'Significant' 500-Year-Old Hunting Bow Discovered in Alaskan Lake

A wooden hunting bow found preserved in an Alaskan lake is thought to be up to 500 years old, according to researchers.

The 54-inch bow was found in late September last year in good condition, albeit with some signs of biological growth after being exposed to the elements for hundreds of years.

National Park Service (NPS) employees found the bow in a lake in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in southwest Alaska. It was then sent to an NPS center in nearby Anchorage for analysis.

"From an archaeological perspective, the bow is quite a significant find," Jason Rogers, park archaeologist for Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, told Newsweek.

"No other archaeological bows are known from the Lake Clark region, or indeed from a radius of several hundred kilometers.

"The bow was found in shallow water. It was likely buried in fine alluvial sediments for an
unknown period of time, as sedimentation is still apparent on the artifact's surface. Both
the burial conditions and the cold fresh water helped to preserve the bow, and nearly
entirely prevented biological degradation."

Rogers also told Alaska news outlet KTUU that the bow was a "very rare" find since, in Alaska, land developments which often uncover archaeological artifacts are not as common as in some other parts of the world.

Research on the bow is ongoing, but this month researchers sent a sample of the bow for radiocarbon dating analysis—a method that provides age estimates for carbon-based materials by measuring how much of the atom Carbon-14 is present in a given sample and comparing this to a reference standard.

Results from the analysis suggest that the bow has a date range of between 1506 and 1660, making it approximately 460 years old.

As part of the research, NPS staff are also consulting with native American elders, comparing the bow with other items held in museums.

So far, the researchers think the bow is made of spruce. "Using the hand lens, there were certain anatomic characteristics that lead me to believe spruce is the most likely species," Priscilla Morris, wood biomass expert at the U.S. Forest Service, said in an NPS press release. "There is presence of sap along with a multitude of small knots."

In addition, the bow may represent a Yup'ik or Alutiiq style but this is not certain. Such a style was more common in Western Alaska or on the Alaska Peninsula than in the Lake Clark region, but Yup'ik speaking people have resided nearby and may have traded with the Dena'ina people who lived in Lake Clark National Park, according to an NPS press release.

Dena'ina (Alaska Native Athabaskan people) expert George Alexie told the NPS that his grandfather would tell him how bows would be made from trees that were bent due to wind, which would produce stronger wood—something that tallies with other cultural practices around the world.

On the bow's origins, Rogers told Newsweek: "This type of bow is completely dissimilar to traditional Dena'ina bows.

As far as typology and construction, the nearest analogues are from coastal southwest Alaska, in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, inhabited by Yup'ik peoples.

"Of course we know that pre-contact cultures were extremely mobile, and carried out extensive long-distance trade, warfare, intermarriage, etc. But it is still a fairly big surprise to find a Yup'ik style bow in a lake in the traditional Dena'ina homeland."

Until the researchers can look at a cut up sample of the bow underneath a microscope they have to rely on what they can see underneath a hand lens. The NPS called on community members or local elders to contact them with insight if they think they can help.

The NPS Lake Clark National Park and Preserve website states that if people find artifacts they should not remove it from the site. Instead, they should record their location either with GPS or using a map and photograph the item and surrounding area if they can before notifying a park ranger.

Other recent archaeological finds include a Roman mosaic in London, and a 4,000-year-old board game in Oman.

Research on the Alaskan bow
The bow, found in Alaska's Lake Clark National Park and Reserve, is inspected by Lake Clark archaeologist Jason Rogers and Alaska State archaeologist Rich VanderHoek. The bow is thought to be up to 500 years old. NPS/K. Myers