Neolithic and Bronze Age archery equipment from alpine ice-patches: A review on components, construction techniques and functionality

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Jürgen Junkmanns
Johanna Klügl
Werner H. Schoch
Giovanna Di Pietro
Albert Hafner


The alpine ice-patch sites of Tisenjoch (I), Schnidejoch and Loetschenpass (CH) brought to light the most complete archery equipments known from the European Prehistory. Bows were simple self bows made from yew (Taxus baccata) or elm wood (Ulmus sp.) of different types, but always of man-tall size. The manufacturing process can be described from several finds of unfinished bow blanks, as in the case of the Tisenjoch. Neolithic arrows were made from shoots of hazel (Corylus avellana), guelder rose (Viburnum sp.) or other hardwoods. They were straightened by heat and generally longer and thicker as modern sporting arrows for increased weight and penetration power. Their fletching of three split feathers was practically the same as it is still used today. Bowstrings are extremely rare in European archaeological sites, only two assured samples are known to date, coming from the Tisenjoch and the Schnidejoch ice-patches. They were made from animal sinew fibres which will not be preserved in non-frozen sites. Although there almost certainly was a need for a protective cover of the bow against bad weather, there is only one example of a Neolithic bow case known to date. The cover, made from water resistant birch bark and a little longer as the bow which was carried inside, was found on Schnidejoch. It incorporates a carrying system of leather straps which enabled the user to wear it over the shoulder, keeping the hands free for other tasks. It is supposed that other bow cases which very probably existed in the neolithic, were made from animal hide or leather which would not survive in waterlogged sites. That there were protective carrying devices for archery gear is testified by the leather arrow quiver found on Tisenjoch and by numerous ethnographic and historic examples.

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Junkmanns, Jürgen, Johanna Klügl, Werner H. Schoch, Giovanna Di Pietro, and Albert Hafner. 2019. “Neolithic and Bronze Age Archery Equipment from Alpine Ice-Patches: A Review on Components, Construction Techniques and Functionality”. Journal of Neolithic Archaeology 21 (December), 283–314.