Cross My Heart, This Is My Crossbow: An Allohistorical Tale of Amerindian Arbalists

Invention
Cross My Heart, This Is My Crossbow

An Allohistorical Tale of Amerindian Arbalists

Amerindian Arbalists title card.jpg


INVENTION

----


mid 10th century AD, North America, spring



During the first few weeks, he struggled with the sudden twist of fate he now had to live with. Possibly to the end of his days. The medicine man and his friends did the best they could. His leg had healed enough that he could eventually stand up, then walk. But walk with a pronounced, distinct limp. Even though they fashioned a wooden crutch for him and often helped him with walking, whenever he needed to get somewhere quicker, he still felt rather helpless.

Though he was a calm and patient soul, like any bowyer should be, his predicament unnerved him like few things had before. He didn't show it much, but at times, he felt a pent up blend of anger and disappointment quietly brewing within himself. Some had merely thought him cranky from time to time and humoured him, only to receive annoyed glares. Others noticed his silent grief and did take pity on him. A few of these tried to come up with ways to take his mind off of this small, but all the more impactful personal tragedy. He both welcomed and disliked that pity, fittingly for the torn feelings he experienced.

In time, he tried to get used to his new situation. The other villagers generally did their best to make him feel comfortable and supported, even if many were unsure how to deal with his anguish over the wound that caused his now permanent limp. He knew they genuinely meant well. All the more that he was long considered the most skillful bowyer in the village. While others also manufactured and repaired bows and arrows, few could even approach his level of craft. Hardly surprising, as it was something passed onto him since childhood by his late, equally skilled father.

The fact that his neighbours still required bow-related craftsmanship every now and then, regardless of his injury, gave him some semblance of hope. Yes, he can't go on hunting trips anymore, nor can he help with fighting off the occassional raiders and attackers, but he can still be a craftsman. His neighbours and most people in the village get along well with him, and are supportive. Bows need regular maintenance, a few new ones need to be fashioned every now and then... He might not be the youngest at this point, but he's still far from an elderly man, and his talent can continue to shine. He won't just sit in a corner, reliant on the charity and kindness of others. He can still walk, though slowly and with difficulty, and his two arms and hands are all right. To get back into daily life, he has to start working again, and it'll surely take his mind off things.

Though still worried about what the future will bring, now that his life had taken such an unpleasant turn due to the serious injury, he was determined not to give up. Surely he still has many years ahead of him, many years filled with creating wonderful and useful items that others will appreciate, just as they always have. Spring is here in full bloom, summer will arrive soon... The year is at the height of its hospitable nature, so why not seize that opportunity ? He can begin again.

----

The neighbour had asked for a new ashen bow, one of a more medium size. His old bow had cracked a while ago, and despite careful repairs to the small crack, continued to slowly splinter in recent weeks. The neighbour figured it wasn't worth it waiting until the selfbow snaps and hits him with splinters in the face, so he dismantled it and used the bow as firewood. After fetching the bowyer the wood he asked for, the limping bowyer got to work.

Though this had been one of many new bows he had crafted over the years, each bow always felt like a brand new experience, hardly a thing of routine. Despite his middle age and some romantic escapades with pretty ladies in his youth, he hadn't taken a wife and married yet. Something other members of the tribe gently ribbed him about, from time to time. "He has his mind full of bowstrings, sinew and carved wood, a married life would be a distraction to him, no doubt...", giggled the neighbours occassionally, while he grinned and waved a hand dismissively. He knew there was no mean-spiritedness to their words, and he had gotten used to others' curiosity about his loneliness. As he had no children of his own, he often liked to think of every bow he hand-crafted as his own peculiar offspring. Inanimate, perhaps, but it received all the love and attention a parent would give to their child.

His old habit while tillering the bow was to work outside. A few years ago, he had a a smaller, younger tree cut down. It had a fine, straight, arm-thick trunk. After debranching the trunk into a simple wooden post, he burried the lower third into the ground. The post made from the trunk stood vertically near his hovel, nice and straight. Then he proceeded to modify the post into a simple tillering device, useful for bows of various size and draw weights. He fashioned the upper end of the trunk into a shape resembling a shallow trough. This allowed the post to better anchor the bowstave under manufacture, preventing it from sliding off. Finally, he made the all-important tillering grooves into one side of the trunk, all carefully measured in roughly equal, regular distances from each other. After every longer session of carving the limbs, he limped to the tillering post. He put the bow in place and tested the bending of the limbs and the stretching limits of the bowstring. All individual bow woods had their limits. There was no point in manufacturing each and every one to the greatest possible extent of the grooves on the tiller. Even a weaker, but well-balanced bow could still pack a punch.

----

It was a fine, though somewhat boring day for him. Work on the new bow was progressing well, and he was starting to get a little hungry and thirsty.
The bow was placed on top of the tillering post, and the bowstring was currently pulled down and placed all the way into one of the lower grooves. The limbs already seemed rather even, but he still needed to tiller them down just a bit more... He carefully grabbed the bowstring and slowly pulled it from the groove and released it slowly upward. He payed close attention not to tense the bow more than it needed to be. With the bowstring now back in an idle, neutral position, he felt it was time to get some food and rest.
He left the bow mounted on top of the tillering post, as he limped away to his hut, propped up on his wooden crutch.

A boy from a family nearby, one of his immediate neighbours, had an interest in the bowyer's workplace. At most nine summers old, the boy had a growing interest in bows for a while now, and had been naturally drawn to the older man's work. In the past, he had occassionally stopped by and asked the man how things were going. Occassionally, the bowyer would exchange a few words with him, or laconically provided a quick reply to a question related to his daily work.

Ever since he had gotten injured and started limping, even opportunities like that had slowly dried up. He wasn’t exactly interested in other people bothering him, least of all a little boy. The boy didn't know that much about people older than him, other than his own parents, but he did realise the bowyer is probably sad because of his injury. Thinking about it with his young mind, it was somewhat hard for him to comprehend what that must feel like, not being able to run around and enjoy life in a greater way, but he was still at a loss of what it was really like.

That didn't discourage the boy from seeking a new opportunity, any opportunity, to approach that workplace. Though bowmaking was a craft, no magic, to a young and curious mind, it might as well have been magical.

Seeing that the bowyer had decided to take a bit of rest, this felt like the perfect opportunity to the boy. The time was ripe, ripe like his favourite berry bushes in the summer. He snuck over to the workplace slowly and carefully, eyes peeled for the bowyer returning from his hut. So far, things seemed calm. He could snoop around the bowyer's work space, rummage through all manner of wonderful and interesting tools and things.

Two things caught his eye almost immediately: A completed arrow, maybe used for test-shooting. And a new bow being fashioned by the bowyer, currently mounted atop a tillering post. Funny, thought the boy, he just left it up there.

The boy became curious. Looking around whether the limping bowyer isn't coming outside of his hut, he decided he wants to try something. Something that the adults would probably never allow him to do, under the usual circumstances. He picked up the arrow, walked over to the tillering post.

Quietly, he giggled to himself. I wonder how high it could fly, he pondered.

He started pulling back on the bowstring, towards one of the tillering grooves. The bow was rather strong, his child arms and hands could barely handle pulling it to higher draw weights. Finally, he managed to pull the string back into one of the middle-distance grooves. He then pulled a very tiny part of the bowstring out of the groove, placed the nock of the arrow in that section of the bowstring, and started slowly releasing the string.

The boy was so focused on his curious little experiment, that he didn't notice the footsteps and the thuds of a wooden crutch, both outside the hut now and fast approaching.

"Heyyy !" yelled the bowyer and angrily waved a piece of wood he was holding.
The boy turned around hastily, in a panic, noticing him.
"What are you doing there, boy ?! Leave that be !" the bowyer shouted and started limping faster towards the tillering post.
The boy, surprised by the bowyer’s return and confused, quickly let go of the bowstring and ran.
"You... little !" growled the bowyer, but the boy was swift-footed and had already disappeared behind the nearest hut.
The bowyer looked upwards. The arrow, borrowed by the boy and shot upwards when he released the bowstring and started running away, was now descending back to earth. Turning downward, falling down arrowhead-first, the bowyer winced as the arrow approached the ground. The arrowhead bore into the soft soil, the shaft of the arrow tipped over. Falling to the ground, the arrow kicked up a tiny cloud of dust.
"Ooh ! Careful there..." he heard the voice of a female neighbour, passing by, holding a small basket of squash. He turned to her, just in time to notice she's grinning a bit. "If you’re going to be trying out new bows by shooting upward, take care to avoid those arrows falling on our heads."
He wanted to protest that it wasn’t his fault, that little rascal was behind it, but he decided to reply only with a mild frown and a quiet nod. As she left the scene, he turned his gaze towards the bow. When the boy shot from it upward, the shock had sent the bow jumping slightly upward, and it had fallen out of the trough-like upper end of the tillering post. Now the bow was lying on the ground next to the trunk. It looked all right, but he wasn't sure.

These children and their foolish games... he thought, annoyed.
He limped closer to the tillering post, and carefully bent forward and downward to pick the bow up from the ground.
That insolent little rascal... Straining the bow I’ve been working on so hard... he grumbled in his mind.
Leaning against his wooden crutch, he looked the bow over. Every single surface, bend, curve, the state of the bowstring... It all seemed all right, undamaged.
Thankfully !, he thought. He didn't dislike children at all, he was quite the playful and cheeky imp back when he was a little boy, some thirty or more summers ago. The boy's antics had still angered him, though. If he wasn't a more charitable man, he'd be entertaining ideas of catching the boy when he passes near his workplace, and giving him a proper spanking.

Recalling the events that occured just a little while ago, he was suddenly struck by a certain notion. It was just vague and indistinct at first, but rather than let it run away, he decided to follow that train of thought like a crafty predator pursues his prey... He was onto something, and it was becoming clearer. The idea was on the tip of his tongue, just one or more details were missing...

Perhaps in some other timeline of the myriad timelines of the multiverse, he would have let go of that not yet fully formed idea. Dismissed it as unimportant, or a folly, like many things that cross a person's mind on a daily basis. This was not that timeline, not that universe.

He propped the arrow against the tillering post, so he could launch it better... Then he released the string from that particular groove. Interesting.

Though he intended to continue work on the nearly finished new bow, he felt overcome by a strange curiosity. One so powerful, almost overwhelming, one he hadn't experienced since the accident. Or even for a long time before the accident.

Once he completes the current work, he's going to try something. Something he hadn't tried before, or even thought about. Purely out of curiosity. He felt that he was onto something. Maybe something outright useful. And if not... Well, at least he would have given it a try.

----

The next day, the boy walked over to the bowyer.
"I’m not here to bother you."
"Then why are you here ?" the man asked calmly, concentrated on his work.
"I came to apologise. What I did wasn’t right. I’m sorry I angered you."
The bowyer raised his eyes to the boy, his expression serious but kind.
"Thank you. But don’t do it again. It’s not about me being angry. I’m just worried the new bow I promised to a neighbour would get broken. I’ve already put quite a bit of work into it."
He paused for a moment, sniffled, as if deep in thought.
"They found me a good stave. Very even ash. The bow’s coming along nicely," he explained further.
"What are you doing now ?" asked the boy, sounding genuinely curious, looking at a piece of wood he was carving. "That doesn’t look like a bow. Why do you need it ?"
"Aren’t you a nosy little raccoon !"
"I can see you have the bow over there," pointed the boy to a nearby spot. "It even has the string attached and looks rather ready,."
The bowyer did a mock-annoyed grimace, then smiled faintly.
"To tell you the truth, boy, I've thought of something. Something interesting that I want to try out."
"I'm all ears ! How did you come up with this idea ?"
"Thanks to you."
The boy looked at him in disbelief.
"What ? Me ?"
"Believe it or not, your little misbehaving around my tiller post showed me something I didn't entirely notice before. Those antics of your’s with the arrow… It didn't exactly fly upward, nice and straight, as you no doubt wanted it to..."
The boy lowered his head and smiled a bit, embarassed.
"...but the way you released the string and how it flung the arrow upward, that made me think."
"Will you try and make a bow that’s very good at shooting upward ?"
"No, not like that," the bowyer shook his head, then picked up the mysterious, thicker piece of wood. "Instead, I will try to place the bow to the front of this," he nodded at the elongated block of wood. He pointed his hand at the trough-like shape he had carved into one end of the block. "Attach it very similarly to how I'd attach a bow to the top of a tillering post..."
"What an odd idea !" noted the boy quietly, walking closer to the bowyer, who handed him the block of wood and let him observe it.
"But what about the bow you were making for the neighbour ? What if you accidentally break it ?"
"You’re right I shouldn’t play around too much with the new bow. At least not for this idea…" he took back the block of wood and nodded towards the near-finished bow. "I’ll be making a separate bow for my little attempt. Would you want to help me work on it ?"
"Could I ?" asked the boy, still rather astonished.
The bowyer shrugged.
"For all I care, you can."
"Thank you !"
"You've already given me one idea, maybe you'll come up with something new again while I work.", he frowned at the boy and did a hearty chuckle. "And if you have any friends who are as smart at coming up with things as you are, maybe you could invite one or two of them to help. You're probably not that good at wood-carving yet, and I could always use more helping hands."

----

Twang.
The arrow hit the old, but hardy test target, made from layers of old wicker baskets and hand-woven mats, with a satisfying thud.
The boy jumped in place, laughed and clapped his hands.
"It shoots well ! And it shoots so straight !" declared the boy.
The limping bowyer had a wry smile on his face.
"You have it well thought out, boy," said the bowyer. "First you annoy me, then you indirectly give me an interesting idea, and now you're here, pretending as if I built this specifically for you," he groaned, but followed it up with a chuckle.
The boy smiled at him.
"Such a strange, but wonderful bow !" exclaimed the boy.
"That it is. Would you like to try shooting it ?"
"Yes, yes ! I would really love to ! Please, please !"
"Fine. But as I'm limping, you'll have to collect all the arrows we shoot at the target. Deal ?"
"Deal !"
"Here you go..." he handed the bow to the boy and explained how to shoot. "Hold it well. Lift the bowstring with your two fingers from below. Don't wrap your fingers around the bowstring ! Just lift it slowly from below. Nice and slowly, nice and steady..."
The boy raised his fingers slowly, lifting the bowstring from the groove carved into the piece of wood the bow was mounted on.
Twang.
The bowstring, released from the groove, flew forward, hitting the back of the arrow and shooting it into the target.
It didn't escape the boy's attention that the bowyer had removed the nock from the back of the arrow, since there was no necessity for placing the nock into a bowstring. The now flat end of the arrow reacted better to the impact of the bowstring from behind, when it was lifted from the groove.
"Nice," smiled the boy, looking at the arrow stuck in the test target.

"What if I didn't pay attention and the bowstring hit my fingers ?" asked the boy, a degree of worry heard in his voice.
His remark gave the bowyer pause for thought.
"Hm, actually... You make a good point. It could be dangerous."
"We'll just have to be careful."
"That we certainly can be. But I have a better idea. We'll try to improve my bow design."
"Improve ? How will we do that ?"
"I'm not entirely sure yet, but Ill try to add something that will keep our fingers free. Something that would release the bowstring without us needing to put our fingers on the string."
"A bow where you don't even touch the bowstring ? How odd ! You really are almost like a magician !"
The bowyer chuckled, flattered.
"Hardly a magician, dear boy. I just try to think things through," he pointed at his own head. "The sign of a good bowyer. Would you like to be a bowyer when you're older ?"
The boy nodded, his eyes outright shining.
"Then you'll have to practice those sorts of skills. Looking at things differently... Looking ahead... Thinking ahead... Keeping your mind as sharp as a thin, sharpened spearstone."
"If I try to be a bowyer, I promise I'll try to think like that."
"I'm glad to hear that."
"But I also know something you don't know !"
"Is that so ?! " laughed the bowyer rather merrily. "What do you know ?"
"Your bow needs a name."
"Oh. A name ?"
"We need to give your strange bow a name," said the boy almost resolutely.
"You don't say..."
"Yes, it needs a name ! How will the people tell it apart from a common bow, if we don't give it some sort of name ?" urged the boy, clearly rather invested in the development of the simple, but strange contraption.
The bowyer frowned for a moment, obviously in thought. It took him only a few moments before he shrugged, looked at the new-fangled weapon, then at the curious boy.
"A tiller-bow."
"A tiller-bow ?" asked the boy, surprised, and looked at the odd weapon the bowyer was devising.
"Why not. Tillerbow, as I said. If it wasn't for your mischief with my bow tiller, maybe the idea wouldn't have occured to me."
"See, now you thank me ! And just a little while ago, you were so annoyed I was playing with your tools," proclaimed the boy with no lack of joyful, somewhat cheeky satisfaction. He began to laugh happily.
The middle-aged bowyer smiled lightly and playfully frizzled the laughing boy's hair with his palm. The boy kept laughing, but pretended to get angry and shook his hands wildly at the man's hand.
"I still think you're a rascal, you little raccon of a thing," laughed the bowyer. "That said, sometimes mischief can deliver an idea when one least expects it. I suppose your mischief was useful for once !"
"Glad to hear that."

