Neolithic and Bronze Age Archery Equipment from Alpine Ice-Patches: A Review on Components, Construction Techniques and Functionality

Junkmanns, Jürgen; Klügl, Johanna; Schoch, Werner; Di Pietro, Giovanna (2019). Neolithic and Bronze Age Archery Equipment from Alpine Ice-Patches: A Review on Components, Construction Techniques and Functionality Journal of Neolithic Archaeology, pp. 283-314. 10.12766/jna.2019.10

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The alpine ice-patch sites of Tisenjoch (I), Schnidejoch and Loetschenpass (CH) brought to light the most complete archery equipment known from European Prehistory. From the end of the last glaciation until the Middle Ages, bows and arrows were the most important weapons for hunting and warfare. The first verified artefacts of archery equipment are the arrows from Stellmoor, Northern Germany, which date to 10,000 BC, while the oldest bows found so far are still the two elm bows from Holmegard in Southern Denmark, dated to ca. 8000 – 6500 BC (Junkmanns 2013). During the Neolithic, bows were made almost exclusively from yew wood (Taxus baccata). Despite their different shapes, all prehistoric bows found in Europe are simple man-tall bows made from a single piece of wood with a more or less D-shaped cross-section and a flat belly side. Arrows were made from split wood or thin saplings and equipped with different types of points made from stone, bone/ antler material or the wood itself, according to their specific intended purpose. The manufacturing process can be described from several finds of unfinished bow blanks, as in the case of the Tisenjoch finds. Neolithic arrows were made from shoots of hazel (Corylus avellana), guelder rose (Viburnum sp.) or other hardwoods. They were straightened by heat and are generally longer and thicker than modern sporting arrows for increased weight and penetration power. Their fletching with three split feathers is practically the same as fletching used today. Bowstrings are extremely rare in European archaeological sites. Only two assured samples, stemming from the Tisenjoch and the Schnidejoch ice-patches, are known to date. They were made from animal sinew fibres, which are not preserved in non-frozen sites. Although there was almost certainly a need for a cover to protect a bow against bad weather, there is only one example of a Neolithic bow case known to date. The cover, made from water resistant birch bark measuring a little longer than the bow carried inside it, was found on Schnidejoch. It incorporates a carrying system of leather straps, which enabled the user to wear it over the shoulder, keeping the hands free for other tasks. It is supposed that other bow cases, which very probably existed in the Neolithic, were made from animal hide or leather which did not survive in waterlogged sites. That there were protective carrying devices for archery gear is also generally testified by the leather arrow quiver found on Tisenjoch and by numerous other ethnographic and historic examples.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


Bern Academy of the Arts
Bern Academy of the Arts > Institute Materiality in Art and Culture
Bern Academy of the Arts > HKB Teaching


Junkmanns, Jürgen;
Klügl, Johanna0000-0001-6958-5076;
Schoch, Werner and
Di Pietro, Giovanna0000-0002-0772-1084


2197 -649X




Daniela Wüthrich

Date Deposited:

30 Jan 2020 13:02

Last Modified:

16 May 2022 21:45

Publisher DOI:


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Uncontrolled Keywords:

prehistoric archery equipment, ice-patch archaeology, glacial archaeology, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Alps




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