A 5-6,000-year-old arrow
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 transverse arrowhead by
Jørgen Andersen, Museum Sønderjylland - Archaeology Haderslev