----

"How's the tillerbow ?" asked the boy right after he greeted the bowyer a few days later.
"Now that I've finished the hunting bow for my friend, I had more time for our strange little idea. I've worked on it further. "
"And did you add anything new ? Please, please ! Let me see..."
The bowyer laughed briefly, then stretched his arm to grab the device he was slowly working on. It was resting near the stool he was sitting on.
"My dear boy, you might remember my promise that I would find a way to avoid getting our fingers hit by the bowstring. "
"Yes," nodded the boy, his face clearly showing interest.
The bowyer gestured at him to come closer, and turned the tiller part of the bow around.
He pointed at a new feature, the boy raising his eyebrows in surprise.
"Oh, and this will lift it ! Right ?"
"Exactly, child."

He had created a small opening, a small hole, in one side of the tiller of the tillerbow. It was just slighly behind the groove with the bowstring. He burnt the hole out with a small piece of hot coal from a campfire, and with some help from his old stone drill.
In the hole, he mounted a shorter wooden peg, carved out of a straight part of a thicker branch, gluing the peg in place with some leather glue and fish-guts glue, and some tree sap. On the peg, there was another small piece of wood, something of a wooden thumb, with a small hole drilled or burnt out around its middle. This hole was used to mount the wooden thumb on the wooden peg, and it was similarly glued into place. It could still pivot, though. Up and down...
The front end of the strange wooden thumb was long enough that it reached below the bowstring placed inside the sole groove on the tiller.

"Hand me an arrow," said the bowyer with a laidback calm. He spanned the bowsting and placed it in the groove, just like recently, when they were first testing the whole thing.
He took the arrow handed to him by the boy. He placed it safely on top of the tillerbow, in front of the groove holding the spanned bowstring. He aimed at the test target nearby. He then carefully pressed the back end of the new thumb addition.
The front end of the thumb pivoted upwards and lifted the bowstring. The bowstring was released.
Twang.
The arrow hit the test target with the same decisive thud as recently.
The bowyer tittered, and grinning, looked at the boy.
"See ? No fingers !"
The boy laughed and clapped happily.
"You are not a magician !" he said, laughing. "But you are very smart ! " he added.
"Thank you," said the bowyer. It was moments like this that he regretted not having children.

----

They were a bit outside of their village, on a nice large meadow near the forest.
"You might be wondering why I bothered to limp all the way to here," asked the bowyer.
The boy looked at him.
"Because it's even safer to shoot here, than in the village. We won't shoot anyone by accident."
"Yes, that too. But aside from that, I wanted to keep a little surprise for you."
He took the long cloth bag slung across his shoulder, unpacked the familiar single-grooved tiller and its purpose-built bow. He lashed the bow to the front of the tiller, tying it in place tightly.
"I like that you can take it apart and then put it back together again, " said the boy cheerfully.
"Yes, it is interesting. But this is even moreso... Look here !"

He turned the tillerbow towards the boy by its back side. He pointed at the middle portion of the weapon. The little wooden thumb or lever, mounted on a peg at the side, was no longer there.
Instead, the bowyer cut and chiseled into the middle of the tiller, in the area right behind the groove for the bowstring. Here, he burnt out and chiseled out two more holes, and another hole of similar size into a smaller, carved piece of wood.
The carved piece of wood was mounted in a small gap cut into the area behind the groove, and pivoted in place on a little round peg, cut from a straight tree branch. It was similar to the previous thumb, lifting the bowstring, but this time, it looked and felt far more comfortable and far less awkward to operate.

"Ah ! That looks even better," opined the boy.
The bowyer smiled.
"Certainly."
He pulled two or three shorter arrows from a quiver he carried on his belt.
"Would you like to try some shooting ?"
"Do I ! Of course I do !"
The bowyer handed him the tillerbow and showed him how to operate the top-mounted wooden trigger.
"You can prop it against your shoulder, with the back side. That's right, like that ! Now put it at eye height, aim as if you were aiming an ordinary bow, more or less. Excellent. Now press the back part of our little wooden thumb. Release."
Twang.
"Ahhh !" cried the boy, in astonishment. "Ahhmaziiing !" he laughed and jumped in place happily.
"And now..." the bowyer continued, "press the front of that little thumb forward, to the bottom of the groove. Yes, like that. You can't shoot until you have the thumb under the bowstring, and the bowstring needs to be hidden in that groove before you can release it and shoot. It's all about the right order."
"Yes, I understand. It's very easy !"
"Good to hear ! Now, as I have more strength in my arms, I'll span the bowstring back into the groove for you. Then you can take another shot. Oh, and..."
"I am supposed to pick up the arrows later, because you can't walk all that easily."
The bowyer laughed.
"Correct. You children really do learn fast !"

----

late 10th century AD, North America



"You say the people in your villages use these ?" asked the village elder.
He was surprised that his unexpected, wayward guest, was armed with a very strange hunting weapon.
"Yes. I haven't seen anyone else using them, outside of my people's settlements. Maybe it's not a widely known thing, I don't know."
"Have your people always used these ? I haven't come across these yet. And I've lived long and travelled rather far and wide."
"Well..."
"Well ?" asked the elder, in a somewhat bemused tone.
"No, not always. Me and a late friend, a much older friend, thought it up one day. "
"What ? This strange bow ? How on earth did you think of such a... device ?"
"It wasn't necessarily me. I just... advised, I suppose. My friend was the one who really thought up the whole thing."
"How peculiar... Very, very peculiar..."
"It's.... It's a long story..." smiled the middle-aged man, once a little boy from a more distant village.
It's been years since the last time he got lost during a longer hunting trip and had to search for the nearest settlement, any settlement. He was lucky the dialect of the locals was, for the most part, still intelligible.
He felt somewhat bemused at the village elder's interest in the tillerbow. Certainly a thing you don't see every day. He wondered whether the elder and local villagers will ask him about building a bow as strange as this, ask him whether all that additional craftsmanship is worth a weapon that can shoot well. As he himself knew, the weapon had plenty of advantages, but also some generally tolerable downsides.

----

Him and the elder were lying prone in the taller grass. A small flock of wild turkey were wandering nearby.
"Are you sure you can hit them from here ?" whispered the elder.
"This thing can't shoot as well as a bow at a greater distance, but short to medium distances..."
"In a word, there is a good chance you can hit one of them."
"There certainly is. Wish me luck." the bowyer concluded, and fell silent.
It's remarkable that one can lie prone with this strange bow, thought the elder to himself, and shoot very comfortably at prey, without needing to give himself away. Remarkable !
He watched patiently as the bowyer peered down the straight top surface of the... tiller ?
Then he pushed the strange wooden lever at the top and...
Twang.
One of the turkeys began panicing, squawking and shrieking uncontrollably, flapping its wings in every direction. Its companions, terrified, ran and flapped away as best as they could, unsure where the sudden death had come from.
The bowyer quickly stood up, nodded at the elder to follow him. They both ran towards the turkey. The short arrow – a "bolt" or "arrowlet", as the foreign bowyer referred to it – was sticking from both sides of the turkey, in one of the most vulnerable parts of its body. The elder raised his longer wooden club and put the fowl out of its misery with two or three well-placed blows. He slowly looked at the bowyer. A grin appeared on the bowyer's face.
"Impressive", nodded the elder slowly.

The now middle-aged bowyer kept smiling and patted his strange bow. They treated him well in this village, their hospitality was exemplary. The least he could do is teach them a new thing that could come in handy. Especially if they wanted more stealthiness during hunting.

After all, it's not like this unusual bow would change all that much... Would it ?
 
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Diversifying
DIVERSIFYING

----

11th-13th century AD, North America

In many other branching universes, the invention of the New World native crossbow never got too far. It remained confined to the homeland of its original inventor. In some universes, the invention even faded into obscurity, an idea snuffed out due to tribes destroyed by mutual warfare, or due to the slowness of overland trade and the resulting slower exchange of ideas.

Who knows how many times in history the New World native crossbow saw invention, by the limping bowyer or by others, only to become a piece of lost technology. Briefly reinvented and forgotten again and again, numerous times, or not at all. It seemed as if, with the exception of the isolated Inuit cultures in the far north of the New World, no one would ever manage to spread the invention much further than the local area they called home, or to the surrounding wider region. Crossbows in the non-Inuit parts of the Americas seemed destined to become stillborn...

However, in one particular, very specific timeline, there was a lucky confluence of events. A very rare example indeed. From the 11th to the 13th century AD, the idea of the crossbow spread haphazardly across parts of North America. Still with plenty of false starts, but like the bow and arrow centuries or millennia before it, the idea had started to lay down roots in the cultures that were introduced to it.

----

13th century AD, eastern woodlands of North America



Sitting on the ground or crouched above it, the small troop consisting of mantlet-bearers, archers and tillerbowmen waited, hidden behind thick local foliage at the edge of the meadow.
"When I give you men the order, we go. No sooner. We are not armed that powerfully for close combat," whispered the officer of this troop.
Many of them nodded quietly. He was a seasoned fighter, he knew his stuff.
It was a sunny, summer day, though some clouds were crawling through the sky. The wind was blowing with a degree of power, but often mellowed out into a pleasant breeze.
In the forest thicket at the edge of the meadow, it was considerably cooler and darker.
Through small gaps in the foliage, they could see the enemy hill fort. It was not just some hastily fortified camp, but a proper big hill fort. It stood on a moderately tall hill protruding from the local terrain, encircled by a stockade of thick, tall wooden trunks, sharpened at the upper ends. The defenders were standing behind the top of this wooden wall, most of their bodies covered, save for enough space for their heads and upper torsos that they could shoot from bows... and tillerbows. Even from this distance, it was clear it's a very well-built and very well-manned fortification. Finally, it was also a town. There were people and houses inside those walls. And the locals, even non-warriors, wouldn't give up their town without a dogged, determined fight.
The enemy hill fort would be a tough nut to crack.
One of the younger tillerbowmen of the troop was sitting under a beech tree, his weapon propped against the bark of the beech. He was sitting quietly, trying to enjoy the calm before the inevitable storm of battle. As the chieftains said, with determination, they have to capture that hill fort. Much rests on it... Very much.
The young bowman sat under the beech, playing with a twig and leaf he found, bored.
Pity the tillerbows are a little noisier than regular bows, he thought. You can still sneak up on an enemy and shoot at them, but they are a tiny bit more likely to hear you, even if they are also less likely to see you, he pondered.
Nevertheless, he felt he was well-prepared for the battle ahead, at least in terms of equipment. He had plenty of bolts for his weapon, and the tillerbow itself was equipped with the more recent type of trigger. It had a bottom-mounted wooden lever. One end of the lever touched the lower end of a small but sturdy wooden peg. Whenever pressed upward, this lever would push the peg upward, through a hole burnt out and drilled through the tiller. The upper end of the hole was at the bottom of the string-catch groove, and as the upper end of the wooden peg rose, it lifted the bowstring. It was all very simple really, only a bit more involved than the more common approach with the top-mounted trigger, behind the string-catch.
Better yet, the peg-bows of his fellow tillerbowmen in this troop all shared an improvement. It was not yet widespread, but was becoming more common. Rather than needing to reset the peg after every single shot, by pushing it downward with your own finger, the warriors of one of the tribes had a simple but ingenious idea. They drilled smaller holes into the bottom half of the peg, pushed through robust pieces of thread through these holes and tied the thread to grooves they made in the sides of the lever that pushed the peg upward. Now, whenever they let go of the lever after a shot, the lever dragged the wooden peg downward, along with it. No need to reset the peg-lock anymore... Even those few moments shaved off of respanning and reloading the tillerbow could prove vital in a fight, especially a battle or siege.



After what felt like an eternal wait, the order finally came.
Attack.
Suddenly, he felt like he almost didn't want to stand up from the ground and go to battle.
It always sounded so glorious, didn't it... Going to battle, fighting... Coming back home a hero, getting a hero's welcome and the admiration of pretty girls. Maybe it wasn't always so exhilirating as they said...
Nevertheless, he stood up, tied together his padded armour. He quickly checked if he had all his weaponry with him, and started to march along with his fellow warriors, following the officer and mantlet-bearers heading forward.
They were off to war. Maybe a small war to some. Just a larger siege, at most.
But even a smaller battle could leave behind big wounds and big consequences.

Other troops of the attacking force were emerging on the scene, the large meadow under the hill fort. Mantlets always forward, some of the troops consisted mostly of spearmen, others mostly from clubmen and axemen, some were mostly made up of archers and slingers. Troops with tillerbowmen were, by far, the least numerous.
Walking under the summer sun lighting the meadow, it felt rather strange they were heading towards such vicious violence. The pitter-patter of the arrows, bolts and stones against the mantlets was already beginning.
Oh yes, bolts as well. So far, there were more arrows than bolts, but if the attackers got close enough, the defenders wouldn't hesitate to welcome them with bolts shot from tillerbows, in addition to arrows shot from bows and stones launched from slings.
One of the men marching in his troop, an archer with a common handbow and only lighter clothing, suddenly fell to his back and yelled a scream of inhuman pain. Several members of the troop looked back at him, frightened, but tried to keep a brave face and marched patiently forward, hiding behind the advancing mantlets.
"Keep close to the mantlets, men ! Cover is key," intoned the officer of their troop, and waved his warclub to emphasize his words.
The young tillerbowman looked at the archer, his face bloody, and growling incoherently, his limbs twitching strangely... He saw no arrow sticking from the archer's head or neck or body, but something had hit him very hard in the head. A stone, no doubt. A stupid, simple little stone, launched by some skillful slinger. And that ordinary stone had now probably punctured the poor lad's skull. With a weapon that simple but nasty, who even needed something as complicated as tillerbows ?
He didn't want to keep looking at the unfortunate archer further, so he averted his eyes and looked forward... The hill fort ahead loomed ominously, even if partly obscured by the patiently advancing large mantlets. Several tillerbowmen at the flanks also carried their own, one-man mantlets, smaller in size and with a few different details, but functionally identical.
Around the middle of their advance through the meadow, several officers gave a loud order:
"Halt !"
The mantlet-bearers set down their large mantlets, while the individual tillerbowmen set down their smaller versions. Using wooden spikes and supports built into the lower end of the mantlets to keep them standing in a stable manner, at a bit of a backward-leaning angle. Individual tillerbowmen hid behind their portable shields, waiting for an order to start shooting.
Each mantlet, particularly the larger ones, consisted of a light but sturdy frame constructed of medium-thick flexible branches. At its inner side, a few thin planks of wood were attached to the frame. At its outer side, and the diameter, the mantlet was covered entirely by a wicker surface, similar to that of a thickly-woven basket. Many mantlets, especially the large types, also had an extra layer of strong rawhide attached to the wicker part of the shield. Apparently, it made it somewhat more powerful at resisting enemy projectiles.

