Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of York's online course, Exploring Stone Age Archaeology: The Mysteries of Star Carr. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds Although we found 38 wooden artefacts at Star Carr - only two were complete. These were a digging stick and a bow - a gathering tool and a hunting tool - lying tip to tip where they had been placed in the shallow waters at the edge of the lake. A bow is an incredible hunting weapon and a sophisticated piece of technology. It allows the hunter to strike at an animal remotely - to kill at a distance. The bow at Star Carr is small and light, fast to use and easy to carry. We know from the animal bones excavated at Star Carr that people ate a range of different animals, birds and fish.

Skip to 0 minutes and 39 seconds This particular bow would have been ideal for hunting birds or small animals in the forests around the settlement, or for bow fishing in the shallow water at the edge of the lake - perhaps even standing on the wooden platforms. Although we know from flint arrowheads that have been found in other parts of the world that bows were probably in use as long ago as 70,000 years ago, the oldest complete bow is the one we excavated at Star Carr. Measuring 1.4 m long, this stave bow was carved from a willow sapling about 70mm wide.

Skip to 1 minute and 6 seconds The bow is aligned with the growth rings running side to side across the width of the bow stave - this orientation takes advantage of the natural strength of the tree with the springy sapwood being stretched on the outside - or back - of the bow whilst the harder heartwood is compressed on the inside - or belly - of the bow. Although the bow string did not survive - perhaps it was removed before the bow was placed in the ground or perhaps it decayed over time - we know that it must have been made of either animal or plant fibres. Probably either rawhide made from animal skins or string made from tree bark-bast.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 seconds The bow would have shot wooden arrows tipped with flint, bone or antler points. We carried out a modern experiment to recreate a willow bow the same size and shape as the one excavated at the site. It took one and a half hours to make a bow that could shoot an arrow tipped with a barbed point 25 metres along the ground or 15 metres straight up into the air. We used it to shoot an arrow through a dead fish in the water and to shoot an arrow so far into a tree we could not get it out again.

The oldest complete bow in the world?

One of the most exciting discoveries we made was what appears to be a complete wooden bow, which is the oldest known complete bow in the world.

As Mike Bamforth explains here, it is very light weight and was probably used for fishing or hunting birds or small animals.

Further resources

If you would like to find out more about our research into this bow, please read Chapter 29 in our free, online book. In addition, you might be interested in Chapter 28 which explains woodworking technology in the Mesolithic.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Exploring Stone Age Archaeology: The Mysteries of Star Carr

University of York

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: