A 5-6,000-year-old arrow

Arrow shaft

86 cm long arrow shaft with remains of wrapping for attachment of fletchings


In November 2013, during the excavation to the east of Rødbyhavn, a very well preserved Stone Age arrow was found.


One of the greatest challenges for the archaeologists is when the excavator with its heavy shovel digs out fragile, well-preserved organic artefacts, which can be damaged at the slightest touch. It is therefore important to spot these objects before the shovel peals them away.

One very astute archaeologist is Norwegian Terje Stafseth, whose eagle eye misses nothing. "Two of us were walking by the machine, competing to find flake axes, when in a flash, Terje jumps forward, stopping by the excavator, the enormous shovel of which has just dug out a long, thin horizontally positioned wooden stake, which was lying at the bottom of a gyttja layer.

Had the shovel scraped a few millimetres deeper, it would have peeled the stake away. Time stops, and exultation is clear in Terje's eyes. "It looks like an arrow," he exclaims, and quite right: the stake was completely identical to the idea of the shape of an arrow shaft. It is an indescribably exciting find situation; in this moment, the rain and the cold mean nothing; all of one's thoughts and notions race back to antiquity, and you can hardly wait to get down on your knees and get to the arrow shaft, which lies there beaming in the dark grey, foul-smelling gyttja, completely exposed," says archaeologist Erling Mario Madsen.


A Stone Age hunting tool

The actual 86 cm long arrow shaft was incredibly well preserved; it was hard to believe that it could be 6-5000 years old.


The actual nock end is coloured black, and remains of plant fibres / bast thread are wound around the shaft. The winding has no doubt been used as securing material to attach the arrow's fletching feathers. The black colour can also be interpreted as being traces of the adhesive material (birch tar) used to glue the fletching feathers onto the arrow.


Cleaning of arrow

The arrow is carefully cleaned before it is made ready to be picked up.


Unfortunately, the excavator had peeled away the tip with a possible arrowhead, which could not be found again in the large heap of earth. So, sadly, the arrowhead type is not known. On the other hand, a considerable number of transverse arrowheads have been found, as the only arrowhead type in the locality, and quite close to the arrow shaft, three transverse arrowheads emerged.


Securing the arrow

Once the arrow shaft had been exposed, it was carefully taken up in a preparation. This means that the archaeologists dug out a balk in which the arrow was found, pushed a plate under the balk, poured water onto the wood, wrapped the arrow in cling film, wet kitchen roll, then cling film again, and finally, it was all wrapped up in several layers of plaster. The arrow was subsequently sent off for conservation. A number of scientific analyses will also be carried out on the arrow, so that the type of wood can be identified, and the arrow can be dated.


Archaeologists removiing arrow in a preparation

In order to ensure the best possible protection, the archaeologists remove the arrow in a preparation so that it can be sent off for conservation, dating and scientific analyses.


The characteristic transverse arrows, which were the most commonly used type towards the end of the Mesolithic Age and the beginning of the Neolithic Age ca. 5400 BC - 3400 BC, were highly effective due to the great impact of their sharp, wide edge. They were also easy to produce. The actual transverse arrowhead was attached as a point on arrow shafts for the period's most important hunting weapons: bow and arrow, which would have been indispensable when hunting both big and small game.


Similar arrows have been found near Rosnæs Skov woods and Tybrind Vig cove on Funen and in the West Jutland Tværmose bog. These are arrow shafts made of long, straight-boled shoots from the guelder rose or of split pinewood or ash wood.


Reconstruction of arrowhead

Reconstruction of transverse arrowhead by Jørgen Andersen, Museum Sønderjylland - Archaeology Haderslev