As he didn't have his own portable mantlet, he was very glad that he wore the padded armour he had, and also wore the bowman's hat. A simple wicker hat reinforced with a carefully implemented layer of bark and rawhide on the outside, this hat was a rare sight on the head of any soldiers other than tillerbowmen. With their more methodical shooting, slower spanning and reloading and generally somewhat shorter range, they were not used for scouting attacks or hit-and-run tactics, unlike usual archers. Tellingly, most of their archers, as well as the enemy's, wore little to no armour. Some archers were even rather lightly clothed in general, presumably to make them swifter runners. Fat load of good that swiftness brought the poor archer... The young tillerbowman couldn't resist the bile temptation and looked back at the spot where the archer was hit. He wasn't entirely sure, but he had the impression he was still lying there on his back, in the grass. Motionless, without even the slightest movement.
Waiting for the order to shoot was unbearable. Finally, it came.
This is what he had trained for.
He stuck a few bolts into the ground, so their arrowheads would be somewhat dirty. Many other archers and tillerbowmen in his troop and other teams did the same. If the arrowheads ended up in the bodies of enemy warriors, they would bring in all manner of impurities into their wounds, potentially causing them more trouble in the long run. It was almost like a gentler poison. He pulled a bolt out of the ground, placed it in the flight groove of his tillerbow, aimed as best as he could at the nearest enemy warrior... It was so easier to aim these peg-bows than the more common thumb-bows ! You could peer down the length of the tiller and aim more easily, without the little trigger in the way... He held his breath for a moment or two, and with trained skill, pressed the lever upward. The peg rose...
Twang !, went his tillerbow, swiftly releasing the war bolt...
Twang, twang, twang...
The other tillerbows and handbows echoed his.
There would be a lot more of those twangs today than just that one, from his own bow. As well as a lot of swooshing sounds from the air...
We shoot as one, we fight as one, we attack and defend as one, we die as one. As brothers, he reminded himself of the warrior mantras he was taught throughout his younger years and during his military training.

In-between popping a few shots at the hill fort defenders, he paused and took a look at his fellow fighters. Some were using even more new-fangled ideas than merely tying the peg to the trigger lever below the tiller. They were also wearing strange hooks carved of hardwood, dangling from short pieces of thick and sturdy rope that hung from the hardy leather belts they wore around the waists of their padded armour. And some even had strange foot-loops tied or attached to the front parts of their tillerbows, in front of the bowstaves themselves.
Many of the men hand-spanned their tillerbows, pressing either of their moccasins against the back of the bowstaves, and pulling back the bowstring into the string-catch groove. But some of them, the ones equipped with the new-fangled additions, did things differently. Some put their feet in the foot-loops at the front and pulled back on the string, until it fell into the groove, ready to load and shoot. And some did the same, but rather than hold the bowstring with their bare hands, they hooked it into the strange wooden hook dangling from their belts, grabbed the butt of the tiller with their hands and pulled the bowstring upward with their bodies, literally putting their backs into it. Such spanning had always intrigued him, but honestly, he preferred the good old hand-spanning method. That said, maybe one day he could equip his war tillerbow with one of those interesting foot-loops...



The enemy didn't want to leave anything to coincidence. When the attackers least expected it, the gatehouse suddenly opened wide and several crowds of men started running towards the attackers. Not merely running, no. Outright sprinting. Nasty-looking weapons in hand, fury in their eyes, much yelling and shouting. They were yelling and shouting in the most deafening and horrifying ways possible. Axes, spears, ballhead clubs with one or more spikes... Mostly melee weaponry. Not intended for a slow, methodical counter-offensive. This was an all-out, do-or-die sally to shatter the discipline and morale of the attacking enemy, to break apart formations, wound enemy soldiers, send them on the run... Then maybe sweep up the paniced, chaotically retreating attackers...
But even that was easier said than done.
The men taking part in the sally were brave men. They were also not dumb men. But they were highly angry, incredibly aggressive, and above all, determined to defend their hill fort at all costs.
Archers of the attacking forces did quick work of several men in the quickly approaching, incredibly vicious crowd. Still, they could not pick off every single warrior.
Though the spearmen and mantlet-bearers did their best, the sally force hit them like a tidal wave that cares nothing for what stands in its way. A tidal wave of hands and weapons began to strike at the huddled down infantry of the attackers.
Things were about to get bloody. And it didn't seem like the attackers were guaranteed to hold their position.

The sally didn't last forever. Its members, as valiantly as they fought, could only do two things: Fight viciously and mercilessly, or die.
Mostly... they died.
Now, the attackers had gotten as far as the gatehouse of the hill fort. Mantlets were turned upward and under various other angles. A crew of strong men, carrying a larger, long log, carefully entered the scene. Under the protection of the mantlets, they reached the gatehouse.
"Now, men !" cried the man in charge of the other rammers. "Heave ! Back ! And forth ! Heave !"
With a loud thud, the battering ram hit the wooden gate of the hill fort.
Time passed.
Though the mantlet-bearers did their best to protect the crew with the battering ram, both them and the rammers experienced a few nasty surprises. Chief among them was the hot water poured on them by the defenders of the gatehouse. Many men in the crew sieging the gatehouse suffered horrific, nauseating burns. Some were hurt so badly, their fellow fighters had to carry them out of there, other warriors soon taking their place. Luckily for them, for some reason, the defenders didn't repeat this move.
Perhaps they were low on supplies of water, surmised some of the officers leading the attacking force. With the hill fort besieged, and the water wells inside of it probably being of more average quality, they didn't want to waste precious water. Just in case the siege would last long. And that's exactly it. They'll besiege this town, for as long as it takes to force the locals to surrender. They might not even bother waiting that long, and might attempt to set the whole place on fire, sooner or later.



After another sally, the attackers were forced into a minor retreat. They held most of the area around the besieged hill fort, but they weren't advancing much. The walls were still holding, for the most part. Two of the laddermen were slaughtered when they attempted to place a ladder onto the stockade near the gatehouse. The mantlet-bearers and rammers had to also retreate from the gate. Spearmen and sustained archery barrages eventually made quick work of the second sally. It seemed the enemy then decided to eschew any further attacks and fell back on an entirely defensive approach.


It was a sunny summer day. He still had his tillerbow, placed near his hiding place. He still had some bolts in his quiver, a knife, and his small axe. He wasn't sure how long he'd last on the battlefield. Hidden behind two corpses, and huddled between two more, even a hiding place like this one wouldn't last forever. He could jump to his feet and run, but that would earn him the enmity of his tribe… and enemy scouts could eventually find him and kill him… Take him prisoner, if he was very lucky, but then maybe torture him. He could stay here and try to fight, but the attack seemed to have already hit a stalemate. And who's to say they wouldn't torture him as their prisoner, and then kill him ?
Sweating in his padded armour under the happy summer sun, he was weighing his options.
Options that could decide about his and others' life and death…
For a brief, sweat-filled, somewhat delirious moment, his mind wandered back to that young woman from the neighbouring village. The one he had always liked, the one he befriended, the one that always meant so much to him, even though he didn't speak about it. He now wondered, like many young men in such predicaments do, whether he'll ever see her again.
And if he will, will she dismiss him as just another coward who fled from battle ? Or not ?

On the hill in front of him, the siege raged on...


Many centuries later, archaeologists and historians would often debate the loose parallels between archery, body armour and siege warfare developments among the native peoples of North America, and those of the Old World, particularly of European and Asian cultures.

Portable military mantlet technology and padded armour technology seemed to be known to the eastern woodlands cultures already during the presumd time of the tillerbow's invention. However, based on recurring archaeological evidence dated to between the 11th and 15th century, it seems as though the invention of the tillerbow further spurred the greater use of these defensive means in native warfare, particularly siege warfare between eastern woodlands cultures, as well as, later on, other regional cultures throughout North America.

Besides larger mantlets, carried usually by two, sometimes even three or more warriors, there were also smaller versions, capable of being carried by a single combatant. It is assumed that these one-man-portable mantlets fulfilled a role very similar to that of a medieval European
pavise, carried and used by European crossbowmen on open battlefields (including in offensive siege scenarios). The Native American tillerbowman could hide behind a smaller mantlet (similarly to a European crossbowman hiding behind a pavise), spanning and reloading his bow, then peering from behind the mantlet, shooting quickly, and ducking back behind the mantlet.

A particular novelty among native armour that only emerged in the centuries after the appearance of the tillerbow, were lightly armoured hats. These seemed to be worn almost exclusively by native tillerbowmen, i.e. crossbowmen, and not even every single one. Though the helmet-like hats of these archers gradually became more widespread, at first, they seemed to be the domain of more wealthier warriors armed with tillerbows. Though the hats protected a native archer from enemy projectiles falling and impacting from above, they also served a protective function while a tillerbowman was shooting from behind his smaller, one-man-portable mantlet, or the bigger type of mantlet, carried by two or even more mantlet-bearers.

Concerning sidearms, outside of some rare examples of wooden, edged, sword-like clubs, there is no known evidence that North American natives ever developed swords in any true sense. Nevertheless, in a role comparable to the melee sidearm of a European medieval crossbowman - armed with an arming sword, falchion, or at least a smaller axe, one-handed warhammer or pick - the Native American tillerbowman was equipped with various one-handed warclubs, native one-handed stone axes (sometimes even extra throwing axes), stone hammers, clubs with pick, mace or hammer implements made of stone, antler, bone and wood. Many eastern woodlands warriors, even those trained primarily as archers, knew how to use their clubs and axes just as well as any European swordsman would use his sword.


----

late 13th century AD, northwest Pacific coast of North America



His father called on him, getting ready to leave the village on some errand.
"Come on, son, it's time we went fishing," he said, putting on his dependable travel cloak.
"Oh, and take your hunting bow and quiver."
The boy grabbed some woodsman equipment and bags, but hesitated about taking his archery kit.
"My bow and quiver ? Father, are you sure you haven't eaten too many huckleberries yesterday evening ?"
The older man laughed.
"No, son, I assure you, I haven't. I haven't lost my mind either. Take your archery kit and follow me. We're going fishing. And maybe even hunting, a bit..."
His father was leading him into the neighbouring valley, towards a moderately shallow stream. They weren't exactly going on some daring whaling trip, like the men from their coastal village occasionally did. Whaling canoes, bladder floats tied to hardy, long harpoon shafts… Many an orca, as beautiful as it was, found its death at the end of a harpoon, during one of the annual hunts.
They were going to do something much humbler than whaling. Fish.
Still, the boy didn't understand how they'd fish, without nets or fishing rods.
"Are we going to catch fish with our bare hands, father ?"
"No, son. We are going to fish by shooting arrows."
"What ?" the boy stopped immediately and gave his father a surprised look.
The man stopped as well and smiled back at his very confused son. He raised the hat he was wearing on his head, scratched his short but messy hair a bit, purely out of habit, then put the hat back on.
"No, son, I haven't gone mad. But I've also never tried bowfishing. It's not practiced much by our village or the people in the wider area, but I have heard rumours that some tribes further away have become rather good at it. Apparently, it's quite fun. Today, we'll attempt just that."
"Oh ! Interesting. Won't it be a bit difficult, though ?"
"Maybe. Hopefully not too difficult. Just in case, if the bow would prove too cumbersome, you might have noticed I've brought along this."
He unslung the trunkbow hanging over his shoulder.
"Ah... Do you think it could be even better at shooting fish than an ordinary bow ?"
"I would like to think it might surprise us... I like surprises."

They arrived at the stream and prepared their archery equipment. The stream was rather teeming with fish. It seemed quite plausible they could catch some by shooting them with arrows. The stream wasn't flowing too fast, so even if they killed a fish with an arrow or bolt, they would have enough time to run after it and pick it up from the water.
"I can imagine it would be much easier to sit with a spanned trunkbow and wait for a fish, than to wait for a fish with a bow, and aim and span it for a very short moment," noted the boy thoughtfully.
"Yes, son. That's the idea. I want to try how good the trunkbow will be at this task."
They got to work.

It was like shooting fish in a water trough. Walking through the forest with a supply of seven medium-sized fishes hanging from their bags, they both seemed satisfied.
"What do you think, son ? Was it good for a first try ?"
"Very good ! Two fishes with my bow, five with your trunkbow... We might try this again in the future !"
"Yes, it was surprisingly easy. A good way to catch some fish if you're a skilled archer and have no other equipment. That said, I want to try one more thing. You've probably noticed we're not going straight back to the village. I'm leading us back there on a somewhat longer route. First, we'll stop by a local pond."
The boy listened carefully and with interest.
"Father, and what will we do at the pond ? Continue fishing ?"
"No, no, son… I have something else in mind. You'll see, another surprise."
"I'm patient."
"Good."



They arrived at the pond. Some ducks and geese were visible on the shores and on the water, but most of them at the more farther end. In the distance, approaching through the skies, the boy saw a flock of ducks in flight. He pointed at them.
"Look, father ! Pity we can't hunt them, right ? They don't seem like they want to land here."
"On the contrary ! That is exactly what we'll make them do ! " said his father, almost playfully, and pulled out an arrow and a bolt from the quivers. They had strange, large arrowheads… Wooden, elongated, bulbous arrowheads, with a hole or slit in the side.
"A whistling arrow and bolt ?"
"You know your arrows, son ! Now I'll show you they can be used for more than just sending signals. But we need to be quick... The ducks are almost here."
The ducks were passing not too high above the local tree line, and the trees were already quite tall here.
"Now ! Shoot in an arc, to the other side of the pond !" his father hissed a command.
Twang, the bow released the whistling arrow in an elegant arc. Twang, the trunkbow released the whistling bolt, in a slightly shallower arc.
As both of them flew through the air to the other side, both on similar but different trajectories, the son finally realised what his father was up to...
The whistling of the arrowheads sounded similar to the sounds of a hawk, eagle or other bird of prey ! He wanted to trick the ducks into landing !
And land they did ! Right after hearing the scary sound that reminded them of a raptor, the ducks instinctively... ducked... downward, hastily flying down towards the pond and landing on the water.
Here, on the surface of the pond, these cute waterfowl felt much safer from predators.
But they forgot about a species of two-legged predators, a species that had slowly colonized and perhaps even conquered the Earth. Less by physical prowess, far more by cunning and intelligence. Or, as the man's and boy's tribe used to say... through sheer smartarsery.
The man gestured at the boy to ready his quiver and bow, crouch down and follow him. He himself readied a bolt for his trunkbow, placing it in the flight groove.
"Now let's move quietly. We need to sneak up on them and shoot a few."
The boy nodded, and they slowly snuck up on the unsuspecting ducks, hiding behind small trees, shrubs and the reeds on the shore as they approached…



They were walking back home with two ducks dangling from the frames of their backpacks.
Seven fishes, two ducks… Not a bad hunting trip, considering they only used archery equipment !
As they entered the village and walked through its pathways, between pithouses, huts, small log cabins and innumerable wooden racks filled with drying fish, the father noticed someone down by the shore. A visitor in a canoe, disembarking. The shape of the boat was different, and his clothing was quite different too, so he was from further away. Some local was greeting him.
The father unloaded some of his equipment from his back and gave it to his son.
"Sorry to encumber you so much, son. Please take this home, then come and meet me down at the shore. We have a guest in the village."
"Yes, I've noticed the boat. Where do you think he's from, father ?"
"That clothing and canoe shape... Hard to mistake. Definitely a Haida man."
A fellow villager was passing by.
"Greetings," said the father to get her attention. "Be well. Did that stranger down at the shore arrive just now ?"
"Yes, just now. Oh, my ! You two have been rather lucky today !"
"I'll tell you about our hunting trip soon enough. Thank you, I'll go talk to that man."
"What will you tell him, father ?"
"Maybe divulge some fishing and hunting tips, son," he winked at the offspring. "Now, please take this home and hurry back, meet me and the visitor down at the shore. There are few people down there and I know quite a bit of Haida, so we'll try to get a conversation going."
"Right."
"He might tell us the latest news from his homeland, some rumours on schools of fish and whales out at sea, and we'll offer him something in exchange as well. Our experiences with bowfishing and tricking ducks with whistling arrows. He might find it interesting."
The son smiled, then turned around and walked to their house at a brisk pace.


