Thursday, January 20, 2005

Back to the Northern Seas

James Hornell, one of the leading experts on the history of seafaring in the 20th century suggested that a "South Seas" culture had managed to migrate throughout much of the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions during what he calls the "Maritime Phase" starting around 4,000 BC.

At this time, the weather was much warmer in the far northern regions than it is today. Hornell identified this culture based on the following similarities:

  • Ship construction with tongue and groove method, no nails (at least by Neolithic).
  • Ships had dual bifid ends and a double dugout and plank-built construction (Bronze Age possibly Mesolithic/Neolithic transition.
  • Vessels had high upturned ends (Bronze Age)
  • Hook-shaped thole pins were used instead of oar-ports (historical period)
  • The use of the "Oceanic" bailer (historical period)
  • The practice of ship burial (Bronze Age)
  • Funerary sacrifice rituals (Bronze Age)
  • The primary release bow and arrow (historical period)
  • Similar totemic prow design (Bronze Age)
  • The "ship of the dead" and serpent motifs (Bronze Age)
  • In some areas, the lashing of the frame to the hull with flexible cleats (possibly Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, Bronze Age)
  • The raising of megaliths (Neolithic, Bronze Age)

  • As can be seen, not all this evidence found by Hornell can necessarily be dated all the way back to 4,000 BC. Some other important links can be added this list to include:

  • Shellfish collection and building of shell mounds (Mesolithic-Neolithic transition)
  • Use of tattoos (Neolithic)
  • Long bow (Neolithic)
  • Composite, circular fish hooks, composite bows (from horn bow), Neolithic
  • Toggling harpoons, sometimes of a very specific morphology
  • Communal longhouses
  • Semi-subterranean dwellings
  • Sea mammal hunting
  • Quadrangular stone adzes
  • Use of jade and/or nephrite
  • Similar motifs, myths and folklore
  • In some areas particularly in northern Europe, evidence suggesting linguistic contact

  • Some of the earliest examples of this south to north transition, as we have already discussed, may date back to pre-Austronesian Jomon times. There is evidence though that these contacts did not vanish after the warm Maritime Phase mentioned by Hornell. Enough knowledge was retained of the northern areas within the Nusantao network to maintain links, and for periodic waves of contact or migration in both directions.

    We will discuss some elements of this northern maritime culture in detail starting with the bow and arrow.

    In the Churning of the Milky Ocean myth, one of the products of the sea is the Dhanu, or long bow. This becomes in particular the weapon of the god Visnu.

    In China, the "Yi" part of the ethnonym "Dong Yi" has been suggested to consist of a combination of the script signs ? meaning "large" or "great" and ? meaning "bow." Thus, 'Eastern people of the great bow."

    The long bow is particularly popular among forest or maritime people. Most bows in Southeast Asia and the Pacific are long bows. One of the most famous long bows is the Yumi of Japan, a composite wooden bow more than 2 meters (6 feet) long.

    There are some interesting similarities between bows in Southeast Asia and the Pacific with those of Japan, the Arctic and the Pacific Northwest. Some of these similarities may relate directly to developments of the pure horn bow.

    Pure horn bows occur infrequently in Asia but were rather regular on the island of Java. Horn bows are generally cut from water buffalo horn because of their length and compressibility. The pure horn bow may have given rise both to the reflex bow and the composite bow.

    The horn bow is always strung in the opposite direction of the natural curve as this is the only way to create sufficient tension. A bow strung like this is called a reflex bow. Although wooden and composite bows do not require this type of construction, a number of such reflex bows are found including those found among the Pacific Northwest Indians and the Andaman Islanders. Archery historican C.J. Longman thinks this may be a survival of a practice used previously in making pure horn bows.

    Longman also believes the pure horn bow led to the eventual development of the composite bow. Because of the difficulty in stringing bows using the reverse curve, they tend to be strung continuously leading to quick wear-and-tear. He believed the archer would try to mend the bows artifically:

    He would then restore them to their natural shape by running a thong along the back of the bow (the concave side when it is unstrung), which would be secured by being seized tightly at intervals along the bow, with transverse lashings. His thong would probably be made of animal sinew, and he would now find his bow restored to its former power, or perhaps something more. This picture of the actual course of events in the evolution of the composite bow is, of course, imaginary, and no doubt the ultimate result was, in fact, arrived at after many experiments and failures. Here, however, we have the groundwork of the weapon and the lines which are followed, in all the best types, the three main factors being:--

    (1) Horn, being a compressible material for the belly.
    (2) Wood as a stiffener, especially for the centre, and (as we shall see subsequently) for the ears.
    (3) Sinews, an elastic stretchable material for the back.

    No doubt it was a bow roughly made of these materials which ousted the primitive wooden bow throughout Asia, and spread through the lands of the Tschutshis of Eastern Siberia to the Eskimo of North America.

    Another morphological pecularity of the long bow that might give an indication of common origin is the widespread occurence of a groove at the end of the bow. In the vast majority of cases, the groove serves no practical purpose and even weakens the weapon.

    However, Longman mentions that Tongans and South American Indians bind an arrow in the groove -- a practical usage.

    The long bow tends to be used by peoples who still use the primary release. This type of release is the most natural one in which one holds the arrow between the thumb and the forefinger. One can often distinguish primary release arrows as they tend to have bulbous or scored ends that make griping easier. Primary release arrows are rather the rule in the Pacific and much of Southeast Asia.

    The arrows of this region are also distinguished by the composite use of bamboo shafts and hardwood foreshafts.

    The maritime cultures of the north probably used the bow often during sea hunting expeditions. Toggling harpoon arrowheads were used for this purpose attached to a retrieving line.

    Knobbed primary release arrows, Pacific Northwest Indian

    New Hebrides long bow

    Japanese long bow

    Philippine projectile weapons from Krieger, including 1) Ayta single-piece long bow, polished palmwood, Sambali, 2) Ayta single-piece, grooved heavy long bow, palmwood, Bisaya, 3) Bagobo palmwood bow bound in rattan, 4) Moro palmwood bow with cord of bamboo splint.

    Paul Kekai Manansala


    Krieger, Herbert W., "The Collection of Primitive Weapons and Armor of the Philippine Islands in the United States National Museum," Smithsonian Institution; United States National Museum, Bulletin 137 (1926).

    Longman, C.J. and Col. H. Walrond, Badminton Library of Sports: Archery. New York, F. Ungar Pub. Co., 1967.