In 1889 Henry Balfour, who worked at the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford delivered a paper to the June 25th meeting of the Anthropological Institute in London. This was later published as 'On the structure and affinities of the composite bow' in The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. 19, (1890), pp. 220-250.

In Pitt-Rivers' papers held by Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum there are a series of handwritten and typed drafts, first the speech he gave (or intended to give) after the lecture and secondly drafts of the published response to the paper, published after Balfour's papers on pages 246-250.

Here is a transcription of the response to the lecture (which was not published) [P62]:

General Pitt-Rivers remarks on Mr Balfour's paper on the Composite Bow

If I have listened with some interest to this paper, it has not been without surprise that I have heard the remarks which Mr Balfour has made in the opening portion of it, to the effect that what has previously been written on the subject, has been characterized by vagueness and superficiality. Such an announcement, may naturally be expected to be the forerunner of the revelation, that the author of it, has comparatively little to say beyond which has already been said by others.

Mr Balfour has been employed for some years, to arrange and extend the collection, which I presented to the University of Oxford; and as no one has written previously upon the distribution of the bow, or introduced in any way, the subject of the Composite bow, except myself, his remarks can refer to nothing else, than the published description of the distribution of the bow, which previously to its being sent to Oxford, was contained in my catalogue raisonné. Mr Balfour has given some additional details relating to the construction of the Composite bow, which are of interest, and which I should have hailed with satisfaction, if they had been associated with some sufficient and reasonable acknowledgement of what I had done, in introducing what was then an entirely new subject, to the consideration of anthropologists. It is of course true, that accounts have been given by various travellers whom Mr Balfour has quoted,of this particular form of bowl, in different parts of the world: and it is only from the accounts of such travellers, that we can obtain the information we require. But previously to the formation of my collection, and the publication of my catalogue of it, no one had, to my knowledge, written at all upon the distribution of the bow, as an anthropological study.

What we anthropologists require, is not so much a description of mechanical details, however interesting, as the evidence derived from them, of the spread of like ideas in prehistoric times, and of connections which may be taken to mark trade routes, or the contact of tribes and nations, in times anterior to history. If anyone will take the trouble to read my remarks in the six pages of catalogue which relate to the composite bow they will find that I developed the subject so far as to go over nearly all, if not the whole of the ground, which Mr Balfour has covered in his paper. [Pitt-Rivers discusses his own conclusions, claiming that he had termed the phrase 'composite bow' in his catalogue for the first time] ... The amount of illustration that could be given to my remarks, were limited by the South Kensington authorities, by whom the catalogue was published, and by the space available in form of a catalogue: although I had always announced my intention of giving a more full account of it when time permitted. It is true that Mr Balfour does me the honour of mentioning my name in connection with a part of my subject, in a remote corner of his paper. But it is at all times desirable that young Gentlemen should acquire the habit of giving due credit to those who have preceded them, which is a part of good manners that might advantageously be taught at Oxford [handwritten insert] to those who read it [end insert]. The particular exception that I take to Mr Balfour's shortcomings in this respect arise from the peculiarity of his position, and the nature of his employment, which makes it especially incumbent in him to be conscientious in any part that he may have to take in developing the uses of the Museum.

Final handwritten draft of the published response to Balfour's paper [S&SWM PR papers P65]:

Mr. Balfour's paper has been sent to me for my remarks, but I regret that having since been engaged in a tour of Inspection of Ancient Monuments for the Government, I have not had time to do more than read it over cursorily. It appears to have been much modified since it was read before the Institute.