By the mid-to-late 13th century, northern trade routes had taken the idea of the simple crossbow from the eastern woodlands further west. Eventually, it reached the Pacific coastal regions, and was gradually adopted by the ancestors of nationalities that would in our world be recognised as the Salish, Nootka, Haida, and several others. Some of the more northernly people, speaking what we in our world would call Athabaskan languages, slowly adopted the weapon as well. They became the northernmost of its typical users.

Though the Native American crossbow never spread as far north as to overlap with Inuit territory, future archaeologists would be eventually confounded on the history of the weapon's origins and geographic distribution, given its great mechanical similarity to the Inuit crossbow. Both were developed independently, albeit broadly followed the same idea for the lock (i.e. string-catch and trigger mechanism). Research eventually settled in favour of the weapons being considered to be independently invented. The hypothesis of technological exchange between the Arctic and the rest of North America was never entirely ruled out, though, due to a relative lack of conclusive archaeological evidence.


----

first half of the 14th century AD, southwestern regions of North America



"They're coming ! By the spirits, they're coming !" cried the young woman, dropping the pannier from her back to unburden herself, and ran even more headlessly towards their settlement.
"Who ? The raiders ? Them again ?!" he stood at the bottom of the ladder, bewildered about what's going on.
Terrified, she nodded tearfully.
"It's them again, yes. They're attacking again…"
He stepped closer to her, gave her a kind hug and fondled her head.
"Don't worry, we'll hold them off. We're braver than they think. Go inside, alert the others, prepare for defence."
She nodded and started quickly climbing the ladder.
"Sound the drums !" he heard her muffled cry from above.
And sound they did. He heard drumming from the sheltered side of the settlement's roofs. First, a single drum, then another, then the third drum... They were drumming the rhytm everyone was taught and knew by heart. The warning melody.
The settlement is under attack. Retreat inside, fight back, defend. Weather the siege.

An old geezer was running back to the settlement, already having trouble catching his breath. Strangely and somewhat amusingly, he was still clutching the antler-bladed hoe he was using to till their nearby fields. Maybe he kept it in his hands as a walking stick, to avoid tripping ? Or he was so scared that he forgot to throw it away as he ran away from the approaching band of raiders ? Hard to say.
The man sprinted towards the geezer, and grabbing him under the arm, helped him with running to the nearest access ladder. After a somewhat comical hesitation, the geezer shrugged and dropped the hoe to the ground. They ran to the ladder. Suddenly, one or two pebbles impacted the ground near them. Then came a sudden swoosh and an arrow hit the ground near them, kicking up dust.
They ran. The man felt some pebble had hit him somewhere around the shoulderblade. That was going to leave a sore... He was holding his hand to the back of the geezer's head. If they hit them, then he needed to ensure the old man would avoid an ugly head injury.
Finally, they reached the ladder, and the geezer, thanking him, started to climb upward. One more man ran to the ladder, then a woman. They quickly climbed up.
The man stood there, waved at a curious, nervous face that appeared in the opening.
"I'll be all right. Making sure everyone's inside. Raise the ladder and ready your weapons !"
Without a word, they raised the ladder.
The man walked over to the nearest ladder, roughly at the centre of the facade. All the other outside ladders were already being raised and retracted inside the building. Two or three exhausted-looking settlers came running, desperate to hide in safety. He greeted them and helped the most exhausted of them up the ladder.
Once the three of them were up, he looked around.
"Hey, come inside ! We can't wait longer !"
The raiders were approaching. Some sneaking up carefully, hiding behind more distant shrubs and small, hardy trees. Some were walking rather fearlessly straight towards the settlement.
He looked around one more time, then touched the ladder.
All right, everyone seems to have returned. Time for me to...
His thought was stopped dead in its tracks, as he noticed someone running down the hillside that neighboured the settlement. A young man, no doubt on a stroll or some other errand, coming home a bit too late.
Dammit ! At least he heard the drumming...
"Wait a few more moments ! We have a straggler !" he yelled up the ladder, into the entrance room.
With a vibrating thud, an arrow shot by one of the raiders impacted the dry wood of the ladder.
Dammit, dammit, thought the man, genuinely startled by the arrow. Spirits, help him ! he uttered a silent wish in his mind.

Running down the hill as fast as he could, trying to avoid tripping, the young man had a detailed view of the whole scene in front of him. From a distance and from a slight height, it felt as if he had the entire scenery on the palm of his hand.
The drums were echoing ceaselessly with their rhytmical, loud warning signal... The terrified settlers, men, women, children, were all running back to the access ladders and climbing them as swiftly as possible. Some bolts, arrows and stones were already flying from the settlement. With each new arrival of a fleeing local, the number of warning shots from the defensive windows and thin slits in the walls kept increasing... and increasing... After a short while, it was a regular, if still thinly-spread barrage of arrows, bolts and even stones.
You could even say the settlers were... garrisoning the town centre.
Though most of his fellow townsmen were shooting at the raiders from inside the settlement, some also stood on top of its flat roofs, behind low parapets, flinging pebble after pebble with simple slings. He could hear the snapping of the slings all the way up to the hillside, and that was still quite far.
He saw that one man was still standing near the final unraised ladder. Waiting for him ?
The young man didn't have time to contemplate it further. He knew he needs to run and run, until he reaches that ladder and climbs it. If he doesn't reach the ladder in time, the raiders will tear him limb from limb. He ran. Ran like wild.
Finally, he was down on level ground and running to the front facade of the settlement…
He noticed one of the raiders had shot an arrow at the waiting man. Thankfully, it only hit the ladder. The young man ran, he tripped, fell. It hurt, but he got up quickly, ignored his scrapes and minor wounds, and continued running. Finally…
"You're lucky I'm so noble-minded…" grumbled the waiting man.
...he had reached the ladder.
Without a word, he jumped on the ladder and started climbing inside. An arrow hit the adobe wall near the ladder, its arrowhead broke with a blunt thud. The young man was nearly at the top of the ladder, but he almost literally jumped upward and frantically climbed inside.

As the local man climbed the ladder, he heard the sound of pebbles hitting its wood. A few pebbles hit the adobe facade above his head. He climbed inside the room and yelled at the others to pull the ladder inside. One of the women was already cleaning the wounds the young man sustained when he fell. The others were preparing defensive measures. It was a real hive of activity. He looked outside through one of the defensive slits. The band of raiders numbered some thirty, maybe even forty men. Some were still harder to see, as they were sneaking through the underbrush. They would have to quit that tactic soon, though, as the vicinity of the settlement was free of such cover, making it easier to defend.
Thirty... Forty... We've dealt with worse… he thought, trying to encourage himself.
Feeling rested enough, he stood up from the bench and walked over to the wooden rack on the wall, with hanging weapons and shorter quivers. He armed himself with one of the remaining trunkbows, like the other men in the room and the adjacent rooms and hallways lining the front facade of the settlement. A front facade filled with defensive slits in the wall...
He spanned the bowstring, inserted it into the string-catch groove. He placed the bolt in the flight groove, pushed the wooden "lips" at the front of the trunkbow against the sides of the slit. They fit in nicely, and one could still rotate the bow left or right, depending on the direction needed. He aimed carefully and worked the trigger. His bolt flew rather well, hitting the ground near one of the raiders. Even gave him a jump scare !
The locals were already sending arrows and bolts flying in decent numbers. Often in salvos.
The raiders were trying to counteract this by spreading out, but as clever as they wanted to be, the projectile coverage only grew and grew. This siege was getting complicated...
After he had shot some ten bolts, he noticed a friend of his passing by the door to the hallway. He called on him to wait. He handed the trunkbow to a lady who was sitting there, weaponless, and wished her good luck. He walked over to the friend and silently pointed upwards. His friend nodded. They went further down the hallway and climbed a ladder in an alcove.
They were gonna need a bigger bow... A wall-bow.

Emerging on a flat roof, fenced on all its sides by a sturdy parapet wall of shorter height, they walked over to the wall-bow and manned it.
Wall-bows were essentially oversized trunkbows, purpose-built for defending forts and settlements. This one was generally similar to the usual specimens. About the most advanced thing about it was that it had a fully composite bow. Neither a wooden selfbow or a bow reinforced merely with sinew, this fairly large bow was constructed of both wood and horn material.
Originally, they used a large selfbow for this one, as big as a wooden longbow (a rarer sight in this region). However, it was quite cumbersome to move around and aim whenever they needed to bring it to the front parapet of this flat roof. Bartering for a large wood-and-horn composite bow, ultimately smaller than the selfbow they used previously, payed off. It wasn't exactly cheap. Bows like that, even smaller ones, were expensive to manufacture. The manufacturing process was time-consuming, so only few craftsmen built these regularly.
They had two wall-bows in their settlement, in addition to ordinary trunkbows, bows and slings. This particular wall-bow was the only one with a specially constructed pedestal, though.
The pedestal was a taller wooden stump, with its top cut off, and its bottom integrated into the roof itself. Between the top of the stump and the edge of the roof's front parapet, there was a smaller tree trunk placed horizontally, forming a sort of wooden railing, its upper side fashioned into a trough-like shape. The shape was carved in such a way that the bottom part of the wall-bow could easily slide in it, back and forth. Whenever they needed to span the wall-bow safely, they slid it to the middle of the roof, above the pedestal made from the stump. Whenever they were ready to shoot, they slid the wall-bow back to the parapet, aimed it quickly, and shot. It was a powerful and surprisingly accurate defensive weapon.



The man grabbed a jointed wooden lever from one of the corners of the roof, propped it against protrusions in the front of the wall-bow, and propped the other end of the wooden lever against the bowstring. He then began to carefully push back on the string, until he pushed it all the way back into the string-catch groove. The two of them could span this large trunkbow by hand, and in theory, even one person could suffice, but it was safer using the lever.
His friend picked up one of the large wall-bow bolts... well, it was more of an arrow, given its length... and placed it in the flight groove. They slid the wall-bow carefully down the wooden trough-rail, to just behind the parapet. The shooter, who spanned it just a few moments ago, quickly aimed it over the parapet and worked the trigger.
Twang.
They released a warning shot at the assembling group of raiders. The arrow didn't hit anyone, but came very close to piercing through one of the raiders, had he not jumped to the side. The arrow wasn't meant for anyone specifically, it was more of an act of intimidation. Raiders would really think twice when realising a settlement was armed with something as powerful as a wall-bow.
A brief argument errupted between the raiders, some of them seemingly hesitating over something. The leaders managed to overshout them and whack them back into some semblance of discipline. Bolts and slings were still impacting the ground around them.
Then the duo of defenders noticed the raiders were picking up something hidden behind the desert shrubs. A wooden ladder ! They wanted to get inside the settlement, by hook or crook.
No matter... It was just a single ladder, hardly some potent instrument of siege.
The wall-bow shooter took the wooden lever again and started patiently spanning the bow.
"We need to slow them down. This time, we'll aim as best as we can. Aim at one of the laddermen," he told his friend, his voice patient, but with a hint of underlying tension.
Another arrow was placed onto the flight groove and they slid the wall-bow towards the parapet. They had to duck before shooting, some stones from the raider's slings flew past, then an arrow. And… a bolt !
They quickly peered over the parapet and noticed that one of the raiders… yes, just that one… was carrying a trunkbow.
"Change of plan," said the shooter to his friend and helper. "We aim for the raider with the trunkbow," he said and pointed in the enemy's rough direction. They aimed the wall-bow.
The raider with the trunkbow probably spotted their pointing, and was already aiming his trunkbow at them.
It was a strange situation. It felt like some sort of… duel… For a moment, both sides peered each other down. Everything felt like it fell completely silent, all the battle sounds and human voices in the background… save for maybe the wind blowing quietly through this dry land. The raider's gaze met with their's, both sides aiming at each other… The tension was unbearable… Who would shoot first ?
And yet, all of this only lasted for a few brief moments.
Thud !
The raider dropped his trunkbow spontaneously, he staggered in place. He looked down at the large arrow sticking through his side. Contrary to popular belief, getting hit with an arrow didn’t necessarily knock you off your feet and throw you down on your back. But it could still give you a good shake from the sheer power of the impact.
The raider, now after a few seconds of the initial shock wore off, screamed in pain. From a distance, his scream sounded vaguely like… Aya-ya-ya-yaaaay !
The defenders with the wall-bow grinned and cheered. The shooter's friend guffawed at their lucky shot. To the shooter, his friend's resounding laugh sounded almost like… Wah-wah-wah !
They couldn't rest for long, though. A few more arrows flew past their heads, so they slid the wall-bow back into a safe loading position and spanned it again with the lever.
The laddermen were still doggedly approaching.
Some of the defenders on the lower levels managed a lucky shot as the raider duo neared the front facade with the ladder... One of the laddermen let go and tumbled to the earth in pain.
His cry sounded like a guttural and shocked Hyoooh !.
He was grabbing his own leg, a bolt sticking out of it. He got back up and started limping away. Some of his companions shouted at him angrily, but he dodged them and limped away, no doubt in rather great pain.
The wall-bow was slid towards the parapet again.
"Aim for the other ladderman, he's getting very close," said the wall-bow operator to his friend, his voice clearly betraying mounting worry. "We need to take him out."
Twang.
The ladderman was struck in his thigh, and stumbling, he tripped over the ladder and fell to the ground along with the ladder in a strangely comical way. They heard his loud, painful cry of Hh-yoooowwww ! echoing through the valley. He fell so unfortunately that the long arrow from the wall-bow penetrated even deeper into his thigh. Standing up with great difficulty, he covered his head with his hands, and stumbling, he ran back. Like his fellow ladderman before him, he also cared little for the disappointed and angry shouts of the other raiders.

After the ladder was lost, now too close to the front facade to safely retrieve, the raiders became unsure and slowed their approach. Some even started retreating.
The wall-bow crew felt this was their golden chance. Time to bring out some archery 'magic'.
"There," the wall-bow shooter pointed at a tuft of grass and a tiny dry shrub, growing near the band of attacking bandits. The space in front of the settlement was otherwise almost bare, cleared up for defensive and economic purposes, but some taller plants still popped up in a few places.
His friend nodded, understanding what the plan was.
Some of the arrows for the large wall-bow had detachable arrowheads. These arrowheads had their own shorter, internally hollow shafts that could be inserted into the main shaft of an arrow unequipped with an arrowhead. The friend picked up a specially made arrowhead from a small storage box and attached it tightly to a blunt arrow shaft. The arrowhead was just a small spike of hardened wood, but behind it, there was a small bulbous section woven from wicker, and filled with all manner of kindling.
While the shooter spun the wall-bow with the simple wooden lever, his friend placed the arrow into the flight groove. An enemy arrow flew past them, missing, and ricocheted from a nearby wall. He ran inside, towards the nearest hearth, grabbing a larger splinter and lighting it on fire. He carefully returned to the defensive position, with the wall-bow shooter waiting for him impatiently. Another enemy arrow ricocheted off of the stone-reinforced adobe walls.
"Light it. Hurry up ! We'll teach them a lesson."
The bulb of the special arrowhead was lit, catching fire.
The two defenders, careful to avoid getting hit by enemy stones or arrows, slowly slid the wall-bow forward and aimed it over the parapet.
Twang.
The composite bow catapulted the large arrow with great force. Part of the burning bulb was put out while whizzing through the air, but it was still on fire when it impacted the desert bush and tufts of dry grass around it. They immediately burst into flames, burning mightily and rather loudly.
The defenders could hear the commotion below, as the bandits yelled nervously with fear, one or two of their companions already wounded and the burning shrub being a very clear warning. The sound of burning wood and grass and the raider cries below were regularly punctuated with the occassional twanging sound of trunkbows. The defenders on the lower levels of the settlement, men and women alike, even children, were doing their best to ward off the invaders with the plentiful supply of ammunition they had in the settlement. The thin slits built into the adobe walls were once again proving their worth as defensive measures.

