Medieval arrows caused similar injuries to modern-day gunshots
New archaeological evidence shows the injuries caused by medieval arrows are similar to gunshot wounds caused today. The newly discovered bones supporting this were found in a Dominican friary in Exeter. The bones harbour the wounds of a longbow arrow shot through the skull, leaving behind small entry holes and large exit wounds.
“These results have profound implications for our understanding of the power of the medieval longbow”.Professor Oliver Creighton , Lead archaeologist on this project from the University of Exeter
Exeter Archaeology excavated the Dominican Friary burial grounds between 1997 and 2007 in order for the Princesshay shopping centre to be built. The burial ground was reserved for the brethren and the wealthiest of the population, most notably Sir Henry Pomeroy (d. 1281) and Sir Henry de Ralegh (d. 1301). The human remains analysed in this discovery were comprised of 22 bone fragments and three teeth. The bones form a nearly complete cranium showing a puncture wound just above the right eye and a larger exit wound on the back of the skull.
The use of longbow arrows in English history is infamous, it was key to medieval military success. In the Bayeux tapestry there is an image showing King Harold with an arrow shot through his eye. However, evidence from physical bones is limited. Professor Creighton also comments on the significance of death by arrow wounds to the skull in medieval society: “Clerical writers sometimes saw the injury as a divinely ordained punishment”.
The research team, based at the University of Exeter, concluded that the arrow was spinning clockwise upon impact. Further, they believe that the arrowhead was capable of piercing armour, known as the ‘bodkin’ arrowhead. This suggests that the remains are those of a man killed in military action. Medieval arrows have been long-known to be able to spin in order for stability in flight and accuracy. The puncture wound found in these new remains however, expands on this and suggests that the arrow was designed to spin clockwise. This mirrors gun manufacturing, in which barrels are designed in order for bullets to spin clockwise. Their findings were published in the Antiquaries Journal.
Editor: Elen Johnston