What is it about?

This article describes experiments to reassess the penetrating performance of multi-blade arrow points from the early Iron Age. The results help explain why three-blade arrow points, invented on the steppes, became so popular in the ancient world.

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Why is it important?

Experiments using representative target media - here thick tooling leather as an analog for leather body armor - are essential for revealing how projectiles performed. A prior experiment using clay as a target medium did not accurately capture arrow point performance on ancient battlefields. Understanding advances in weapon technology is key to interpreting why and how they spread in the ancient world. Our results suggest that the spread of arrow point types is not simply a product of migrating ethnic groups, but a technological innovation on the battlefield.


I find this research important for heading-off potential misinterpretations of the archaeological record. Archaeological experiments can be extremely useful to building a better understanding of the past, but only when they are representative of ancient tools and tool use. Achieving effective representation can be met in multiple ways, and all ways are lacking in some way or another. Ours is lacking because its a limited experiment, carried out in a lab with variable control, not in the field with actual bows and arrows. However, we do show how using more appropriate targets can lead to drastically different conclusions about the archaeological record.

Assistant Professor Devin Pettigrew
Sul Ross State University

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This page is a summary of: Reassessing the terminal ballistic performance of trilobate and quadrilobate arrow points on Iron Age battlefields, PLoS ONE, July 2023, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0288483.
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