The wall-bow operator carefully looked over the parapet, to get an idea about the situation. It seemed the raiders were really frazzled now, their will to approach and attempt an attack completely broken. Two or three of them were already high-tailing it from the rest of the group, some of their fellow raiders yelling at them to come back. With some three or four wounded in the band, and several raiders trying to tend to their wounds, it was rather clear their fighting morale had run short. The exact thing the townsmen wanted to achieve. Though they were angry at the attackers, the goal of defending their town wasn't killing the raiders mercilessly. They instead wanted to send them a clear message that attacking their town is futile. The best thing they could do is give up and leave. The town was well-stocked, even with plentiful enough ammunition, and wouldn't give up easily. The wall-bow operator carefully stood up, held his hands to his mouth and began shouting decisively.
"Leave now !!! We'll let you leave in peace and tend to your wounded… if you leave and never come back ! Leave, before we change our minds ! Never-ever attack us again !"
To his surprise, he heard other people from the settlement beginning to shout in unison:
Yes, leave !
Leave, leave !
Leave us alone and don't dare coming back !

Haphazardly, some faster, some more clumsily, some weighed down by their wounded, the members of the raider band were turning around and heading away from the settlement.
The people of the town prided themselves in fighting fairly and only when they must. They weren't fond of dirty tricks, whether by attackers or by themselves. A final arrow flew out of a wall slit, ricocheting off of the rocky ground behind the raider still closest to the town. And that was it. As loud and ominous as the confrontation was, in a few moments, it completely ceased. The valley once again fell entirely silent, save for the sounds of nature. Then the drums were sounded again, sending out a brief "all clear" melody.
People started walking out of the rooms with the wall slits, walking atop the roofs of the settlement to get a better look at the situation after the battle, or already lowering the access ladders down to the ground. The local geezer even mumbled that he's off to collect his antler hoe and he's going straight back to the field, to pick up where he left off.

"Amateurs ! They didn't even think of torching our fields or stealing our crops ! Some raiders…" one of the townsmen noted, shaking his head with a degree of bemusement.
"Do you think they'll come back ?" asked one of the defenders.
He was holding a hand to his forehead, covering his eyes from the sharp desert sun, and watching the departing band of raiders. They were retreating through the valley, somewhere into the distance.
"I'd be glad if they listened to our advice and never came back. But honestly ? I'm not sure what to expect. One would hope we've given them a hard-earned lesson today and they'll realise they must leave us in peace." said the wall-bow operator.
They watched the group of raiders for a few more moments, until they started becoming indistinct dots in the distance.
"So, what do we do now ?" asked his fellow townsman.
"Same as usual. We gather everyone for some rest and belated lunch, and then… we go outside and gather all the arrows and bolts we've shot at the raiders. If most of them are still in one piece, we can't let them go to waste !"
"I'll say ! It does take a while to manufacture a single one… This is why some of us prefer slings and stones."
The other defender raised an eyebrow.
"Slings and pebbles. Quaint…" he scoffed.
"Laugh, but just you wait ! I think weapons shooting small pebbles will be big in the future !"
"Ha ! Next thing you'll tell me is that those wondrous weapons will be shooting pebbles accompanied by flames, smoke and a lot of ruckus !" laughed the wall-bow operator.


By the 14th century, the "tillerbow", as its long-forgotten inventor had named it, slowly spread southward. Among the many ethnicities in the west and south of the continent, the missile weapon was also referred to as a "trunkbow". Though the progression was somewhat faster than the long and arduous spread westward and slightly northward, some tribes in California never adopted the tillerbow in the pre-Columbian period.

The manufacturing of composite bows, from wooden, antler and horn materials, was far more common among certain cultures of the western half of North America,. These cultures eventually added their bowmaking expertise to the technological development of the native crossbow. Though archaeological evidence for this still remains more scarce, several existing finds from west of the Mississippi River show that, by the 14th century, native crossbows were starting to adopt composite bowstaves. This seems especially true of crossbows purpose-built for warfare. Most cultures throughout North America continued to use wooden selfbows and simpler composite bows, consisting of wooden bowstaves reinforced with sinew.

It was similar but different in the Southwest, where the varied local cultures, often semi-urban, took more of a shine to the concept of the tillerbow/trunkbow. Due to the more arid nature of their homelands and a lack of better quality wood in some areas, peoples like the Hopi, Zuni, Anasazi, later the Navajo, and others, built more modest numbers of crossbows. They seem to have specialised their crossbows for defensive roles in their dwellings and settlements (later referred to as "pueblos" by Spanish-speaking colonists). Most of these tillerbows were similar to specimens found elsewhere in North America. However, there were also occassional specimens of much larger tillerbows. Functionally, they were very similar to European and Chinese oversized wall crossbows, used for siege defence (the predecessor of later wall guns used in the gunpowder era). These large defensive tillerbows were equipped with larger self-bows and sinew-bows (up to the size of a longbow), and more rarely with composite bows, possibly traded from more northern cultures of the west, or built thanks to acquired craftsmanship knowledge.

Most interesting of all was that these native wall crossbows were used not only propped against defensive parapets, but apparently also fixed in stationary positions, on wooden pedestals. This allowed them to be used as primitive mechanical artillery, useful for defending settlements of wealthier southwestern cultures. These finds remain some of the few material evidence of Native American built mechanical siege engines, roughly comparable to Roman ballistae (in their stationary mounting, but not their mechanical design) and even moreso to ancient Greek gastraphaete and medieval European and Chinese siege crossbows (in terms of overall design). Unlike these examples, particularly the latter, the native wall-bows were used for settlement defence only, rather than offensives sieges.

The tillerbow, or trunkbow, even reached further south. It saw some spread among the broadly interrelated Hokoham, O'odham and Sobaipuri cultures. This allowed it to spread further into what would be the northern Mexico of our world.


----

mid 14th century AD, North America, our world’s northern Georgia and South Carolina



"Why do you bother with that silly thing ?" asked one of the two hunters.
"Silly thing ?! Oh, shush you ! Remember last time, when we were hunting near that grove ?"
"Yeah. I do."
"You kept laughing at me about carrying around an ungainly tree trunk."
"Do you dispute that ? Why bother lugging along such a needlessly hefty shooting weapon ?"
"Then I noticed that bird sitting on the lower branches of a tree," his companion ignored the jab and recalled the memory, "…and what did I do ? Haaa ?"
"I know what you did."
"Don't play the fool. Spill it !"
"What ?"
"Argh, I pity the fool who… well, makes a fool out of me. What did I do ? Go on…"
The other hunter sighed and rolled his eyes.
"You took that amazing bow with a trunk you own, and you shot the bird."
"Aaand ?" asked the other hunter, with a somewhat mischievous smile.
Another, somewhat tired sigh.
"And you hit it nicely. It was dead in an instant, and we had a fine meal."
"There you go ! Are you still willing to claim this thing has no merit whatsoever ?"
"Well..."
"Well what ?"
The more traditional-minded bowman tittered slightly, then laughed.
"It's still a silly device, if you ask me."
"Is not ! It's rather amazing..."
"Have it your way. And allow me the same. I'll stick to my ordinary bows..."
"Pah, you don't know a thing about better weaponry, my friend."
"Let's leave it be, already ! Knowing you, you're capable of convincing me and others that we should hold a contest to compare whether the bow or that contraption of your's shoots faster, better, and whatnot..."
"Convince you to hold a contest and compare bow and tillerbow ? Ha, I might !" chuckled the tillerbow enthusiast.


In the meantime, while it spread into the west and southwest of North America, the tillerbow had also spread to the southeastern regions in previous centuries. Though like everywhere, it never supplanted the bow in terms of importance and preferred usage, it did gain some popularity among the ancestors of the Cherokee, some of the nationalities around the Appalachias, and various Algonquin people of the Mid-Atlantic eastern coast. The Seminole of the extreme southeast, including our world’s Florida, adopted the crossbow only occassionally, favouring their traditional bows even for ranged hunting.


----

late 14th century AD, southeastern regions of North America, east of the Mississippi River

Already from afar, the foreign trader was impressed by the large town.
Tall wooden palisades rising from earthen embankments, great green mounds rising from the interior of the city, at places that seemed sacred... Many, many houses, of all sizes and even various shapes and colours. And, unless his eyes deceived him, so many people ! People walking on the streets, people headed for the city and out of the city, on the many local roads and pathways. Many were accompanied by dog travois. He noticed there was a small fortified hamlet near the river, next to the city, with several wooden piers. Canoes and rafts of various sizes were transporting the daily catch, or smaller loads of resources, or finished goods from near and far.
Not just a town. A city, they called it. A word he was not too familiar with.
So, all those rumours were true after all. The great cities of the south truly are that big... and that populous ! he thought to himself, but he still felt a degree of disbelief.
Yet, there it was, right in front of his eyes, as he approached the city from a gently sloping hillock, down the well-trodden trade route.
His dog companion whined a bit and looked up from the travois he was dragging behind him.
The trader lowered his gaze and offered the dog a mild, tired smile.
"Don't worry, friend. We're already close. Soon, we'll seek rest after our long, long walk. Hopefully, the local people will be interested in our wares," he explained. "I hear the cities and towns in these lands are so wealthy and so well-off, the richest of them have even started setting aside special houses for travellers and traders like us. Where you can get meals, drinks, a place to sleep, rest with other people and exchange knowledge and gossip."
The dog let out a curious canine murmur.
"Yes, I'm sure they also have room for four-legged traders like you," chuckled the merchant.

As he walked the streets of the city, the first city he had ever visited in his entire life, many things fascinated him. There were so many people mulling around ! Some places were set aside for rather large marketplaces. Many of the houses had their timberframes covered entirely with daub, some of the fancier buildings even had masonry. Traders, local and foreign, cried offers in many languages. It was a lively place, all things considered.
And he had also noticed one more thing. The town guards, resting at various strategically chosen locations around the city's fortifications and interior, were armed with spears, clubs, axes, bows and… tillerbows. Tillerbows even seemed more common than the average handbow. He wasn't quite sure why, but he surmised they were perhaps more practical weapons for shooting in the streets of a city this big.
As he walked past a wealthier part of the city, he noticed the guards, presumably ones of the local ruling elites, were also armed with tillerbows. Virtually all of them had bottom-mounted levers with attached pegs, richly decorated tillers, and expertly carved wooden self-bows or composite wooden bows reinforced with sinew strips. Even the bolts had finely flaked, carved and sharpened stone arrowheads, ones that looked almost like works of art. And behind the string-catch was a small wooden attachment, seemingly fitting just above the back end of a bolt. Did it hold the bolt in place, somehow ? Or was it a sight, of sorts ? Who knew... One thing was certain to the trader. These tillerbows were clearly meant to show off the wealth and power of the locals, and weren't mere hunting weapons. They were weapons of defence, weapons of war.


By the 15th century, the Mississipian cultural complex was reaching its apex. One of the most advanced cultures of North America and firmly in the Chalcolithic (Copper Age), it didn't take forever for the cultures of this region to take note about the existence of the tillerbow, or trunkbow. Though adoption was never wholesale, many city states, local tribal confederacies and local polities took a liking to the new-fangled missile weapon. In a few decades, town and city guards and members of the local warrior classes prided themselves with their ownership of well-crafted tillerbows.

Though archaeological finds of these Mississippian tillerbows have not been all that common, the existing ones often showed an intentionally high degree of accomplished craftsmanship, and even unusually frequent decoration that served purely esthetic purposes. Given the presence of some of these finds in locations suspected to be linked to Mississippian native aristocracy, it seems these combat-grade tillerbows were seen not only as weapons, but as status symbols, meant to show off local wealth and prosperity.

Known wall-bow finds from the medieval cities of the Mississippian cultures are currently limited to a single specimen. Currently, it isn't quite clear whether they were never that common for siege defence of Mississippian cities, compared to settlements of cultures from southwestern North America. It is possible that the different nature of Mississippian fortifications, technologically closer to a wooden stockade fort, was less suitable for easy wall-bow use.


----

early 15th century AD, the Great Plains of North America, west of the Mississippi



Carrying the basket with edible roots and bulbs gathered on the prairie, she was excited to be approaching home again. After a few hours of successful foraging, she was quite tired. A little rest in the comfort of home would do her good.

The sun was already setting when she reached their home camp, at the edge of the local grasslands. She was surprised by the sight she saw in front of their hut. Her husband stood there, holding some goods and minor supplies – nothing too valuable – and talking with a man wearing unfamiliar-looking garb. Not a local. No doubt a trader. Maybe one from far away. She didn’t understand the man’s language, though it sounded somewhat familiar to their own tongue. Luckily, her husband was quite knowledgeable about languages. He also had a knack for bartering, even with people whom he didn't entirely understand. Not every word, at least.

By the time she reached them, the trader was setting off elsewhere. Ready to walk the vast stretches of the lone prairie, far as the eyes could see, until he'd stumble upon another camp or village worth trading with. Before he left, he greeted her with a polite nod and said a few parting words she didn't understand.
She shrugged, but nodded back and said a few brief words of thanks.
"He wishes you all the best, and says he'll gladly trade with us again in the future, if he ever passes through these lands, explained her husband.
"We're quite lucky you were at home when that trader went by, otherwise we could have missed out on some interesting offers. I reckon you've bought some of the things I recently asked for."
"Indeed," smiled her husband. "Come, love, I'll show you what I bought."

She was pleased. Some useful tools and supplies that were harder to come by in this area. Her husband also explained what he had traded in return for these. It all sounded like a fair bargain, as usual.
However, the largest item he bought really caught her eye. All the more that she was unsure about its purpose, and moreover, whether it was worth spending precious supplies in exchange for it… whatever it was. What a strange, strange contraption of wood and rope.
"What on earth is that thing ?" she pointed at the thing bartered by her husband.
"Well, clearly a bow."
"A bow ?! It looks more like someone went a bit absent-minded or... wasn't of a clear mind… and tied a bow to a piece of wood !", she blurted out her impression, punctuating it with a slightly bewildered laugh.
"I know it's unusual, dear. But trust me, the man told me it's a bow like any other. In some ways, it seems to be even better, strangely enough ! I've tried shooting it myself and it's quite interesting…"
"Hmm. And what would this very unusual bow be good for ? Hunting ?", she raised her eyebrows, still rather unconvinced.
"The trader told me it could be good for shooting hares and prairie dogs."
"Ah," she nodded, with some hesitance in her voice. "Next thing you’ll tell me is that you can even shoot bison with that. Would certainly broaden our supplies if that was possible…"
"Maybe. I can think of one other use, though: Many women often don’t practice archery."
"Well, how could we ?" she asked, sounding somewhat affronted. "The bow's seen as a man’s weapon."
"Yes, mostly. But with this, even an inexperienced person can shoot quickly and well enough."
"Oh."
"Yes, even you, women ! Like you, my dear." he said with a conciliatory undertone and smiled.
She was frowning at him for that remark, but slowly mellowed out into a smile.
"I'm not sure I'll have much use for this little wonder. Hares and prairie dogs, you say ?"
"And defending our camp from miscreants, yes. That is where it can be really useful to women. No need for lengthy learning and practice on how to shoot a bow. From what the man showed me, even an entirely inexperienced bowman could use it easily. Yes, for self-defence as well, including defending our home camp. Now, whenever some foul-minded folk appear in the vicinity and you'll be all alone, with me far away, you can use this to shoot at them. You don't need to kill them, but something tells me this could really frighten them. It's certainly more… mysterious… than just throwing stones at them and yelling at them…"
Propping one hand against her waist, she looked at the device with interest.
"Hmmm..."


Many of the nomadic or still sedentary ancestors of the later Plains cultures would hear about crossbows via trade. From time to time, the peoples living on the fringes of the Great Plains would buy crossbows via barter or even attempt to build their own specimens. One such people would be the ancestors of the Kirikirish, also known to some as the Wichita. However, the spread of the invention to the Plains cultures proved ultimately unsuccessful. The contraption's fate was sealed with the (re)introduction of horses to the Americas and the birth of native forms of horse archery.

Though some modern day archaeologists have speculated that the lighter variations of native "tillerbows" could have been used on horseback - mounted crossbowmen having precedents in Asian and European history - only very little ethnographic or historical evidence that could support this hypothesis has survived to the present. Despite a few tantalizing finds, if the Plains Indians used crossbows, they did so very rarely and probably only on foot. Better evidence for mounted use of the native crossbow can be found among the Navajo, and historically, some of the Eastern Woodlands cultures.
 
