Jump to content
Gentleman's Military Interest Club

Recommended Posts

Hello everyone! I joined this website hoping that one of you might be able to shed some light on some antique arrows that fell int my possession! I'm having a really hard time learning anything about them.  These came to me from my grandma, who received them from an old friend of hers she met working the switchboards for the phone company in the 1940's. We can't trace the history past that. My grandma told my dad, who told me, that these are "authentic Native American Indian arrows." Nothing else is known about them. I am trying to determine if they really are American Indian arrows, or if they might be South American Indian arrows, or if they're not really Indian arrows at all, and just really old replicas. 

The arrows appear to be made of bamboo (I'm guessing). All of the arrowheads are magnetic, indicating that they have Iron in them. One arrowhead has what appears to be an aluminum shaft connecting it to the body of the arrow (could this be a modern repair? I took a close up photo of the aluminum). The nocks are carved directly into the bamboo. The feathers are tied on by hand. The arrows are all about 40 inches long, give or take, except the 3 pronged fishing arrow, which is 60 inches long. I also have a bow that came with the arrows. The bow is 67 inches long and has a leather-wrapped grip. It appears to have three layers of laminated wood at the grip. I tried to capture this in the photo.

Anything you guys can tell me would be greatly appreciated! I hope they turn out to be real, but I won't be heartbroken if they are not. My end goal is to refurbish them and turn them into a display piece, as long as that doesn't decrease their value... 









Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Is this content not appropriate for this website? I found a thread about South American arrows on here which is why I reached out to your community, but I've been waiting for almost two weeks for a moderator to approve my thread. Please advise me on what I need to do differently to get my content approved. Thank you.  


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello, you did fine! 

But this ain't a website, it is a forum!

There is nothing else to do then wait, until a member (who has knowledge about this ) answers you.

You don't need approval by a mod. 

I can not think of anyone to direct you to, but try to find a auction house specialized in this kind of objects, they might be able to help....


And keep us up dated, if possible.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello Lmaas and welcome to the forum.  Sorry I didn't notice your post when it first went up.

A couple of general comments from a definite non-expert:

Almost positive the bow is not Native, as the laminate construction on the handgrip is a modern bowyers technique.  A traditional bow would have been carved from a single piece and I'm not sure North American indigenous bows even used this 'thicker in the middle' shape, but that should be easy to check.

Bamboo or cane arrows would be unusual for North America as, I think, would be the fact that they are bound with grass/fibre rather than leather or rawhide.  My money is on Asian or African.

I have seen the barbed style arrowheads in Nigeria, when I lived there, used by armed night watchmen and originally rude forged from large nails.  Iron arrow heads were a common trade item on several continents too but the style looks, to me,  as if they might have been hand forged, again in Africa or Asia.  The feathering could be hawk or turkey or ???  

Here is a link to a short monograph on N American arrows: https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1525/aa.1940.42.2.02a00060

That's all I've got, but one of our members is an anthropologist who has donme field work in South America, so maybe if he sees this he'll be able to make more in formed comments than I can. 

Welcome to the GMIC!  



Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Welcome Lmaas1 and thanks for posting more images of bows & arrows! Sorry for my delay in collecting my thoughts about your arrows-but I'll let fly with my ignorance and conjecture...

I agree with Peter the the bow is certainly unassociated with the arrows, and for the same reasons. The laminate construction and grip's configuration marks it as a "recent" European bow. The arrows you illustrate would have been associated with a traditional "self" bow, as Peter notes the stave would have made from a single piece of wood lacking the laminate construction. Some older European-style bows were tillered to have the form of the grip in the image, but again carved from a single piece of wood. The well-known Sudbury bow from 1660 (in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard) is the earliest example of a North American Native American self bow (possibly Wampanoag) and does show a thicker grip region, but not comparable to the modern bow in your photos. The arrows you illustrate would have been used with a very different form of bow, depending where they actually do come from, and that is not clear to me. If they are from South America, they would have been used with a palmwood bow similar to that shown in Stuka f's photos and those I illustrated in the thread that you found in his section. 

