Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Independence I Driftwood Arrow - Completed.

I didn't have a proper bow with me, but this young
fellow was kind enough to demonstrate his technique
for musk-ox hunting with the bow from the bow drill.
This is a reproduction of an Independence I arrow that I made for Umimmak School in Grise Fiord on my recent trip there.  It is a different arrow than the one that I started in Resolute Bay, which I still haven't completed, but it is similarly constructed.  I was able to finish this one because a teacher at the school donated a raven feather to the project.  It was a large enough feather that I was able to split it down the middle and use each half for the fletching.  I don't think it will spin quite right, but it looks fine for a display piece and I like that its finished with local materials.  Arrows like this would have been used by Independence I hunters as early as 4500 years ago to hunt muskox in the High Arctic.

Raven feathers for the fletching.  I'm sure there are more birds in Grise Fiord in the summer, but the whole time I was there, I only saw ravens.
Its fairly straight here, but I found that even dry old driftwood likes to warp after you whittle it.  I needed to go back and readjust the angles on the scarf joints after a couple days of drying to straighten it out again.

The foreshaft was probably important
in adding weight to the front of the
arrow to compensate for the tiny
Its spliced together from three pieces of driftwood and measures about 70 cm or so in length.  For the point, I used Independence I artifacts from Quttinirpaaq National Park as my reference.  The general dimensions, notch style and specifics of the scarf joints are based on Saqqaq driftwood arrows recovered from sites in Greenland and detailed in Grønnow (2012).  The two feather fletching style is based on more recent Inuit arrows while the twisted sinew lashing and glueless design is representative of both Inuit and Palaeoeskimo hafting techniques.  I was inspired to attempt the glueless, twisted sinew lashings by recent conversations on this blog with Marcus Lepola.  It's taken me a long time to realize that sinew and glue lashings in the Arctic are probably the exception to the rule and that binding with twisted threads of sinew were probably much more commonly used in the area than I'd previously thought.

Ignore all the random tools in the top of this photo.  Across the middle you can see two arrows in progress.  The tops one has the point and three sections of driftwood all lashed together while the bottom one is exploded into its separate elements.

The completed arrow. Chert, driftwood, sinew, feather.  The biggest license I took in making this arrow was using arrow diameter driftwood twigs for the shaft rather than working from larger split driftwood logs.  The evidence from the Greenland Saqqaq sites indicate that split logs were the starting point for the wood used in arrows like this.


Grønnow, Bjarne
2012 An archaeological reconstruction of Saqqaq bows, darts, harpoons, and lances in Études/Inuit/Studies, Volume 36(1), 2012, p. 23-48

Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. Marcus Lepola visited us at the Alutiiq Museum too! I was amazed his knowledge and at what he found in our collections. 'toy' bows turned out to be so much more. Patrick

    1. I haven't met Marcus yet, but I've learned a lot from him from conversations online. He seems very willing to share.

  2. From the way you describe the fletching I gather that the actual reason these feathers are there at the end of the arrow is to give them a spin to stabilize the flight as -like in a gyroscope- high number of revolutions tends to keep things in a certain position?

    1. Yes, the feathers are there to help stabilize the flight by creating drag and spin. Not all arrows spin, but it does help their flight and accuracy if they do.

    2. Ah, the drag … (sorry for reading this so late). Reminds me of the first rockets e.g. Oberth experimented with. The early rocket pioneers were puzzled why it would not be better to have the thrust initiated at the top of the contraption (requiring the rocket motor to be at the top, with a frame dangling around it that held the payload at levels below the engine, and away from the flame. They looked rather not like rockets as we perceive them today. Probably the idea was also driven by seeing aeroplanes being “pulled” from the front at the time). Later rockets got fins at the end and drag assumedly stabilizes better than a “front engine”. Same as arrows are pushed, not pulled, then stabilized by the drag.


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