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Legacy
LEGACY




"To my own surprise, some of the local tribes knew how to fashion crossbows, not only bows and javelins. These were far more modest than the ones carried as part of our expedition, before being eventually lost. Nevertheless, I was impressed that the locals had such skill and put these weapons to great use during hunting… Unfortunately, also for fending off foreigners deemed intruders, such as me and my surviving companions. During my travels through these little explored lands, me and a few of my companions had learnt the native craft of fashioning crossbows purely from wood and from a local variety of thick-fibered rope. These bows served us well many times, when we were forced to hunt or defend ourselves in the hostile wilderness."

- Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (ca 1538 manuscript), taking note of some of the native crafts in the regions he passed through, including native bowyery, during his travels in North America in the 1530s (account translated from period Spanish, from the La relación y comentarios of 1542, by Cabeza de Vaca)


| - | - | - | - |


"Wee wondered at the sight of the two menne with crossbowes in stead of bowes. They wore short quivers on their belts. One manne, careful, shewed us his crossbowe. They bring their bowes, all of woode, to the forme of ours by the scraping of a shell. The arrowes or quarrels some two quarters long, kept in the quiver. Hee wore no sworde, but had a clubbe hanging from his belt as a sidearme..."

- John Smith, 1607, describing some of the native archers from near Jamestown, armed with crossbows in addition to bows


| - | - | - | - |


"(...)

Female singer:
And I'll conjure myself into a big crow
Flee from you through the air
Beyond the mountains, to where
Birds sing and deer peacefully roam


Male singer:
Fly all you want, run until it hurts your sole
I'll bring along my ancient crossbow from home
A crossbow so mighty, it shoots any crow's soul
One day you'll be mine, freely you won't roam


(...)"

- excerpt of lyrics from the New Connacht traditional folk ballad, The Changing Lady (orig. ca 17th-18th century), an example of the "theatrical ballad" of New Connacht musical tradition, with two or more singers alternating in singing the narrative of a song.

This specific ballad tells a story about a native woman rumoured to be imbued with magical powers, and her stubborn "half-breed" (Indian/European) suitor, who refuses to acknowledge her rejection of his advances.


| - | - | - | - |


"(…)

What follows is an overview of known facts about North American native crossbows, often referred to by the natives as 'tillerbows' and 'trunkbows'.

Known New World crossbow locks
  • String-catch with "thumb lever" crossbow lock - known to some native cultures as "thumb-bows"
  • String-catch with "rising peg" crossbow lock - known to some native cultures as "peg-bows"
So far, the existence of "rolling nut" crossbow locks, comparable to those of European crossbows, or "three-piece roller" locks, comparable to those of Chinese single-shot crossbows, has not been confirmed by archaeological or any other evidence. The rolling nut crossbow lock was first adopted by Native Americans using crossbows only well after contact with European colonists, around the late 18th and early 19th century. All currently known historical New World crossbows, existing or rediscovered, worked on the basis of a "string-catch groove" lock system.

Known New World crossbow laths (bows)
  • Self-bows (all-wooden, single-piece bows) - the commonest form, similarly common to the selfbow of regular handbows. However, selfbows become less dominant on native crossbows since roughly the 12th or 13th century onward.
  • Sinew-reinforced composite bows - not as common as the wooden selfbows, but the most widespread composite bow form. They were popular for hunting crossbows and war crossbows alike, and also appear on many surviving specimes of wall-bows.
  • Horn-and-wood composite bows - rare east of the Mississippi River, mostly found among western cultures of North America. The surviving wall-bow specimens were often equipped with this bow.
The lack of horn-and-wood composite crossbow laths east of the Mississippi is probably reflective of the fact that even ordinary handbows of such construction, utilizing wood-derived and horn-derived components, were rare in the eastern half of North America. It can be said that fully composite handbows and fully composite crossbows were more of a speciality of the western regions, including the Great Plains. In contrast, selfbows and sinew-reinforced bows seemed to have been a widespread and commonplace technological solution all over North and Central America.

Though some of the surviving or found native crossbows with fully composite bows seem to show characteristics of being hunting crossbows first and foremost, the vast majority of known horn-and-wood composite laths seem to have been part of dedicated war crossbows. This includes several known specimens of the large wall-bows, intended for siege defence.

Known New World crossbow stirrup forms
  • No stirrups at tiller front - most known archaeological finds of New World crossbows fit this description. It is presumed that most crossbow spanning was done by propping the butt of the crossbow stock (the back of the tiller) against the thigh or waist while hand-spanning. It is also possible that the front of the tiller was propped against a tree, wall or other terrain feature before hand-spanning.
  • Modified "lips" at tiller front - these are known from a smaller number of finds. Specially carved front ends of the tiller, including specially modified "lips" for front attachment of the bow, were presumably modified for siege defence roles (propping the front into an arrowslit) or for spanning similar to stirrup spanning.
  • True stirrups - crossbow stirrup finds as we understand them in the Old World are very rare in archaeological finds of New World crossbows (this might be due to the more easily decomposing materials they were made from). Known specimens of native crossbow stirrups generally include combinations of wicker mesh, cloth and leather as the materials they were constructed from.
As the stirrup in the Old World sense, used in conjunction with a saddle, was unknown in the New World, many of the Amerindian terms for this crossbow part translate to variations on "foot-loop", "foot-rest", "spanning loop", and similar.

Known New World crossbow spanning tools
  • Hand-spanning - the oldest, most widespread and most readily available form of crossbow bowstring spanning. It is not an exaggeration to say that 85-95 % of all known New World native crossbows were entirely hand-spanned, with no additional tools.
  • Belt-hooks - for lack of a better term, these simple spanning devices are comparable to European and Chinese counterparts. The hooks themselves were usually made of hardwood. There are no auxilliary spanning bands known from finds, so to date, no belt-and-pulley improvements have been confirmed. The belt-and-pulley system was an evolution of the belt-hook system, known from Europe.
  • Wooden spanning levers - comparable appearance-wise and functionally to European gaffe levers. Most of the surviving specimens (only a low number) were used for spanning defensive wall-bows. It remains semi-speculative whether they were used for handheld tillerbows as well. Such levers would be capable of that, but there is insufficient evidence of such use.
The existence of dedicated bowstring spanning tools in New World crossbows remains even less materially substantiated than that of crossbow stirrups. Currently, there is roughly a dozen surviving spanning levers, and at most, the remnants of some twenty belt-hooks (or their parts, a more common occurence). To date, there is also no known evidence for the existence of integrated levers, or repeating crossbows with magazines, whatsoever. Most New World crossbows were entirely hand-spanned and all known New World crossbows were single-shot only.

Known New World crossbow bolts
  • Broadhead bolts - the most common bolt arrowhead type. It seems to be the predominant type in everyday use throughout the North American continent and the Americas in general, both for hunting purposes, and in warfare as an anti-infantry projectile. Broadheads are effective not only against soft tissues and clothes, but also against certain forms of native armour.
  • Barbed arrowhead bolts - these seem to be predominantly or solely a more specialised form of hunting arrowhead, often with a barbed back section, and a stone-tipped or bone-tipped front point. The function of the barbs is to prevent the arrowhead leaving the prey.
  • Bodkin arrowhead bolts - presumably used mainly in warfare, as anti-infantry projectiles. Bodkins are more effective against certain forms of native armour.
  • Whistling bolts - whistling bolts are simply a crossbow bolt form of the whistling arrows. Some native cultures in the New World used whistling arrows and bolts for various purposes, including signalling each other from a distance, or for various hunting tactics (usually for hunting wild fowl).
  • Flammable bolts - equipped with a blunter, insubstantial arrowhead, and a wicker bulb behind it, carrying flammable material that can be lit before shooting. A form of arrow for igniting fires, presumably for intimidation or causing chaos during sieges. Most of the known specimes were wall-bow launched, hinting at their defensive role in sieges, rather than in typical handheld archery.
There are essentially two subtypes of the broadhead, barbed and bodkin arrowhead, for both native arrows and native crossbow bolts:
  • The traditional / pre-Columbian arrowhead form, generally made of stone (broadheads, barbed arrowhead points) or bone and antler (bodkins, barbed arrowhead points). These are the true "medieval" arrowheads of native North America, before the introduction of steel arrowheads by European colonists.
  • The "trade" arrowhead form, made of steel (trade broadheads, trade bodkins or steel nails repurposed as bodkins, or steel nails repuposed as barbed arrowhead points). Named as such because these purpose-built or improvised steel arrowheads were bought from European traders and shopkeepers or from other native traders doing business with Europeans.
Curiously, the peoples of the Mississippian cultures invented the minor but useful accessory of the bolt-clip (also bolt-holder, bolt-safety or bolt-catch) already around the mid-14th century. This predates the common European introduction of such a feature by a century, or even century and a half.

Known New World crossbow types (by function)
  • Hunting crossbow - the most commonly seen and found type. It can also serve as a self-defence weapon in time of need. Most were hand-spanned and commonly had a simple wooden selfbow or a sinew-reinforced bow. The popularity of either of the two known native lock types for these evened out in the later centuries of crossbow spread and usage in the Americas. Most early specimens of hunting crossbows, including the oldest known New World crossbows of all, were equipped with the thumb lever as their trigger.
  • War crossbow - these often had more powerful bows, up to and including sinew-reinforced bows (also common on many hunting crossbows), and particularly, horn-and-wood composite bows. With each new century of the crossbow spreading and diversifying throughout the Americas, the "rising peg" crossbow lock became more common for native war crossbows, often with a peg tied directly to the trigger lever. There is some evidence of belt-hook use in addition to hand-spanning in New World war crossbows.
  • Wall-bow - large, more cumbersome crossbow, purpose-built for defending fortifications and settlements during a siege. The most powerful types had composite bows. Functionally, wall-bows are very comparable to medieval European and medieval Chinese wall crossbows (which were later supplanted in use by wall guns).
Many of the more richly decorated and more technologically accomplished native crossbows belonged to the nobility of wealthier tribes or even wealthier polities or proto-polities. These crosssbows seemed to have a dual use, as both hunting weapons, and as recreational weapons, for target-shooting and target-practice. Given their richly decorated and more lavish forms, they also played the role of status symbol.

Though some native cultures utilised wall-bows, to this day, it remains uncertain whether the siege warfare of "medieval" and "early modern" American natives (in the pre-cannon, pre-gunpowder era) included an equivalent of European and Chinese siege crossbows (either on a static, or wheeled siege engine chassis). Some wall crossbows were known to have been mounted on purpose-built pedestals and "rails" on flat roofs of settlements, by some of the southwestern cultures of North America. There is no other known evidence for a "siege crossbow chassis" among the native cultures of the New World, despite their rudimentary knowledge of other siege weapons (siege ladders, portable mantlets and pavise-like shields, simple battering rams, etc.).

Known New World crossbow use on horseback

The topic of horseback tillerbows remains the most controversial area of current research into the history of New World crossbows. Mounted crossbowmen are well-documented in Europe and Asia during the medieval and early modern period, but Native American examples are less straightforward. There exists a small amount of disputed evidence, that after the native adoption of horses in North America and the independent invention of horse archery by Great Plains and Northwest Plateau cultures, these native cultures might have occassionally used smaller tillerbows on horseback, in addition to their usual bows for mounted shooting. Though it is obvious the tillerbow could never have achieved widespread mounted use, due to the typical hunting and combat needs of a native horse archer, the weapon might have still found use in more niche roles (certain types of horseback hunting, in patrolling and guard duty at disputed borders with rival tribes and European settlers, etc.).

A few existing finds and surviving ethnographic specimens of tillerbows from the Great Plains are some of the only material evidence we have for this possibility. Tellingly, over half of the specimens suspected to be horseback tillerbows are equipped with a shorter and slimmer tiller (more light-weight and allowing for easier wielding and aiming on horseback) and their fronts are constructed in a manner that would allow a quick attaching or detaching of the bow, on a regular basis. A few of these specimens survive intact and are virtually all equipped with the exact same forms of Plains and Plateau bows that would be used in more typical horse archery. As a result, current archaeological speculation points to Plains tillerbows being designed primarily as detachable crossbow tillers. They could be easily carried around on horseback, tied to a small saddle bag or a horseman's quiver, and when quickly attached to a horse archer's regular cavarly bow, they would form a simple crossbow. This would represent another interesting technological parallel with Old World military developments. Certain Ottoman and western Asian mercenary horsemen from the early modern era occassionally utilised a very similar form of impromptu light crossbow, based on attaching a separate tiller to their cavalry bows.

Unlike the mostly disputed examples from the Great Plains and the Northwest Plateau, the examples of horseback tillerbow use among the south and southwest cultures and the Eastern Woodlands cultures of North America are better documented. Most famously, the Navajo people (Diné people) of the southwest, with their long tradition of horseback hunting, were known to use shorter and more comfortable "trunkbows" for hunting various prey, in addition to handbows. The Navajo are perhaps the best example of ample evidence for mounted native crossbow usage in North America, as native handbows and native crossbows had roughly equal popularity in their people's horseback hunting tradition. The tradition continues to this day, albeit often with more modern bows and crossbows, in addition to the continued native designs of the Navajo. Finally, though mounted troops were a less common feature of the Eastern Woodlands native militaries, there are several European accounts from the early period of European-Indian warfare in the 17th and 18th century that speak of native horsemen shooting at settler troops with native crossbows. From New France alone, we have two such accounts, one from the 1690s and one from the early 1710s, both having occured in the more sparsely forested parts of the land. It seems Eastern Woodlands mounted crossbowmen were used mainly for scouting/patrolling and occassional hit-and-run tactics against European settlers and soldiers. As the mounted troops of the Haudenosaunee were largelly equipped with traded or confiscated carbines and muskets by the early-to-mid 18th century, crossbows had a fairly short window of use in the history of Eastern Woodlands horsemen. It is possible that the Eastern Woodlands' independently invented tradition of "native dragoons" (typical for the 18th century) might have been partly inspired by their already existing mounted crossbowmen, but the connection remains unclear.

(...)"

- Étienne Beaumont, 1995, excerpts from an article (On the Characteristics and History of the New World Crossbow) contributed to international magazine Scientia, based on his research into New World crossbows and related experimental archaeology efforts


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"It still remains in dispute whether the spread of native crossbow technology had an effect on the middle period (1200-14000 AD) and particularly late period (ca 1400-1540) Mississipian culture. Past archaeological speculation, during research conducted earlier in the 20th century, often resorted to melodramatic claims about more advanced archery technology, used by outside cultures, leading to the eventual conquest and downfall of the Mississipian cultural complex, with nothing similarly developed ever stepping in to replace it. Currently, based on more detailed research and newer evidence, we know that this notion, though in the past popular and oft-repeated, is simply untrue.

The Mississipian cultures adopted the use of the crossbow in more modest numbers themselves. Based on archaeological evidence collected during the last fifty years, it has become clear that Mississipian crossbows, though certainly outnumbered by bows, saw frequent military use among the Mississippian culture. The introduction of the crossbow could therefore not have spelled sudden and certain doom to the ethnicities of the Mississippian cultural complex of eastern and southeastern North America.

It is far more probable that the gradual decline of the Mississippian culture came from a whole host of long-term internal and external factors. The latter also included the first forays of European explorers into the area, compounding the situation by inadvertently spreading unknown diseases among the native population.

(...)

One of the many smaller remaining mysteries that are missing pieces to its puzzle is the relationship between the European crossbow, the west African crossbow and the North American crossbow. It is quite possible that this mystery will never be satisfyingly resolved. Many of the escaped African slaves in colonial North America of the 18th and 19th centuries brought with them a west African tradition of crossbow-making, utilising the peg-lock method. It remains unclear whether these crossbow designs hybridised in any way with existing native crossbows (many of them of similar design) and whether there was any hybridization with the rarer, but certainly present crossbow designs brought by the colonists from Europe.

The only examples pointing in this direction come from later times, including the adoption of steel crossbow parts forging by Hauden (Haudenosaunee) ironworkers since the early 19th century. Curiously, many of the native and colonial crossbow-making traditions – especially among people of lower socio-economic stature that couldn't afford firearms or a steady supply of gunpowder – show signs of surprisingly fluent mutual influence. This trend can also be seen among the Métis of New France, known for their roughly 50:50 attitude towards reliance on long guns and crossbows for their hunting and fur-trapping economic activities. This is probably the closest unambiguous example of very explicit hybridization between native and overseas crossbow technology.

