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Daniel Michaelsson




Location: Dena Lagu
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PostPosted: Sun 20 Jul, 2008 11:36 am    Post subject: Norse Archery Technique         Reply with quote

My interest in the military application of archery is more focused upon the Dark Age and the Early Middle Ages (particularly in Northern Europe i.e Scandinavia and Britain) , from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476CE till the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. From what I gather the application of the bow was very different than the time of the Hundred Year's War and the Mary Rose.

The Viking Age Norse seemed to have avoided massed battle, preferring more of a skirmish. The longbow saw widespread usage in naval battles also. This seems to me to suggest a different technique than the shooting-in-the-bow and drawing to the ear that we associate with medieval archery.

Depictions from the period (i.e the Bayeux Tapestry, the Franks Casket, illuminated manuscripts) seem to show them shooting from the chest. In my experience this is woefully inaccurate and is in stark contrast to the accuracy accounted in the literary sources (such as Gunnar's defense of Hlidarend in Njal's Saga, or the feats of Einar in Olav Tryggvasson's saga). In a small scale skirmish or naval battle I can't see such a draw having much value when the shooting must have been more similar to target archery than loosing a hail of arrows en masse.

I was just curious as to everyone elses views on this. I appreciate any feedback. Thank you.
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J. D. Carter




Location: Az.
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PostPosted: Sun 20 Jul, 2008 4:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Having used a standard pull & release all of my life I would find the method you describe from manuscripts and the like to be woefully inaccurate also but that doesn't mean it is or would be for someone accustomed to doing it that way. Like most things involving physical skill through repetition and familiarity comes proficiency.

Although it's a far cry from your area of interest if you have ever heard of Ishi or read any of Saxton Pope's stories on how he learned the Yahi natives methods of bow & arrow making and hunting practices from Ishi himself then you know his methods of drawing and firing were similar to what is known as a ' Mongolian' release.

I'm not sure what the forum rules are on posting passages from online books are so I won't because I'm not certain of that web sites legality but I can describe his form for you. 1st off, and here is where my woefully inaccurate rate would really begin to show Ishi's preferred stance was in fact kneeling, no recurves or compound bows I've owned would allow this if I held them as I traditionally do arm straight, palm facing left, string drawn to right side of mouth and chin as my anchor point. Ishi's draw was with the bow held diagonally across the torso at about 35 or 40 degrees, palm up. He drew straight back into his chest using the top of his breast bone as anchor point.

It was reported by Pope, anthropologists Alfred Kroeber & Thomas T. Waterman who both studied Ishi at the University of California, San Francisco and many people who saw him shoot on exhibition hunts that he seldom missed when it came to moving targets, especially if the target was something he found desirable to eat. Oddly enough or perhaps not so odd from Ishi's own perspective he was average at best when shooting at at stationary archery targets. He could hit a rabbit running at 40 paces, pin a squirrel scampering up a tree but was lucky if he could place 5 of 10 arrows into the bull's-eye at equal distances. Kroeber's wife published a book " Ishi In Two Worlds " from notes and journals her husband kept about his time with Ishi that mention when questioned about the discrepancy between his game shooting skills and target shooting abilities his answer was along the lines of " The color and circles distract me and who can get excited about paper and straw?"

It seems that what would be uncoordinated, uncomfortable and inaccurate to me would for Ishi and his people be the natural, correct and accurate way to use a bow. Remember that he quite literally depended upon his shooting for his life all but the last 5 years of his adult life. If you ever have any interest in bow & arrow manufacture and their usage outside the Dark ages and early Middle age that you stated I recommend Hunting with the Bow & Arrow by Saxton Pope. Most of the book covers his own discovery of a love of archery, chiefly through his contact with with Ishi but my favorite parts are where he describes in great detail the Yahi art of bow & arrow making and Ishi's expertise in woodcraft.
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Daniel Michaelsson




Location: Dena Lagu
Joined: 29 May 2007

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PostPosted: Mon 21 Jul, 2008 4:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the information Carter. I have heard of Ishi and Saxton Pope but have never got around to reading his accounts. It's interesting to note the similarities between Ishi's and Dark Age North European technique.

I must admit my experience shooting from the chest amounts to only a few hours practice, but it did strike me as being ineffecient in comparison to later techniques. Though as you say it is something we have not been taught as 'the-way-to-do-it'. Perhaps I'm shooting it wrong. I stand diagonally to the target and, probably similar to Ishi, anchor at the inner most part of the collarbone. That seems to be the way depicted from pictorial sources.

I had previously considered it possible that the illustrations of a chest-draw were artistic license, but there are simply too many such depictions. Now that you've brought up Ishi's technique and the viability of a chest-draw I completely disregard the possibility of a chest-draw being artistic license or ignorance on the artists part.