The arrows are certainly ethnographic, but the region they come from is a bit problematic. 40 inches is quite short for most South American arrows (most are at least twice this length up to ~2 m long), although boy's arrows will be smaller than those used by adult men. Some groups did make arrows that were sold to outsiders, often they were shortened because of the demand for arrows that were easier to transport back to he visitors' homes (having returned hundreds of South American Native arrows back to the US, it is a complex task to bring long arrows any great distance). The length is also too long for most North American arrows. The point forms of the lanceolate steel-tipped arrows with central mid ribs is very uncommon among South American (even more so for North American) arrows, normally S. American lanceolate points are flat because they were made from scrap pieces of worn out machetes or knives, often retaining the casting elements of those blades. The mid-ribbed lanceolate points suggests manufacture on an a grooved anvil, or casting, practices more common in east Africa where dedicated village metallurgy served a variety of local technological needs. In most other parts of the world, steel has been obtained principally through recycling of worn-out tools, trade in raw materials (usually already manufactured steel points or worn-out tools), or from scavenging scrap from household dumps of the wealthy (often foreigners or non-indigenous local residents). Such blades with mid-ribs are best known for hand-held spears from Africa (fewer arrowhead forms have a mid-rib), that would have wooden hafts and no fletching (feathers at the proximal end to stabilize flight). If these are New World arrows, they would likely be from an area where sufficient trade between outsiders & Native folks occurred that the European-descendant folks would have manufactured such mid-ribbed points, specifically for trade with indigenous peoples (some parts of Brazil?). The elaborate, multi-barbed points appear to be made by heating and cutting the barbs (using an axehead, machete, or other hard steel implement) and are quite time-consuming to manufacture. Interestingly, the 4 non-lanceolate arrow forms are all principally fishing arrows. In the third photo showing the point forms, the arrow on the left has the multi-pronged fishing head similar to a hand-held leister, and often these arrow forms are thrust into water in a manner similar to spears to catch fish (as you note it is fishing arrow). I cannot tell if this example has barbs, but such points are effective either unbarbed or with some barbs. Interestingly, this is the longest arrow in your group, and even though it is fletched, a hand-held use, in addition to occasionally being shot from a bow, is quite likely. The short barbs on the other  3 non-lanceolate arrows also indicates design for fishing. The arrow second from the left has a large distal barb and the shorter barbs on the proximal portion of the squared x-section of the steel point. Both of these elements are critical in holding a fish on the arrow until it can be retrieved. The other 2 arrows to the right of this one that appear square in x-section with small, cut barbs that keep fish from slipping off the arrow point. 

Interestingly, none of these arrows show a long foreshaft, a piece of hardwood that the point is seated into and then pushed into the mainshaft (usually with a resin or glue). The advantage of foreshafts is that the hardwood holds the point securely, even if the arrow is damaged in flight or by the animal once struck. They also often are pre-made, with a point seated in a foreshaft, for field repairs should the original distal armature of the arrow break in use. Except for the leister, all of the other arrows may have very short foreshafts, it is quite uncommon to seat a point directly into the lighter weight arrow mainshaftt because the shock will damage the distal mainshaft. Most South American arrows have long and quite visible fore shafts of dark red or brown hardwoods. This also is true for most Asian arrows where we have good descriptive e & illustrative literature (especially Papua New Guinea and the Philippines). 

The mainshaft of the arrows (the long tan portion that looks like bamboo) is probably a cultivated arrowcane. Different species are used in different parts of the world. So until the probable location of origin for these points can be determined, it isn't possible to say from photos which it is, nor are photographs particularly useful in narrowing down the plant to help identify where they were made. South American arrows all use mainshafts, as do those made in other parts of the world. Some African hunter-gatherer groups (such as the pejoratively-termed "Bushmen" of Botswana, Namibia, & adjacent areas of southern Africa or Congo Basin "Pygmies") have common arrow forms that lack separate mainshafts & foreshafts, but principally on their small poisoned arrows. All of your arrows are fletched, although the feathers are missing from 2 of them. Fishing arrows often are used unfletched, the shooting distance is much shorter than for terrestrial game. Sometimes the mainshafts retain fletching because all elements of arrows are repaired and re-used, and often different points are put into arrows that formerly held a different style of point. The fletching is tangential, where whole segments of feathers are laid along the length of the mainshaft (modern target arrows use radial fletching, where the feather is split through the vein and each half of the feather is attached to form a raised "fin", modern competition arrows use radial fletching and now employ very low profile fletching [micro-fletching] that stabilizes the arrow better than larger amounts of fletching that just create additional drag). This is the simplest and fastest manufacturing method of attaching feathers. Your arrows' fletching feathers are bound at the ends, again a less time-consuming method than other techniques that bind the feather tighter to the mainshaft. While tangential fletching does not produce the most ideal flight characteristics (as radial fletching does), most traditional arrows are not designed for long distance flight. In hunting terrestrial game, most indigenous bows & arrows (for that matter atlatls [throwing sticks & long darts used among Australian Aborigines, Eskimo people, Maya & Nahua populations in Mexico, and widespread prehistorically before the invention of the bow], blowguns, and throwing sticks) are never used for distances greater than ~30 m, and that is a wildly risky outside shot. Fishing arrows are normally used for distances no greater than ~2 m, but the skill to compensate for refraction through water is a considerable feat. The windings of the fletching appear to represent at least a couple different materials. In your 5th photo showing the proximal ends of all the arrows, the 5th from the left (a lanceolate arrow missing its fletching) looks like a form of vine. The others may be a variety of different materials (commonly plant fibers, but possibly animal sinew, if they are not South American arrows). At least the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and maybe the 6th from the left show traces of some kind of resin attached to the bindings (this can be beeswax based or made from other tree resins, all of these usually combine at least a couple varieties of other materials as well). All of the proximal ends appear to have nocks (a groove in the mainshaft to fit the bowstring on), that you note are carved in the mainshaftt. Take an additional look, if you have not already, to see if all are just in the mainshaft cane or possibly inserted hardwood plugs. The particular form of the nock (carved or just worn from use in the mainshaft versus a carved plug inserted in the proximal end of the mainshaft) can be important in helping to narrow the geographic origin of arrows. All except the 5th arrow have windings at this proximal end that is designed as a reinforcement to prevent the mainshaft from splitting (the 5th shows traces of resin from previous windings). The 6th arrow appears to have vine as the initial winding of this nock reinforcement, and it may be covered with the use of a different plant fiber, but it is hard to tell from the photo. These windings show evidence of the use of resin to help the nock windings adhere, and possible to completely cover them with resin as well. The fletching is usually the portion of the arrow that suffers most from transportation, drying out in less-humid climates, and the depredations of insects, so it is common that the fletching is not in pristine condition. 