It is therefore at least broadly possible to ascertain that, like much of colonial America, even the humble crossbow is a confluence of cultural influences from several parts of the world. A result of the same cultural, ethnic and technological melting pot that forged the ethnicities and citizens of the modern day states of North America, native and non-native alike."

- Saskia Williams-Jensen, 2004, excerpts from an article written for The Journal of Native Archaeology, published by the University of New Denmark


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"(…)

Native American crossbows had long since posed a great enigma in the known history of archery, but new discoveries and further research during the last thirty years have shed more light into this endlessly fascinating and once rather mysterious topic. We would like to express our hope that this book, the most complete on this subject matter published to date, will satisfy both veteran enthusiasts and complete newcomers. We wish you pleasant reading."

(...)

"About the authors

Martin Heaps
, a world-renowned historical archery and historical martial arts enthusiast and educator, has edited or co-edited over twenty scientific and popular non-fiction books on the aforementioned subjects. He has also appeared in over twelve television and OrbisMesh educational documentary programmes covering these topics. As a writer and host, Heaps is often praised for his sheer enthusiasm in presenting fascinating and overlooked historical subjects.

Étienne Beaumont, a resident of New France, is the greatest living expert on the subject of New World crossbows. Since the early 1990s, Beaumont has famously endeavoured in experimental archaeology efforts to plausibly reconstruct native archery weapons of the New World, in addition to an interest in the study and reconstructions of Old World archery equipment. For his many years of exceptional contributions to scientific research, preservation of old crafts and native ethnography, and promotion of the history of New France and North America, Beaumont was knighted by Queen of France Amélie II in 2006.

Saskia Williams-Jensen, a native of Indjanhavn, is a professor of archaeology at the University of New Denmark. Williams-Jensen is one of the most respected archaeologists specialising in Native American archaeology, with many years of experience at various sites throughout North America. She took part in the Mexica International Archaeological Congress in 1997, during the first year of her two year long stay and research of Mexica ruins. Professor Williams-Jensen is one of the greatest current experts on the native peoples of the Mississippian culture (10th-17th century). She has authored or co-authored ten books on Native American archaeology, archaeological monuments and past material culture.

Gareth Ravenbird is one of the foremost experts on Native American cultures of the Great Plains and western half of North America, including the Pacific coast. Ravenbird has devoted three decades of his life to professional scientific study of the vernacular and material culture of native peoples from western North America. This includes native archery traditions of the region and their historical and economic influences.

Virginie Duchamp, an Anishinabe from New France, is a native antiquarian, researcher and activist with over a quarter century of experience. Currently, she is the director of the Museum of Indigenous Cultures of New France and a leading world expert on the eastern woodlands cultures of North America. Many of the vital contributions to this book, on the natives from today's New France, New Denmark, New Zeeland and New Connacht, were only possible thanks to the generous contributions of her great sum of archival and on-the-ground knowledge.

Achilles Mann is a highly decorated bowyer, blacksmith and medieval technology artisan, winner of several prestigious international awards in traditional craftsmanship, historical archery and experimental archaeology. The majority of the stunning and authentic reconstructions of New World crossbows readers can witness in this publication are the result of Mr. Mann's diligent work. Much attention has been payed to create the most authentic reproductions yet.

Claar Brouwer, from Willemstad in New Zeeland, has been researching Native American ethnography and esthetics since her college years. She was the author of the well-received 2005 exhibition The Art of War: Intersections of Warfare and Decoration in Native American Art, and regularly appears as a host or guest on New Zeeland Public Radio culture programmes, both on the radio waves and the OrbisMesh. She has contributed to the study of Mississippian art, including crossbow decorations."

- excerpts from foreword and author bio sections of the non-fiction publication Tillerbow: The History, Technology and Ethnography of New World Crossbows, edited and authored by Martin Heaps, Étienne Beaumont, Saskia Williams-Jensen, Achilles Mann, Virginie Duchamp, Gareth Ravenbird and Claar Brouwer, published by Arcadia University Press, Cabotville, 2007


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Paulie
"...so guys, based on all of the above, as I've painstakingly summarised it in my previous post, do you think there was any plausible chance of further development for the New World crossbow ? I doubt they could do much without metallurgy, but maybe there were still ways left to innovate ? We know they probably did have stirrups, at least occassionally in some cultures. Without metal parts and being all-wooden, many crossbows have decomposed more easily and there are less finds than of Old World specimens. But imagine if they could develop a rolling nut system, like in Europe. An antler nut, that's no real problem. The rolling nut would be a simple enough crossbow lock to make, though a step above in complexity to the simpler string-catch locks they had in the New World. And the material the natives could use for the trigger lever, the tickler ? That is trickier, but they could simply use hardwood."

Wyvern
"Intriguing. What about the contact surfaces, with friction between the lever and the nut ?"

Paulie
"Good point. Maybe they could put very thin strips of smooth leather on those, and that would reduce the friction."

Wyvern
"Hm could be. Truth be told, Paulie, I am more knowledgeable about swords and other cold steel stuff. "

Paulie
"And about Prince Rupert of the Rhine's Magical Poodle of Doom ! XD"

Wyvern
"Heh, yes, that too. :) Now, concerning native crossbows, I think that without metals, the possibilities are quite limited. On the other hand, we know that they did figure out some nice crossbow accessories, possibly even earlier than Europeans. You know about bolt clips, for the back of bolts, to prevent them from falling off when the crossbow is held upside down ?"

Paulie
"Sure ! Do you mean the fact that we have archaeological evidence the Mississippian cultures had figured out the bolt clip already in the 14th century ? The small wooden one, rotatable."

Wyvern
"Yep. Exactly that."

Paulie
"It's an interesting curio of crossbow history. A century, maybe even a century and a half before Europeans started using their own bolt clips, especially on hunting crossbows. Quite remarkable how differently some areas of the same tech developed, even though the Old World had a huge head-start with crossbows."

Paintifex Vexillographiarum
"Not my area of expertise, but this is all very interesting, indeed..."

Thirteen13
"Paulie, more developments ? That's easy ! Just have Zheng He show up, buddy up with the Mexica, and give them Chinese repeating crossbows. If the Mexica get their hands on these bad-bois, they'll no doubt be able to conquer everything south of them, right up to Amazonia."

Paulie
"What, the liannu given to the Mexica ? And the Zheng He reaching the Americas nonsense again ?! Guys, no Zheng He, please ! We're getting off topic... :-("

Professor When
"Ah, great, another True Believer in that crackpot Zheng He hypothesis... What's next, saying that we made it to the Moon already in the 1960s ?! It says a lot that it took us until 2002. (Though what a hopeful way to open this century !)"

Thirteen13
"I believe in the 1960s Moon landing. Though we were, of course, helped by aliens ! From a planet named Vulcan. They also gave the Chinks their magical higher knowledge to develop repeating crossbows. This knowledge can only be attained by looking into the mystical Khyber Crystals, which only occur on the three Vulcan moons of Kessel, Melmac and Khitomer ! Also, you remember that super-secret spaceplane project from the 1990s, SURF ? It also teh superiorz alien knowledge, given to us by Vulcans ! Humans too stupid for spaceplanes !"

Professor When
"Is this a joke or have you been tasting some particularly interesting mushrooms, Thirteen13 ? And Chinks ?! Excuse me ?! This site does have members with Chinese roots. Plenty of them. And ones with Mexica roots too. And people of many other nationalities, worldwide. Be a bit more respectful. Also, aliens ? You're nuts, old boy... Plain and simple."

Thirteen13
"Do not mock the mushrooms ! The Vulcans arrived to Earth aboard spaceships that travelled the interdimensional void on a highway made of psychedelia inducing mushrooms ! And gave the Chinks teh superiorz knowledge of repeating crossbows ! It is literally impossible for humans to invent these. Just like Gothic cathedrals or Mexica pyramids ! I can't build a repeating crossbow. I can't build a Gothic cathedral. I can't build a Mexica pyramid. That is proof ! The answer is clear ! Vulcans ! Please, enlighten yourself. Read Kurtzman's book Mushroom Ecstasy Roads of the Space Elves. You need to have a backup plan when they come to us on their magic mushroom ships…"

Paulie
"Okay, enough ! The hell does this have to do with this topic ? Thirteen13, please stop. You are, no offence, completely unhinged."

Professor When
"Wow. Seriously, wow. I rarely post this openly, but I will, this one time. Reported. This is Grade 1 nuttery, the likes of which we haven't seen on this site in a long time. Anyway, I don't know how to assemble a toaster, but that doesn't mean it had to be made by aliens. Kurtzman ? Is that that the old Helvetian hack who sees aliens behind everything ?"

Thirteen13
"Zheng He had to bring superior knowledge ! Entrusted by Vulcans !!! Smelly dumb Indians could not invent anything, they were dumb cavemen ! Their crossbow is a hoax ! Like Mapuche crossbow, it could not be made by them, they must have been gifted from outside ! Superior Chinkz invented everything in the world !"

JollyJester
"Next thing you'll tell us, the Chinese invented bears..."

Thirteen13
"Stay on topic, sheeple !!! Chinkz invented everything in the world, but only from mystic Vulcan knowledge ! Saying otherwise furthers the Sikh-led conspiracy to pretend kernel energy and kernel bombs are real, so stay on topic !!!! Vipe the vaseline from your happy-clappy glasses ! The Sikh tribalists are behind everything."

Professor When
"Reported. Give it up, bub. Also, kernel energy is a hoax ? Sikhs are part of a global conspiracy ? Wow, you must love your Vulcan magic mushrooms. You're in freefall, chum. Leave us in peace, we want to discuss Paulie's idea. It's a nice idea, unlike your horse manure."

Thirteen13
"Paulie, what about the Mapuche crossbow ?"

Paulie
"Thirteen13, the hell ! The Mapuche crossbow, again ?! That's even worse than the Zheng He obsession. And the Mapuche crossbow was made up and faked in the 1980s by a disgraced former archaeologist from Cobrenia, for cheap publicity. It was debunked already in 1990 ! Nearly thirty years ago ! It's still known as one of the most embarassing archaeological hoaxes of the 20th century. Sorry, we have no evidence for crossbows south of the Tawantinsuyu. Especially nothing as absurdly advanced as the supposed Mapuche crossbow."

Thirteen13
"Paulie, you sheep, wake up ! Out of place artefact ! The advanced nature is proof of overseas contact with superior Chinese knowledge, via Zheng He ! Provided by sacred Vulcan connection to Earth, by way of the Fifth Stellar Mushroom Chakra ! Truth denied by Sikh tribalists, as part of their envy of Vulcan-Chinese superiority ! Stay on topic, Paulie, or I throw banana at your stinky head !"

Paulie
"Calm down, chum. You conveniently overlook the fact that the Mapuche crossbow hoax did not include a Chinese-style design. It included a design copied from an early 16th century European design, which was never common to begin with and never used in the New World, not even by European colonists. So what are you babbling on about ?"

TheFourteenLeggedClimberUpper
"Oh no, not again ! Ungh, Zheng He, it's been debunked on this site a hundred times over. We even have that whole meme about it, the Treasure Fleet That Shall Not Be Named. Even a whole pinned discussion listing every single other discussion that has brought this up. Thirteen13, please listen to me, closely: Zheng He. Did. Not. Reach. America. Nor did he "buddy up with the primitive savages to bring them the light of Chinese civilization". Repeating crossbows given to the Mexica, out of the blue ? Yeah, right... And aliens from outer space ?! Really ?! The Zheng He stuff alone is starting to remind me of the ideas peddled by that Czech hack Š. M. Hrdlička in his allohistorical novels..."

JollyJester
"Hey, don't knock ol' Štěpán Michal. Yes, his more recent books are... pure product... to put it mildly... But his early stuff was often really, really excellent."

TheFourteenLeggedClimberUpper
"Jolly, you can't live off of old fame forever."

JollyJester
"Not saying you can."

TheFourteenLeggedClimberUpper
"When it comes to Hrdlička's hackery, I am reminded of that old parody image someone did of one of his novel's book cover. You know… Title: Hey, What If the Vikings Had Jet-powered Airship Fleets ? Subtitle: They Would Have Totally Colonized the Whole World and Instituted Their Tribal Democratic System of Government Everywhere… Leading to Problems Eight Hundred Years in the Future, When Claude Marchand Still Showed Up Right On Time With His Angry 'Labourers, Burn These Dark Devilish Mills, Let's Get Nude and Let's Get Back to Nature' Manifesto."

Doreen
"Bullseye."

Professor When
"XD

What a long subtitle indeed. ;)"

TheFourteenLeggedClimberUpper
"Hrdlička has descended into self-parody these days, anyway... Remember when he wrote that novel where time-travelling Sáami nationalists travel back to the 16th century and give the local Sáami people a huge supply of high-powered rayguns to take on their Scandinavian opressors ? Gimme a break ! Just ridiculous !"

Paulie
"Guys, gals, please... Amusing as it is, we're getting off topic. Seriously, really off topic."

Doreen
"Paulie, this speculation of your's reminds me of my Lands of Pelargonium and Zebras: Guns of the Bantu timeline."

Paulie
"Yeah, I love that one ! The one with the Bantu tribes who find a way to tame zebras as mounts and create primitive guns and gunpowder in the 14th century, and then conquer all of southern Africa with their zebra dragoons, forging a huge empire. Amazing level of detail you have in there ! It deserved all those Hrdlička Awards it won. I think it's even better than your Centuries of Gloom timeline from years earlier. :)"

Doreen
"You might be onto something with your early suggestion of North American Indians coming up with the rolling nut or a similar trigger mechanism."

TheFourteenLeggedClimberUpper
"You know my opinion of Hrdlička, Paulie and co. Why do we have an award named after him on this site, anyway ? Guy's a hack, if you ask me. Doreen Emeralde isn't much better with that rather biased non-fiction book of her's... What was it called ? Honestly, Doreen, you even made a username based on her name. "

JollyJester
"Funnily enough, we had a member called Emeralde who got banned for defending the controversial sex scenes in Š. M.'s books..."

TheFourteenLeggedClimberUpper
"And Paulie, Emeralde – the author, I mean, not the banned member – would no doubt tell you that the Native Americans couldn't improve their crossbows further, because steel, because Protestant work ethic, because... You get the drill. I think it's not that simple."

Paulie
"Same here. Maybe I'll prove Emeralde wrong."

Lawny
"Guys, as the resident pacifist and mild-mannered librarian, I urge you, let's not argue. Let us not give into the temptation of anger and discord, but discuss things in a civilized and scientific manner. Discuss things level-headedly. Including discussing the elegant but deadly awesomeness of crossbows."

Professor When
"And you're our resident pacifist ? XD"

Lawny
"Hell to the yes ! Crossbows ! :)"

Wyvern
"I think we should ignore Thirteen13's incoherent and blatantly racist ramblings, friends, and focus on the much more interesting topic in this thread by Paulie. I, for one, have always wondered whether rolling nut crossbows are more likelier in a culture with metallurgy, than one without. In the Americas, it seems to be the case, but... What about west Africa ? The locals had crossbows for many centuries, though they also had metalworking. Yet, we don't see any African rolling nut designs, only the lever-and-peg version, as in the 16th century Skåne find as well, or plenty of the North American finds throughout New World history."

Paulie
"I think there were some rare, very rare North African crossbow examples. You know, finds from the Maghreb, Al-Andalus, all that stuff. Generally, they were equipped with a rolling nut lock, so these are about the only African examples I know of to use that mechanism, but they are not sub-Saharan. And they were very rare indeed. Aside from those larger zamburak crossbows used on camelback, by the Mamelukes of Egypt, the Seljuks and others, the Arabs weren't all that enamoured with the gaws Ferengi, or 'Frankish Bow', as they called it. The western African crossbow tradition largelly stands alone. Maybe there's some European or Asian influence in there. Maybe it's an independent invention, like among the Native Americans or probably among the Inuit."

