Curator's Choice

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The Independent Culture
My choice is a broken 6000-year-old yew bow, found in 1991 in the Tweedsmuir Hills. It appeals to me not only as a classic example of archaeological serendipity, but also because it records a precise human event - the breakage and discard of a valuable weapon.

It was found by Dr Dan Jones, a psychiatrist. He spotted it sticking from a peat hag and took it home without realising what it was. From then on, each new discovery increased its importance. It is only the second prehistoric bow to be found in Scotland, and the seventh in Britain and Ireland. A fragment was radiocarbon dated and found to date between 4040-3640 BC. This makes it the oldest bow in Britain and Ireland, and amongst the oldest in the world.

The bow is also important as the earliest specimen of yew in Scotland. A palaeoenvironmental project, sponsored by Bulmers Strongbow, has been established to investigate whether yew had been growing locally and to reconstruct the landscape history of the area.

Having acquired it as a key exhibit for the new Museum of Scotland (opening 1998), we had a replica made and tested using Mesolithic and Neolithic-type arrows. Bowyer Steve Ralphs remarked on the maker's skill and sophistication in exploiting the natural qualities of the unseasoned yew branch, using only the simplest tools.

It was originally a 1.74 metre long flatbow. Although only a third to a sixth as powerful as one of Henry VIII's Mary Rose fighting longbows, it was ideal for close-range hunting.

Alison Sheridan is Assistant Keeper of Archaeology in the National Museums of Scotland. The Museum of Antiquities is open Mon- Sat 10-5, Sun 12-5. Queen St, Edinburgh EH2

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