The feathers used in the fletching are not necessarily diagnostic elements. Large feathers are common on South American arrows, but not necessarily useful as defining origin there. Several in your group look like members of the hawk family, and those are used in many parts on the Americas, similar-looking feathers are employed in other parts of the world as well. The black fletching on the one lanceolate arrow is consistent with some feathers used in South America. Many Asian groups do not use any fletching (especially some New Guinea groups). 

The decorative carving on the proximal end of the mainshaft, distal to the point and the aluminum sleeve (likely an add-on, possibly by a past owner as heavy lanceolate points can become loose if the the windings dry out, become damaged, or if there is damage to that part of the mainshaft), is not distinctive enough to unambiguously identify the origin of these arrows. There is a possibility that these arrows are not all from the same group of people. I am very confident these are not North American arrows. They do not strike me as obviously identifiable with a particular South American region or group of people, although there may be areas with the lanceolate points that exhibit mid-ribs that I am not able to research here in my study. The shortness of the foreshafts (or possible lack of any on some arrows?) and the overall shortness of the mainshafts is anomalous among most South American arrows, again unless these were intended for trade with tourists. The point forms lack some of the complex styles ("exuberant" is the term used by one researcher working with Agta foragers of the Philippines) used in Asia and New Guinea. South America is still a likely source for these arrows, but the oddities suggest a population in fairly consistent contact with outsiders. The short length is not uncommon among groups who trade forms of their arrows to outsiders. Additionally, giving up large pieces of steel is not usually seen among populations with restricted access to metal, but might be more common if people were living in proximity to outside sources of metal (or pre-made points made specifically for trade with indigenous groups). The lack of any wooden arrows in this group also suggests a source among Natives living in proximity to sources of metal. The arrows in Stuka f's illustration are all wooden-pointed forms, and are likely no older (and possibly more recent) than yours, simply indicating they probably came from a more remote community. The dominance of fishing arrows does argue in favor of a South American origin. Most Indigenous folks are more willing to exchange these forms of arrows than the lanceolate types that have the more valuable large pieces of steel. It appears the lanceolate points in your collection may not be of the largest dimensions seen in South American (or other regions') arrows. 

These arrows are not old. The lack of any wooden points at all in your assemblage suggest more recent origin. They most likely date to the early mid-20th century when significantly more travel occurred into indigenous areas, and this is true in many parts of South America where a range of individuals involved in oil exploration, exploitation of other forest products, assistance with development projects, or travel for fun were interested in obtaining Native crafts. Arrows are one of the most common items that visitors purchased or traded for, and South American Natives are much more willing to exchange arrows than almost any other technology (they are used in many groups quite commonly as a "currency" in trade relationships with other indigenous folks). Your source could very likely have been given these by another traveler without having gone to the location they are from, again as arrows are not that hard to obtain and someone returning would probably have more arrows than other kids of indigenous artifacts they got during their travels to give as gifts to family or friends. They also are not valuable, first because there is no clear provenience for them, and second arrows were such a common item to obtain in travel. I would urge you to be cautious in "refurbishing" your arrows. Inexpert "repairs" detract from the authenticity & any potential value of these items. I would suggest using small amounts of beeswax to stabilize some of the loose windings or re-attach the fletching. Beeswax is completely reversible and does not stain most plant materials. It is easy to work with if you pinch off small amounts and make it pliable from the heat in you fingers, pressing it onto the pieces you wish to hold down. Craft stores or fabric stores with diverse sewing materials will usually have small blocks of 100% beeswax. You may not want to completely stabilize all of the windings, you do want to be able to observe what the raw materials are for continued attempts at better identifying their provenience. The best way to display (or store) arrows is to support them in two places (one hook near the distal end to support the weight of the metal points) and hang them on the wall. This prevents additional warping,  keeps them away from insects on the floor, allows you to monitor their condition, and the visual display on a wall grabs peoples attention much more than a group of arrows leaning against a wall in a corner. They don't have to be completely level to help prevent warping, a slight angle gives the illusion of flight and yet keeps them from becoming more damaged. 

Sorry for such a long-winded diatribe without giving you what you really wanted to know. I'll continue to think about these arrows for a while and see if I can add any information useful to you. Welcome to GMIC & have fun with your arrows!

Edited by Rusty Greaves
correcting spell check changes

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now