The subject of the distribution of the bow formed part of the developmental series of objects which I presented to the University of Oxford in 1884, and as Mr. Balfour has been charged with the superintendence of my collection since the lamented illness of Professor Moseley, he has had an opportunity of studying the collection and of accumulating additional evidence about the specimens contained in it. The bow occupied 15 fifteen pages of my descriptive catalogue of the weapon department of my museum, which went through two editions in the hands of the South Kensington Authorities, before the collection was presented to Oxford, and of these, six pages were devoted to the class of bow to which I gave the name of composite in order to distinguish it from the plain bow. The general idea that I endeavoured to give expression to in connection with the composite bow was, that it probably originated through necessity in a region in which suitable elastic woods for the plain bow were not to be procured; because it is used exclusively in the north, in which part of the wourld world such woods do not, or in early times, probably did not grow in great profusion; because it is quite unknown in southern and tropical regions where such woods do grow habitually, and also because there is distinct evidence that in India and Chinese China the use of the composite bow came in from the north. Supposing that this class of bow was adopted through necessity, from the absence of proper wood for making a plain bow, and that it was of very early origin, then, as we know that, in times following the Drift period, the cold region, in which nothing but drift wood could be obtained, extended much further south than is the case at present; and we have also evidence that the Esquimaux in some places now adopt this form of bow because they can get no better, and that people resembling the Esquimaux in their arts and implements are known to have inhabited as far south as the French caves, the same cause may have led to its adoption in early times further south in the world and in places where no necessity for such a makeshift exists at the present time. The perishable materials of which the composite bow is composed make it impossible to trace its history by means of ancient specimens. In the case of bronze and stone implements we are enabled to arrange them with some certainty in the order in which they were invented or introduced, bat in the case of objects so subject to decay as the bow, and especially the composite bow, it is only by means of survivals that we can form any conjecture as to the order in which they arose; and this is always an uncertain process, because degeneration of form is as prevalent in all the arts of life as improvement. In nearly all arts it is possible to obtain and arrange specimens so as to represent continuous stages of perfection or imperfection arising as much from carelessness in manufacture, want of intelligence, or the absence of suitable materials on the one hand, as from the exercise of inventive genius, increased skill, or increased facility for obtaining better materials or more perfect tools on the other hand. No certain clue can be arrived at as to whether the several objects are to be regarded as successive links in an ascending or a, descending scale. The hypothesis I put forward provisionally with respect to the composite bow, and which Mr. Balfour appears to have adopted, was, that the Esquimaux bow, consisting of separate pieces put together with rivets, strengthened and rendered elastic either by means of numerous strands of sinews tied on at the back, or of sinews formed into a stout cord and bound on upon the convex side, represented the survival of the earliest form of the composite bow, which primeval man, in the absence of a better class of weapon, was compelled to form in order to serve his purpose as a bow. That the bows in which, like those of the Californian Indians and other tribes of the north-west coast of America, the sinew instead of being formed into a strong cord or numerous small strands at the back, is spread over the back in thin layers and glued on to it, represents an improved form which all must have gone through before they developed into the more advanced form of Tatar, Indian, Persian, and Chinese bows, in which the sinews or other elastic materials besides being spread over and glued to the back, are bound up and covered over with bark or some other suitable substance, so as to give it the appearance of a single piece like the plain bow. I also showed that the connection between the Chinese bow and the bow of the Western Esquimaux is rendered certain by the adoption in both, of the curved back straight pieces at the ends, which Mr. Balfour terms "ears," united to the body of the bow, at an angle or elbow, the particular use of which is not very clear, though its influence on the flight of the arrow may be conjectured. The probability of its being a form of some special use is made more likely by the fact of its having been adopted in India with the steel bow, made entirely of one piece of that metal, and consequently not a necessary adjunct of any composite construction of the weapon; unless indeed it was adopted in the steel bow through sheer unreasoning conservatism, like so many survivals in the material arts. I think, however, that this form may have a tendency to draw the bow-string taut in the direction of its length during the release, and thereby possibly to increase the initial velocity of the arrow. But there is another point connected with the origin of this class of bow into which Mr. Balfour has not entered. He has given detailed descriptions of some varieties in the construction of the composite bow, but he has not said anything about the advantages which the different changes and additions were destined to achieve; yet each variety must either have been intended as an improvement, or must have been introduced through some unknown conditions affecting the craft of the bowyer. If we could get at these we should be in a better position to appreciate the causes of the variations and the spread of the different varieties. In my catalogue I endeavoured to collect a few facts relating to the performances of these two classes of bow in