This Death, You Did Not Want

Modern-day bullet, meet the medieval longbow
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted May 16, 2020 11:30 AM CDT

Rather be hit by an arrow than a bullet? A new study might make you think otherwise. Researchers at the University of Exeter have dug up human remains that confirm just how similar a medieval arrow was to a modern bullet, the Smithsonian reports. The study, published in Antiquaries Journal, looks at 22 bone fragments and three teeth found on land that was cleared for a new shopping center in Exeter, an English city about an hour southwest of Bristol. The remains were radiocarbon-dated to between 1284 and 1645 AD. "Physical evidence of weapon trauma in medieval burials is unusual, and evidence for trauma caused by arrowheads is exceptionally rare," the researchers write, adding that "arrow trauma is notoriously difficult to identify."

But one was clear: A skull showing what appears to be entry and exit wounds caused by an armor-piercing or "bodkin" arrowhead shaped like a diamond or square, per Analysis shows that the arrowhead likely left the skull, leaving the shaft stuck inside—at least until it was removed via the front of the skull. The arrow was probably fletched, or rigged with feathers, which made it spin counter-clockwise as many bullets do. Historians already knew that such arrows were fletched, but now there's evidence of clockwise spin. Articles on the study recall the power of medieval longbows during conflicts like the Battle of Crecy in 1346—in which English archers apparently fired 35,000 times per minute against the French, and beat a military force nearly twice their size. (More archaeology stories.)

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