Archaeology: Most deadly armour-piercing bow from the Bronze Age reconstructed

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Reconstructing archaeological artefacts can help shine further light on the lives, technologies and production methods of past civilizations. An ancient, Indo-Iranian tribe, the Sintashta people lived some 4,000 years ago, at the turn of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, and famously occupied the fortified citadel of Arkaim, the remains of which today lie just north of the border with Kazakhstan. Researchers reconstructed the 6.5 feet long bow based on horn parts found in three different Sintashta burial complexes.

Paper author and experimental archaeologist Dr Ivan Semyan, of the South Ural State University, said: “The Sintashta bow, in our opinion, is a compound long bow with a number of special parts to enhance mechanics and expand functionality.

“Tests and simulations showed that the effective shooting of large Sintashta arrows required a bow tension of more than 28 kilograms [62 lbs], versus just 25 kilograms [55 lbs] for a modern Olympic bow for men.

“The result of our experiment was a bow 187 cm [74 inches] long with 29.03 kg [64 lbs] of tension.

“It can be used for target shooting at a distance of about 80 metres [262 feet].”

In fact, the team concluded, the bow would have been capable of firing arrows that would pierce both bone and horn plate armour.

Based on its ergonomics, the bow may have been designed to allow it to be fired from the body of a war vehicle like a chariot, but could also have been used by aristocrats to hunt wild animals.

According to the researchers, the original bow elements found in the Sintashta burial complexes exhibited a high quality of preparation in the form of grinding and polishing.

They added that the horn parts are complex in shape and required many hours of drilling, sawing, cutting and grinding with Bronze tools.

Not only were the bows difficult to manufacture, but they would also have required the specialisation of labour.

Specifically, the team explained, the wooden and horn parts of each bow would have been worked on by different craftsmen.

Furthermore, the creation of a quiver set would require three specialists: a caster, a flint-splitter and a bone carver.

During the experimental reconstruction process, Dr Semyan explained “it was extremely important for us to strictly adhere to three principles.”

These, he added, were “to use authentic materials, authentic technologies, and not to exceed the level of technical thought of the ancient masters”.

He said: “Therefore, only four materials were used: wood, horn, bone glue, and sinew.

“In total, we tested four versions of the design: two from our colleagues and two of our own.”

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During test firings of their replica bows, Dr Semyan reported, the bow now only demonstrated high mechanical power but also stability over some 300 shots — with a complete absence of destructive vibrations in the design.

According to the team, the most curious aspect of the bow found in the original artefacts is what they believe is an “arrow shelf” consisting of two slats.

Based on their experiments, the team believe that the lower bar was used when the archer was shooting targets at a distance of up to around 66 feet, beyond which the upper bar would be used to lift the arrow and fire it further.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal EXARC.

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