Hundssteig).

The first direct evidence for the bow and arrow technique is not older than 9 k.a. During his excavations in Stellmoor, Alfred Rust and his team extracted 105 pinewood arrows or arrow fragments from the Younger Dryas / oldest Preboreal levels. The technocomplex, he excavated was later called the “Ahrensburgian” and characterized by small tanged points, that were mainly used for reindeer hunting (Rust 1943). One arrow at Stelloor were still armed with the typical Ahrensburgian point in situ. Unfortunately this unique material was destroyed during the WW2 and Rusts description remains the only documentation of these artifacts.

The oldest bows known so far come from the Boreal Mesolithic at Holmegaard, excavated in the 1940ies. Fragments of similar bows were subsequently found in other Scandinavian bogs. Bows of the Holmegaard-type are generally between 150 and 170 cm in length and less than 6 cm wide. They have flat arms and a D-shaped midsection. The center section is biconvex. The oldest specimens are made of elm and some of the more recent examples are made of yew.

A Reference Work (in German): Jürgen Junkmanns:  Pfeil und Bogen: Von der Altsteinzeit bis zum Mittelalter (2013)

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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4 Responses to Targeting Prey by Bow and Arrow

  1. Pingback: Tanged | Aggsbach's Paleolithic Blog

  2. Interested says:

    “One arrow at Stelloor were still armed with the typical Ahrensburgian point in situ. ”

    Can you provide further information upon how the point was attached to its shaft, whether by glue, lashing or other means.


  3. Katzman says:

    one tanged arrowhead was found with some adherent arrow shaft remains. No glue or lashings were observed by Rust. Unfortunately the findings cannot be reevaluated; because the organic material from Stellmoor got lost during WW II-therefore we have only the descriptions of the excavator from the monograph: Alfred Rust: Die alt- und mittelsteinzeitlichen Funde von Stellmoor; 1943. A Good reproductions of the Stellmoor findings can be found in the seminal monograph of Jürgen Junkmanns: Pfeil und Bogen: Von der Altsteinzeit bis zum Mittelalter ;2013.

  4. Katzman says:

    Unfortunately we have no further information about this topic- the Stellmoor collection was destroyed during the WW II

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