Monday, May 5, 2014

Calculating the draw weight of a Beaker bow (Part 1)

This is the first part of several pieces I'll do on the Beaker bow.  New and exciting information is coming out (just this morning with a find of hemp thread on an arrowhead)  We'll start with wrist-guards.

I've been reading several pieces on the functionality of the Beaker wrist guard.  It seems that modern scientific opinion has long questioned their functionality.  While I think a good argument has been made (Fokkens et al & others) that they had some social significance beyond simple function, I am surprised that their actual function in everyday life has been underplayed.

Of course, ordinarily the wrist-guard is used by archers to protect the arm from bow slap.  Wrist-guards are found with Beaker men and typically on the lower left arm as demonstrated in burial.  They were typically made of slate or finer stones, but as Fokkens pointed out, they often appear on the outside of the forearm.

"Amesbury Archer" Special thanks to artist, Jane Brayne

Back in 2008, Fokkens, Achterkamp & Kuijpers surveyed the distribution, placement and construction of the common Beaker bracers in Beaker burials throughout Western Europe.  What they found was that a majority of the wrist-guards were actually discovered on the outside of the arm, not the inside.  Also, the functionality of the wrist-guards was questioned as some wrist-guards were highly ornamented, embossed, riveted or only had two holes.  A few guards were too wide, which may have affected their functionality.  Some examples below:

(Fig. 1) H. Fokkens et al., 2008

After having looked at several illustrated papers (Smith, 2006 & Van der Vaart, 2009) focusing on some of the major bracer outliers, I've come to the conclusion that the wrist-guards were simply wrist-guards. 

My logic is fairly simple:

[archers do not inhibit archery]:

(Beaker men were archers)   >   (archers do not inhibit archery)   >   (archers need bracers) THEN (wrist-guards found with Beakers could not inhibit archery or aided archery)


(If Beaker bracers inhibited archery)   THEN   (those who wore them were not archers)

Unconvinced by non-functional arguments


Personally, the wearing of the wrist-guard on the outside of the arm makes sense to me.  Sorry, not trying to be snarky here.  But, the wrist guard may have been rotated when needed and kept on the outside of the arm while not in use.

We shouldn't expect wrist guards to appear on the inside of the arm in a burial any more than the position of other effects.  If you did a survey of men buried between 1850 and 1950, you'd find that the placement of the pocket watch varied or was absent.

Actually one of the three bracer types appears to have been worn on the radial bone rather than the wrist interior. A figure of a man shooting in Van der Vaart's paper illustrates why this would be the case. This could be confusing the understanding of placement during excavation.


The choice of slate for a bracer also makes sense.  River slate is cool to the touch and usually soft or soapified.  It's easier to shape lengthwise, easy for drilling holes and its water properties for wearing against the body (sweat, rain) make it ideal.  The greenstone and redstone of the isles is more elaborate but likely similar in comfort properties. 


The size and shape of Beaker wrist-guards probably varied because Beaker bows varied.  The kind of wrist guard used for a long bow is different from a short bow.  It's placement would vary because bending the bow is different in both cases.

(continue to part 2)


(Fokkens, Achterkamp, Kuijpers, 2008) "Bracers or Bracelets? About the Functionality and Meaning of Bell Beaker Wrist-guard"

Smith, Jonathan (2006) "Early Bronze Age Stone Wrist-Guards in Britain: archer's bracer or social symbol?"

Van der Vaart, Saaja (May 2009)  "Bell Beaker Wrist Guards Reconsidered:  A Research into their Functionality and Possible Uses"


  1. What if the stone was, at least in some cases, part of a larger leather bracelet. Archers have often used such leather protections. If so the stone may well be a decorative element or even a functional one that gradually became just decorative.

    It's a bit like microliths, which separated from the shaft, make little sense but as part of a larger, yet partly organic, tool are totally functional.

  2. I think you are right. There is an example, I believe in Van der Vaart's paper, that shows chemical etching (probably tannin) across the greenstone which makes it appear it was covered in leather cuff as you mention.