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What is the CECD? 
The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 1: Cultural innovation and transmission: Project 025
Comparative Study of Archery Technology in the Archaeological Record
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SUPERVISOR: - Stephen Shennan

Kevan Edinborough (Archaeology and First Nations Studies , Simon Fraser University)


This project aims to analyse the material record concerning the introduction and development of the bow, as a functionally advantageous projectile weapon system. Bow-arrow technology is under-researched in both New and Old World contexts. Tricky questions abound, such as ‘how can you distinguish between archery and other types of projectile weapons archaeologically’, ‘how was diet breadth affected?’, ‘is there related material evidence for an increase or decrease in rates of inter/intra-group conflict?’.

Edinborough has collected a significant metric data set concerning well-dated Near Eastern ‘archer’s thumbrings’, representing a geographically circumscribed diachronic ‘bow-string-grip-release tradition’. These rings originated from archaeological contexts in Luristan, Persia, and Turkey. His aim was to statistically analyse diachronic variation and change to functional/adaptive and non functional/drift trait-lineages, by using extant engineering studies in combination with statistical techniques such as principal component analysis and the corrected coefficient of variation. The results indicated that there may be good evidence for a very long (3000 years +) tradition of the so called ‘Mongolian thumb-release’ - notably in Persia – an arrow-release technique closely related to the transmission of specialised/functionally powerful ‘composite bow’ manufacture and use.

Edinborough’s work has since focused upon analysing evolutionary changes within trait lineages of actual lithic projectile armatures themselves. Having worked out a recording strategy for a group of geographically and temporally related Scandinavian Mesolithic settlements, he has assembled a large data-set of well-contextualised armature information.

Edinborough travelled to Scandinavia in 2002 to study collections at the National Museum of Denmark, and the southern Swedish National Heritage Board in Malmö. Quantitative and qualitative data were gathered from a linked series of outstandingly well-contextualised lithic projectile-point assemblages. Over 3600 complete Mesolithic projectile points, from eight sites with a total of fourteen stratigraphically sealed archaeological phases, were weighed, measured and scanned into computer. The points are mainly from the under-published Middle Mesolithic 'Kongemosen' period of southern Scandinavia, some 8000-7000 years ago.

Over 200 radio carbon dates, osteological counts, and pollen data have been collated for these sites. Edinborough is now constructing the most probable time series for the various phases that contain projectile point data. His method uses the modelling facilities in the OXCAL statistical package. Initial results are very promising, and provide a test for the traditional culture historical sequences. Edinborough is now overlaying the continuous trait variables from the point data across all the sites and phases. He will analyse traits that 'move' towards and away from the projectile-point design optimums - hypothesised using extant experimental engineering studies. The aim is to explain variation in these specific point lineages in terms of selection, drift, and innovation rate processes.