Carter, do you have any knowledge of the draw length and poundage used by Ishi? The Hedeby bows have been estimated to weigh from 60-90#, a comparison would be interesting.
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J. D. Carter




Location: Az.
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PostPosted: Mon 21 Jul, 2008 9:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Daniel Michaelsson wrote:

Carter, do you have any knowledge of the draw length and poundage used by Ishi? The Hedeby bows have been estimated to weigh from 60-90#, a comparison would be interesting.


According to Mr. Pope most if not all the bows Ishi made were 48" inches long with the arrows running from 26" to 28". I don't recall reading an exact draw length but with a four foot bow and an average 27 inch arrow it would have been short. Almost what some modern archery equipment companies would label a 'childs bow' When the Dr's and Pope introduced Ishi to his 1st English style longbow he laughed and said " Too much man-nee (bow).

For hunting purposes he seems to have believed a draw weight of 45 pounds to be the catch all ideal for hunting whatever may come along but it seems he did produce different pulling bows for using on specific game. From all accounts I've managed to find over the years he was reluctant to discuss Yahi war weapons of any type. I would imagine I would be wary of talking about battle myself if I was living amongst the people who had killed literally my entire nation. From the little that is written it would seem that a pull of 70 pounds would have been the norm for a war bow among the Yahi. Draw weight on Native American bows that were measured show a great deal of variance from nation to nation. Some were recorded as light as 30 pounds while a few tribes who specialized in hunting large game like moose and elk made bows that drew at 90

It's helpful to remember that while they may seem very light on average compared to what was being used across Europe and Asia they were not having to overcome padded gambesons or maille. Some tribes were known to make armor & shields of wood, hide and even the scales of a large fish called alligator gar but for the most part they only needed enough punch to penetrate a thin covering of animal hide and quite likely often bare skin. Couple that with the fact that they didn't fight massed in ranks filling the air with arrows at men hundreds of meters away and its easy to understand they simply didn't need to build their bows any heavier.

The light draw of the hunting bows can be explained the same way. If you don't hunt at range taking very long, low percentage shots then you don't need a bow that is powerful enough to penetrate at range.

Please check you PM
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Jul, 2008 10:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm no expert, but at least some scandinavian bows (in the middle ages) where made for a relatively short draw, based on preserved arrows.
While drawing to the chest might not be extremely accurate, you could draw to the chin or nose instead, for a shorter, faster draw.

There is also evidence for use of compound bows in scandinavia, using both different kinds of wood and horn, though not in the eastern horsebow form. Some of the finds have been interpented as parts of "static" recurves; a simple short bow with ears.

The proposed reconstructions are made by a aquaintance of mine who is writing a theseis on the compound bow finds in Norway.
I attended a bowmaking workshop with him a little while ago, and am currently the proud owner of a 80 pound ash/walnut longbow, but I haven't had the time to really use it yet....

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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J. D. Carter




Location: Az.
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PostPosted: Mon 21 Jul, 2008 10:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

E. Polden

Those look to be nicely finished. Do you happen to know what wood your friend used?

Have you ever had the opportunity to try them yourself and if so how did they perform?
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Dan Dickinson
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Location: Michigan
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PostPosted: Mon 21 Jul, 2008 11:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling, those are indeed very interesting...I too would be very interested to hear how they perform.
They also remind me greatly of some of the bows in the Maciejowski Bible, which appear to be selfbows with siyhas.
Dan
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Jul, 2008 11:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

He's made several (they where used in his thesis). The static recurve is a proposed reconstruction based on a spine laminate found in Bergen; the actual "ears" where not found, so its not definite.

The bow is made from a laminate of birch and pine (!) in the front and spine respectively. It develops about 100 pounds at full draw.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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David Jenkins




Location: Putaruru, New Zealand
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PostPosted: Mon 21 Jul, 2008 11:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've recently finished reading "Horseback Archery" by Lajos Kassai. He basically recreated (his version) of horseback archery in Hungary as a modern sport. He found that the modern draw to the corner of the mouth or chin didn't work on horseback. Having a fixed anchor on the corner of mouth while the tip of the arrow moves all over the place makes it impossible to hit anything. After looking at historical illustrations he found that drawing to the chest works better on a moving horse.

Shooting from the chest does take longer to learn and more concentration (from what I've read). You will probably never be as accurate in most situations but it does have some advantages and it's possible that it may be more accurate when shooting from a boat bouncing up and down, but I'm just guessing.

I've tried shooting from the chest, not very accurate yet but a noticeable improvement after 8-10 half hour practice sessions but a long way to go. My anchor point keeps creeping back up, which is a major part of the problem.