respect of range and accuracy. It is not an easy matter to obtain reliable information on the subject, for the users of the long bow have never been proverbial for the accuracy of their statements concerning it. In the early part of my professional career as Chief Instructor of Musketry, I had considerable experience in the methods of testing the range and accuracy of missile weapons, and I am well aware how much care would be required for such an investigation. Yet the information is not altogether inaccessible, and from what I was able to gather, the composite bow does not appear to be a superior, but, if anything, an inferior weapon to the plain bow, when made of the proper wood and in skilful hands. We know how tenaciously the soldiers of our own country clung to the long bow for some time after the first introduction of fire-arms, and how many works were published in praise of it at that time. But this has an important bearing on the origin of the composite bow, which, being of more complex structure, must certainly be of later introduction. No one could would have originated the idea of piecing together several bits of hard unbendable material, and giving them elasticity by means of sinews or hide, unless they had previously been acquainted with the use of the plain bow. It must either have been done through necessity or by way of improvement, and upon this depends the question whether it was introduced in a primitive or an advanced stage of the arts. If the composite bow has any material advantages over the plain bow, then there is no occasion to bring in necessity as the cause of its origin. It may have been intended to give increased initial velocity or greater range or momentum to the arrow; it may have been a means of producing equal power with a reduced length of bow thereby adapting it better to be used on horseback, and it may have been regarded in its day as a triumph of mechanical ingenuity, in which case the Western Esquimaux bow with its stout cord at the back, and the Eastern Esquimaux bow with its numerous strands of sinews bound on behind, the North West Coast bow with its adhesive backing, and the various descriptions of Asiatic bows which Mr. Balfour has introduced into his paper, may be degenerate copies of the more perfect weapon. Perhaps the observation of Sir Edward Belcher that the Esquimaux in their construction of this bow, appeared always to have the Tatar form in view, and the observed fact that the nearer the American tribes to the Asiatic continent, the closer their bow resembles the Tatar form, may be taken as an argument in favour of this view. But if, on the other hand, it can be shown that the composite bow, even in its most perfect form, never exceeded or equalled the plain bow in its performances, it is evident that no one would have taken the trouble to construct the more complicated bow with its numerous contributory processes, when they could have obtained a more powerful weapon by simply employing a bent stick. On this hypothesis it would be reasonable to regard necessity rather than improvement as the cause of its introduction, and to assume that it may probably have come into being lower down in the scale of civilization and at an earlier period in the history of the world's inventions, and the various forms now in use in different parts of the world may represent successive stages of improvement rather than downward steps in the decline of the art. In this, as in all the arts, the various stages, whether of improvement or decline, co-exist in different places at the same time. They are like geological formations cropping out on the surface: like different species of animals representing different stages of development occupying different areas at the same time; [insert] or [end insert] like the dialects and families of languages co-existing and showing affinities for each other, yet not derived from one another, but from earlier and perhaps undiscoverable originals. But it is evident that the bow cannot be studied apart from its performances, and that the causes as well as the results of the variations will have to be taken into consideration, if we are ever to have an exhaustive treatise on the bow, similar to that which Sir Richard Burton has written for the sword. My own contribution to the subject was nothing more than an introduction to the study of the bow contained within the limits of a descriptive catalogue, and included as part of a series of other developments which my museum was collected to throw light upon. The museum contained eighty-two specimens of bows, of which twenty-two were composite bows, and the number was somewhat increased before the collection was presented to the University. But the amount of illustration in my catalogue was limited by the South Kensington Authorities, by whom it was published, and was totally inadequate to display the collection properly. Mr. Balfour has gone into much greater detail, and although he has not, I think, extended the known area of distribution of the several varieties, he has contributed materially to a more thorough knowledge of their construction. It is also satisfactory to me to find that his researches have done nothing to discredit the views that I at first held, but have rather confirmed them, and I trust he will be encouraged to take up hereafter an original subject of his own, for nearly all the arts of life are capable of the same developmental treatment, and the field that is open for the curator of a museum of evolution, such as I have endeavoured to establish at Oxford, is almost unlimited. In a museum so designed and arranged, no halting place is possible: it must [insert] itself [end insert] develop as the series of objects contained in it have developed; new series will have to be introduced, and old series must be extended, modified, and the superfluous objects tending to confuse the sequence of their development must be eliminated. Other museums will have to be established containing other series suitable to the localities in which they are situated, for no single museum can possibly contain specimens illustrating the continuous growth of all the arts and contrivances of mankind.

Transcribed by AP August 2011.

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