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Impearls: HIC 4.09: Bows

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Bows   by A. L. Kroeber

The bow was of yew, short, broad, and so thin that only the sinew backing kept it from breaking at the first pull.  The grip is somewhat thicker, pinched in, and wrapped with a thong.  The string is sinew.  Only that side of the tree which faces away from the river was used for bow wood.  The sinew backing is often painted with red and blue triangles; the pigment used before blue could be obtained from Americans is unknown.  The usual length was 3 to 3½ feet, the breadth 1½ to 2 inches, and the thickness one-half inch, of which a considerable fraction was sinew, whose pull gave the unstrung bow a strong reverse curve.  The following are some measurements in inches:

Width of limb 1 78 1 12 1 1116 1 1516 1 38 2 12
Width of grip 1 14 1 18 1 316 1 1016 1 18 1 38
Greatest thickness 38 12 12 516 916 716
Length 32 12 35 12 36 12 39 40 52

The fourth specimen is a shaped but unsmoothed and unsinewed stave.  It appears that breadth and thickness vary in inverse ratio, rather independently of length.

Basically, this is the type of bow made throughout California as far as the Yokuts, at least for the nobler purposes of war and the deer hunt.  But the extreme flatness is characteristic of the northwestern tribes, who often shave the sides of their bows to a knife-edge.  Elsewhere even the most elaborate pieces become somewhat longer, narrow, and thicker.  It may be that the material, which among far tribes is rarely yew, has something to do with this difference; or the northwestern extremity of form may be merely a trick of specialization.  It is likely to have weakened rather than strengthened the weapon; but the workmanship commands admiration.

The arrow is of Philadelphus lewisii, a syringa, foreshafted with a hard wood, and tipped with stone.  The length is about 31 inches — from 28 to 32 — or so much that the arrow could not be drawn to the head.  (Pl. 18.)  The marking is in colored rings under the three feathers.  The straightener is a little board or flattened stick perforated in the middle.  The arrow shaft was bent through the hole.  (Pl. 16.)

The usual arrow point was of whitish flint or obsidian.  The former material was more abundant, but more difficult to work nicely.  The points were small, slender, thin, and neat.  Bone points were also known.  These were sharpened on sandstone.

The quiver was a skin turned inside out.  Otter and fisher fur made the most prized quivers, such as were worthy of gifts or of display in the brush dance.



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