I don't know if that was any help or not.
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Daniel Michaelsson




Location: Dena Lagu
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PostPosted: Tue 22 Jul, 2008 3:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling, do you know the time period that these short recurved bows are estimated to be from?
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Wed 30 Jul, 2008 4:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I know, they, or rather, the fragments that the reconstruction is based on, are dated 13th century.
There are older bows, but I'm no expert.

Similar models are depicted in 13th c. manuscripts, like the Maciowski bible

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Johan S. Moen




Location: Kristiansand, Norway
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PostPosted: Wed 30 Jul, 2008 4:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:

The bow is made from a laminate of birch and pine (!) ...


Just as a sidenote; as far as I remember, the pine in question is tension/compression wood, and not "ordinary" pine. Or I am mixing things up again...

Johan Schubert Moen
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Ville Vinje




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PostPosted: Thu 31 Jul, 2008 12:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Elling Polden"]

There is also evidence for use of compound bows in scandinavia, using both different kinds of wood and horn, though not in the eastern horsebow form. quote]

There are strong evidence for use of eastern magyar "horsebows" in finds from the birka garrison and in burrials. At present it is not clear if the bows were imported or copied. There have been several papers written on the subject here in sweden in the last years.

The connection between the lake Mälaren culture and the magyar culture and vice versa is since long well established.
Then again the mid Swedish area is quite different to other norse areas, so this type of bow is not typical for the period.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Fri 01 Aug, 2008 7:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I know the eastern hornbow takes huge amounts of time and work to make; while it might perform better in some respects it is not THAT much better that it is worth making when good wood is available.
You can of course reinforce a primarily wooden bow with horn or sinew, as well.

Regardin scandinavians and archery, it should be noted that it was not primarily a weapon for the lower classes. In medevial england bows where demanded from the people with the lowest income; in scandinavia the same people where expected to field spear and shield like everyone else. Only the more wealthy are required to bring a bow.
However, the ships where supposed to have a bow for every second pair of oars, which was counted as part of the ships equipment.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Fri 01 Aug, 2008 8:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:


Regardin scandinavians and archery, it should be noted that it was not primarily a weapon for the lower classes. In medevial england bows where demanded from the people with the lowest income; in scandinavia the same people where expected to field spear and shield like everyone else. Only the more wealthy are required to bring a bow.
However, the ships where supposed to have a bow for every second pair of oars, which was counted as part of the ships equipment.


That depends on where you lived, archery seems to have been more common in some areas than others. I know that Norwegian laws prescribed different weapons and armour depending on wealth and income, but a number of the Swedish landskapslagar or provincial laws include the bow as a folkvapen, a weapon that the peasant soldier is expected to show up with when called upon. The laws of Södermanland, Hälsingland and Gotland all mention bow and 2-3 sheafs of a dozen arrows in addition to edged weapons, whereas the laws of Östergötland and Söderköping don't mention the bow at all.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Aug, 2008 10:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
In medevial england bows where demanded from the people with the lowest income;


You're only talking about the early Middle Ages, right?
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Daniel Michaelsson




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PostPosted: Sun 03 Aug, 2008 2:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
As far as I know the eastern hornbow takes huge amounts of time and work to make; while it might perform better in some respects it is not THAT much better that it is worth making when good wood is available.
You can of course reinforce a primarily wooden bow with horn or sinew, as well.


I think the longbow has advantages over the eastern composite bow when on foot. The longer limbs increase the stability of the bow helping accuracy. It's marginally heavier than your typical composite, again increasing the stability - it has more presence in your hand and the vibrations on the bow after release have less of an effect on your arm/hand position.

The eastern recurves advantage is it's ease of use on horseback. As far as I'm aware Scandinavians never used horse archers, and in the viking age they avoided horseback fighting as much as possible. Which makes me wonder what a 'Hunbogi' was doing in Viking-age Birka.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Aug, 2008 10:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually, the Eastern recurve's advantage is customizability--you can vary the proportions between the bendable limbs and the static recurve of the "ears" so as to get a slower but more stable bow with a heftier punch (long limbs, short ears) or a faster but more fragile bow (short limbs, long ears--mostly seen in flight bows). The ears also provide a mechanical advantage by acting like levers that counteract the limbs' tendency to stack near the end of the draw.

That being said, I definitely agree that the heavy medieval form of the non-recurved self longbow does have the advantage of simplicity and stability (in the sense of being far less sensitive to damage from improper treatment). However, I'm not so sure about presence and hand shock--an Eastern recurved composite with a well-made grip and well-matched limbs could shoot every bit as sweetly as a well-made longbow, especially when each is used with the proper technique.
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