Saturday, January 13, 2018

Now I am become Death

...destroyer of beverage containers.
One of the more awesome things here in Portland is a place called "Trackers". It's a sort of post-hippie/pre-Apocalyptic-wasteland-skills-learning-center thing, where kids (and adults) can learn to smith blades, skin critters, build boats, track animals, and raise chickens. Plus there's live-action-roleplaying. It's damn good fun, is what it is.

There's also an indoor bow range, which is where I enjoy Saturday mornings letting the gray goose (or, in this case, the primary-colored-plastic) fly.

We used to do this as a family but, sadly, like so many of our other "family" things, the rest of the gang slipped away. The Boy never did have any interest, the Girl still goes from time to time but has little real interest, and my Bride has lost any real impetus to get out of bed early on a Saturday.

So Saturdays it's just me and Subutai. That's "Subutai" I'm firing at left. It's a Samick SKB, a modern Korean version of the northeast Asian horsebow. Very light and small but an easy draw and fires a very flat arrow. I can shoot all day without tiring, and when my eye is in and my form good I can put a dozen arrows inside a dinner plate at 15 yards.

Plus it's fun for trick shooting. This was after a series of "Parthian shots", starting with my back to the target, turning, drawing, and releasing, as a horse archer would who had drawn his enemy after him by feigning flight.
What's odd about this is the number of people I run into on the bow range who don't consider this practicing with a deadly weapon. They wouldn't touch a firearm and consider the gun-nuttery of the ammosexuals down at Tri-County distasteful, or at least faintly louche. Any yet this was the original weapon of mass destruction. While God may have made Man, and Sam Colt may have made them equal, the bow was the first tool that made men able to kill other men without all that chancy risk beating them down with a rock or stick.

It's just been so long since we commonly killed people with bows that we forget that.

People are funny that way.


Ael said...


FDChief said...

Problem with the throwing stick, Ael, is that it doesn't really help when you're up against someone human. It adds distance to the projectile and, most critically, additional force, which is important if you're trying to knock down big game. But against a nimble hairless ape? Not sure that it really helped you that much.

A bow, though, gave you both force, distance, AND volume fire, and was more "aimable" than a spear or long spear-like bolt. You could "suppress" an enemy with rapid fire and your projectiles had a decent enough shock value that a solid hit would either knock them down or do severe injury; either way you could have another arrow on the string before the first even struck, and you could carry several dozen, as opposed to perhaps four to six javelins at best.

No question that an atlatl would help against people, but I think if you look at the combination of logistics (ammo volume) and physics (speed of reloading, speed of projectile) it's the bow that first really pushed the physical distance of combat.

Pluto said...

How's the hip these days, Chief? You're looking pretty good in that picture.

Ael said...

Well, until we find the remains of an atlatl dart point stuck in some human femur we won't really know if it was used in combat in early times. However, given that they are about 20,000 years older than bow and arrow, I suspect they were used much earlier.

Also, atlatls have been used in combat in relatively recent times and by people who knew about bow and arrows.

mike said...

Nice story below on a 1000 year old arrowhead found in the Yukon in Canada recently. Copper! 99.9% pure. And local, probably fashioned from a copper nugget in a stream in the SW Yukon. Barbed shaft, or the remnants of one. Used for hunting caribou. The First Nations tribes had metalworkers - wow who knew?

mike said...

I also note that a spear thrown with the Aussie atlatl AKA the 'woomera' is reported to have four times the kinetic energy of a compound bow. And dinner plate accuracy was not needed. Any wound would allow the hunter to eventually run down the game, or the man if it was murder.

FDChief said...

I don't doubt that people used atlatls against other people, and probably killed more than one with them. I just think that the big technological jump is there between the spear and the bow (with the sling in there somewhere). A spear is a sort of "generalist" weapon; it's really to big and heavy to specialize as a ranged weapon. It's relatively slow in flight to the point where at any sort of significant distance you can see it coming and dodge it, or deflect it with a shield.

The bow and sling, though? They're ONLY good for hitting something at stand-off distances, the projectiles are too small and swift to either see or dodge, and light enough to allow for a lot more rapid fire. They really are a big step up in ranged lethality.

Re: the Australian woomera, my guess would be that it packs that high KE into a very short distance. The heavy projectile will shed velocity pretty damn quickly compared to a slingstone or arrow. So we're back where we were; big advantage over the simple spear, but not nearly as rapid, accurate, or high-volume as the arrow or slingstone.

FDChief said...

Pluto; the right one is fake, and does fairly well with some minor limits. The left one, well, it's not great. But it has stopped deteriorating for the moment, and has not gone nearly as bad as the right one did before replacement. I'm on hold for the other hip until it starts to nosedive; hopefully another year or three...

Ael said...

Atlatl darts are not melee weapons.
They are way too skinny and flexible to be of much use.

They are purely ranged weapons (and fierce ones at that).

mike said...


You are right that the bow&arrow revolutionized war. But as an old track and field man I still gotta like javelin. High schoolers could throw javelins 60 to 75 meters back in the 1950s before the advent of the new high tech ones. And those javelins at over eight feet in length must have been even heavier than the one pictured with the Woomera thrower in the Wiki article.

I understand modern archery surpasses that range and also has accuracy. But I have to wonder how that compares to ancient bows - not counting the English long bow which was a later development. And I understand the ancient Greeks at their Olympic games had two events for the javelin - one for distance like we do today, and the other for accuracy which we unfortunately gave up on.

And AEL has a valid point about the atlatl. They were darts, not spears. Typically only five feet in length with fletching like an arrows to give it accuracy.

FDChief said...

Well, the Wiki entry, at least, seems to provide some conflicting information. It begins by stating that the atlatl dart is accurate only out to "twenty meters or less". It also notes that "...(a)long with improved ease of use, the bow offered the advantage that the bulk of elastic energy is stored in the throwing device, rather than the projectile; arrow shafts can therefore be much smaller, and have looser tolerances for spring constant and weight distribution than atlatl darts. This allowed for more forgiving flint knapping: dart heads designed for a particular spear thrower tend to differ in mass by only a few percent."

But in the body of the section mentions that a unique device used by the Amazonian Tarairiu could throw "...darts or javelins made of a two-meter long wooden cane with a stone or long and serrated hard-wood point, sometimes tipped with poison. Equipped with their uniquely grooved atlatl, they could hurl their long darts from a great distance with accuracy, speed, and such deadly force that these easily pierced through the protective armor of the Portuguese or any other enemy.

So it sounds like YMMV with spear-throwers; some appear to be very close to the effectiveness of the bow, others, not so much.

What I do note is that as the bow improved from the earliest simple self bows most pre-gunpowder societies abandoned the javelin and dart as specialist projectile weapons in favor of the bow. Certainly they hung on in the form of things like Roman cavalry javelins and infantry pila, or in the form of Byzantine plumbatae or martiobarbuli throwing darts. But it's rare to see throwing spears as the dominant ranged weapon in a society with a mature bowmaking technology, suggesting that the bow was considered the more effective of the two.

Ael said...

Oh, there is no doubt that the bow is far more effective than an Atlatl. You can easily carry a score or two arrows, but you can only carry 3 or 4 darts. That alone is worth abandoning the atlatl as a war making device. If you throw in longer range and better accuracy, it is no wonder that nobody thinks much about spear throwers these days.