Thirteen13
"West Africa and Inuit crossbow also a hoax ! Total hoax, perpetuated by Sikh tribalists ! Crossbow cannot be invented by black unga-bunga people and blubber-eating savages ! Not even bow ! They are cavemen !"

Sean the Admin
"Thirteen13, what a load of utterly insane, absolute crap ! This is about the 70th discussion you've derailed in a row, and of that, the 20th you've derailed with that debunked Zheng He stuff. And the conspiracy babble about aliens, 'stupid natives', Sikhs and kernel bombs... Mad, bad, completely deplorable !

I had warned you repeatedly, you are nearing your last chance. Guess what ? You've crossed it with flying colours, for the last time. I am not booting you off the site for a week, or a month, I am banning you outright.

I, sir Sean, raise my warhammer, and strike you away into the mushroom void, to your Vulcans and magic crystals. Have fun with them. We haven't had fun with you. Banned."

Thirteen13
"Go on, Sean ! Go, go, go ! Ban me, you tyrant ! I am great martyr !!! I will go to WhatIfItHadHappenedOtherwise.disc and tell them what a meanie you are ! Just you wait, you Sikh tribalist ! Stop lying about kernel bombs !"

Sean the Admin
"Dammit, this board software and its hiccups... There. Banned. Good riddance."

Thirteen13 (Banned)

Professor When
"Phew, that's a relief. Thanks, Sean."

Paintifex Vexillographiarum
"Thank you, Sean. Common sense strikes again, thankfully."

Sean the Admin
"My pleasure. Also, JollyJester, sorry. I accidentally banned you instead of the nutter. Fixed it now, so don't worry."

JollyJester
"I didn't even notice I got banned, ha ! Thanks for unbanning me."

Paulie
"Sean, thank you for dealing with all that ! Um... Guys ? Guys ? Can we get back to discussing Native American crossbows already ? We're nearly at the bottom of the second page and there hasn't been much actual discussion yet."

Doreen
"Shoot ! Quite the quarrel we had here, ey ? Ey ? Paulie, I can imagine it was driving you and all of us... nuts. All that nonsense by Thirteen13, it really had me... triggered. Let's tickler your fancy a bit, and bring the quality of discussion up a peg... It would be very... fletching."

Wyvern
"You and your puns, Doreen. Yes, let's continue. Any more ideas, Paulie ?"

Paulie
"I've pondered a few…"

Doreen
"The native crossbow discussion returns... no strings attached !"

- excerpt from a discussion at the WhatIfHistoryWentDifferently.hist site of the OrbisMesh, July 2018, talking about potential allohistorical developments of Native American crossbows


| - | - | - | - |


"Me and my wife Inês, my most trusted co-developer, felt that a roleplaying computer game set in pre-Columbian, pre-colonial North America would be a wonderful thing to explore. Particularly because there's so huge a gap in the market when it comes to this topic and games. Before we published Warclub and Bow, there was really nothing like it on the market. So, me, my wife and several of our friends from near and far felt it would be an excellent niche for our game... Something different, something novel... Refreshing.

At the same time, it was clear to us that making a game like this would be daunting research-wise and in terms of development. All the more that we'd have to take loans and do everything from our home, without an office... If someone told us to attempt that idea today, maybe we wouldn't dare to, but several years ago, we were more eager to dive head-first into an effort like that.

We've been overjoyed by the massive success of our game. For all these years, we were convinced it would be, at most, a small independent hit. But the strong sales and the sheer enthusiasm and good will shown by the still growing fanbase showed us there might be more to our game than we had initially hoped. I think the fans are partly responsible, with their positive word-of-mouth on various OrbisMesh gaming forums contributing greatly to the game's increased sales and public exposure. For which me and the whole team are immensely thankful !

And you well and truly wouldn't believe all the raving of players at our official forums, writing us long accounts of their thrilling experiences with ambushes, sieges, even pitched battles, between various native peoples. I still remember one fan detailing how he and a few fellow players conquered a smaller hill fort, with him only armed with a handful of bolts, a tillerbow and an axe. It's amazing reading the players' and fans' stories, their "after action reports", and the sheer enthusiasm and creativity they put into it. It's grown into a wonderful community since the game was published and did very well.

If you'd told me, my wife and the other handful of our collaborating devs just a year, or two years ago, that we'd be a household name throughout North America, I would have laughed and waved my hand. So, all of us at TaleWeaver Entertainment are really, really humbled at the response. We hope that Warclub and Bow keeps going strong, continues to have enduring popularity... And who knows ? Maybe one day, we'll even make a sequel."

(friendly smile)

- 2012 video interview for the Games Unlimited website, with Raru Echo-Hawk, co-founder of the TaleWeaver Entertainment independent game development studio, on Warclub and Bow, the studio's sleeper hit Amerindian action-roleplaying game and medieval life simulation


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"Hello there, dear friends ! Per-Jürgen Kutil here. We weet again, with another episode of my adventures in crossbow-making, historical and ahistorical, serious and playful.

(laughs)

This episode actually isn't a request by one of my donors at the Patron of the Arts site. Instead, it's a video response to my friend, Todd "Leo" Nardi, a.k.a. Leo of the Ye Olde Lionhearte Workshope. You know the chap, an Italian of British roots, makes wonderful historical reproductions of historical crossbows, daggers, swords, scabbards, eating knives, whathaveyou...

(screenshot of a TuaVid channel appears on the screen, scrolling through recent video thumbnails, then highlighting one video)

Well, recently, Leo made a video where he met with Marke Paston of Lynx Blade Academy, the historical martials arts school you have probably heard of. The topic was mainly about crossbows and crossbowmen sidearms and though focusing on Old World examples, it veered off a little into New World crossbow discussion...
One of the things they talked about was whether Native American crossbowmen could span, load and shoot their crossbows fast enough to avoid needing to draw sidearms often. It is something of a disputed topic, there are plenty of possible answers, because the archaeological and material data can be quite scarce, and oral tradition is not always reliable...

(scrolling screenshot again, showing the next video)

Leo later made a follow-up video, where he further picked apart the New World sections of the previous video discussion with Marke. He noted that we do have evidence for some wooden spanning levers, in a handful of cultures. All seemed to be focused on crossbows we could describe as military. Furthermore, tying the peg of a peg-lock mechanism directly to the trigger lever seems to have also sped up the process of spanning, as the native crossbowan did not have to reset the peg. So, a trained native crossbowman could probably span and reload quite fast. Maybe even take on a regular archer in a tough situation. Hard to say...

Leo found some older discussion on the OrbisMesh, , on some site about the allohistory genre and speculation. In it, there was a reasonable discussion on New World crossbows, but some nutcase also started claiming that it was entirely possible the Chinese could cross the Pacific and arm the Mexica with Chinese repeaters... Repeating crossbows, I mean, not rifles. Ha !
Leo thought the whole idea was daft, unlike the rest of the discussion. However, he also noted, with quite a bit of interest, that the Chinese repeaters would actually not be all that hard to reproduce even at a Neolithic or Chalcolithic level. Now, does that mean the Indians had repeaters ? Absolutely not. To date, there has been no evidence for such a thing. Even Beaumont, probably the biggest living expert, has been intensely skeptical the natives ever built such a device, as skillful as they were.
So, did Indians have repeaters ? Maybe they existed, maybe not. I mean, imagine a world where Indian crossbows existed, but nothing survives about them. No oral tradition, no written record, no archaeological find, nothing... My point being: Indians could have invented repeaters, everything about it could have been lost, we don't know. In all honesty, it is unlikely they had such advances. Their rough capability of building one doesn't automatically mean they really did build such a bow.
But... As the people on that allohistory site no doubt say... What if ?! Hm, hm, ha, ha !

(wink at the audience, then cut)

Do you know the novels and films about Hiawintu ? They are not as equally popular in every country, but they were always a smash in their native New France and over in Europe. Same with the European and New French film co-productions from a few decades back.

(various photos of Hiawintu book and film covers and fan art appear next to Kutil on the screen)

Hiawintu is a fictional Native American woodsman, fur-trapper, adventurer, part-time outlaw and all-around hero. First appearing in a series of short story anthologies and novels by New France prose writer Charles Avril in the 1800s, Hiawintu has gone on to become one of the iconic characters of New France's popular culture. He is popular to this day, new pulp fiction featuring the character is still coming out, he even has his own regular series of bandesine issues. They even did a reboot where he's a modern Indian lawman, and another one, where he goes to space to help alien natives, but I am getting ahead of myself...
The original Hiawintu character is 'half-Tuscarora and half-Blackfoot', as he tends to describe himself, and he is best summed up as a Native American Robin Hood or William Tell, helping the common folk of all races, fighting criminals, helping little old ladies across the street, you get the idea... Why the comparison to William Tell ? Because, unlike most native heroes in fiction, Hiawintu is firmly a crossbowman, rather than the usual bowman. And he is such a master of shooting his native crossbow – particularly speed-shooting – that he has often been celebrated, but also parodied, as an inhumanly fast crossbowman.



(cue tense dramatic background music)

So, what of this ? Well, my dear friends... All of these influences... gave me an idea...

(cut, Kutil is sitting on his log bench and has a wooden device or weapon in his lap)

What have I got here ? It is a pretty good reproduction of a Native American crossbow, the sort we know from plenty of finds throughout North America.
What's that, my friends ? Why does the crossbow lock appear so strange ? Why is the peg entirely static ? What are these weird bits ? Get ready, friends, I am about to shock you.

(from off-camera, he picks up a strange, elongated wooden box, with a strange wooden lever attached; he shakes the box, it sounds full of some unknown wooden objects; he places the box-and-lever on top of the crossbow, and locks it safely into place)

Say hello to my little friend, ah-ha-ha ! What ? Does it look like a Chinese repeater, with a gravity-fed magazine, though modified to fit a typical Native American crossbow ? You betcha ! Ah-ha !

(he suddenly turns the camera to a nearby shed, with an ordinary target on the wooden wall)

Watch this ! This will hit the broad side of the barn, I assure you...

(we see the front of the crossbow, along with the magazine and lever moving back and forth; the crossbow is shooting bolt after bolt into the target)
(Kutil turns the camera back to his face, he is grinning and chuckling like a little kid)


I call this...

(he holds the whole repeating Indian crossbow in front of the camera, to show it fully)

...the Instant Hiawintu !

(he guffaws)

Ha-ha !

(the camera turns to the target again and he starts shooting wildly at it with the home-made repeater, laughing maniacally as he does so)
(sudden camera cut, Kutil is sitting on his log bench, cradling the crossbow and being less manic)


Now, my friends, why do I call it the Instant Hiawintu ?
Because in all those works by Avril and others, Hiawintu is a damned, damned fast crossbowman, or arbalist, if you will. One of his in-universe nicknames in those works is the Amazing Arbalist, and another one is the Arbalist Avenger. He can span, load and shoot his native crossbow with near-superhuman speed.
One particularly far-fetched story about him includes him defying gravity for a few seconds, as he jumps to safety from a collapsing stone-and-wood bridge that was just blown up with explosives by bad guys. Hiawintu runs atop the collapsing bridge to safety, shoots four thugs standing on the other side of the gorge, and manages to span, load and shoot his crossbow in literal blinks of an eye ! Top that ! So...

(cut to brief recap footage of the Indian repeater spray-and-pray shooting bolt after bolt)

Yes, yes, it is a bit of a cheat, combining a chu ko nu with a New World crossbow, but it works.

So, pun intended, don't nock it, all right ? Get it, knock it, nock it ? Ah, ha-ha !

(winks at the camera, then points at the crossbow in his lap)

I have not talked yet about its further accessories. My dear friends...

(chuckles)

...let me show you its features ! Ha ! (laughs)


- videodiary of Per-Jürgen Kutil on the TuaVid videhosting site of the OrbisMesh, June 2020, showing off his latest forays into DIY bowyery and other mechanical contraptions to his fans
 
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Author's Afterword
Author's Afterword

Apologies for the vagueness of the geographic and ethnographic setting, particularly in the first chapter. Beyond the idea that the originator of the invention is from a tribe that's part of an earlier form of an OTL Algonquin or Iroquois culture, I don't have the specifics laid out. No names for the characters, no specific nationality or tribe, specific language, or even location. As generic as it is, I still haven't decided (based on the rather tough to do research for this) which specific culture I should pick as the inventors of Native American crossbows in this timeline. There's a fair amount to choose from, but I didn't want to jump the gun with the selection. What tribe do our limping bowyer and his unexpected kid helper originate from ? I've decided to leave it open-ended. It all adds to the undertone of "this was invented so long ago, and without written sources, we have no idea who was behind it... but it might have been a very ordinary and very human story".


The origins of this story/timeline and a bit of a history lesson in-between

This entire timeline was inspired by a plausibility check and what if discussion thread I started back in July 2018, titled:

Plausibility check: Native Americans developing crossbows (and their spread in the New World)

That plausibility discussion provided some very nice results and very stimulating discussion. It was ultimately the main impetus for me to develop this short, but hopefully readable, plausible (enough) and entertaining timeline.

I've long since been peeved by the stereotypical notion that crossbows are archery weapons "reserved for high civilization" and that a Neolithic-level civilization, regardless of how advanced, couldn't ever construct them. This is completely false, based on contemporary archaeological and ethnographic evidence alone. Though the origins of the crossbow as a weapon are lost in the mists of ancient history, there's plenty of hints that it was first invented somewhere in Southeast Asia. The crossbow-making tradition in that part of Asia is one of the oldest in the world, known even to very technologically humble tribes throughout many countries of the region. Furthermore, some of the crossbow designs that originate here are some of the most archaic anywhere in the world. Many don't even have a real trigger and any kind of crossbow lock. Compared with these, even surviving ancient crossbows are quite sophisticated. I'd say that if you want to find the original origin point of the crossbow in the Old World, you should look towards Southeast Asia.

Over the millennia, it seems the invention gradually spread northward. The Chinese then started adopting it quite frequently, and particularly, they started improving upon the basic idea in various ways. Curiously enough, though they had pistol-grip bronze trigger mechanisms for single-shot crossbows already more than two thousand years ago, the famous Chinese gravity-fed repeating crossbows often didn't have any metal parts at all, and were just clever wooden mechanical contraptions, with a wooden selfbow or a composite bow.

So, it's not really true crossbows need highly sophisticated materials to work. They are limited by the lack of such resources, certainly, but you can create a fully-functional crossbow with relatively little starting resources and only a few basic woodworking tools. Granted, it does take a bit more extra time and effort than just making a bow, but not vastly much. Personally, I've built three different crossbows that do not use a single metal part, and the first two of these are of the same types that Native Americans could build even without any sort of more advanced woodworking tools or great degree of know-how.

European and west African crossbows are younger than Asian examples, and there was at least some influence by Asian knowledge in their development over the millennia. Ancient Greek and Roman designs, such as the gastraphetes or the arcuballista, show a mixture of Mediterranean region technological know-how, and Chinese tech know-how, imported over the centuries via the Silk Road and other trade routes. As the Romans did trade (indirectly) with the Chinese, and even as far as Lake Baikal, I wouldn't be shocked if some ideas trickled down all the way from East Asia, via central Asia, India and the Middle East, all the way to Europe. Perhaps as early as two thousand years ago. As a design, the Greek gastraphetes (essentially an oversized crossbow) predates known Roman crossbows and wasn't necessarily Chinese-inspired, given its very different trigger mechanism and spanning, so you could also argue that inventing crossbows independently of the Chinese wouldn't be that vastly difficult in Europe and western Asia. They had plenty of inventive people as well. Whatever the case, there seems to be a distant Chinese influence on the development of the Roman rolling nut crossbow, and by extension, on the medieval European crossbow that followed.

Even more importantly, the typical European crossbow we know today, the one we imagine when talking about European designs, is essentially the same as the type the Romans came up with in late antiquity. A rolling nut for the bowstring and back of the bolt, a lever serving as a trigger, and that's it. Sure, improvements were added to this type of crossbow lock, especially during the late Middle Ages and early modern times, but there were no drastic changes.

One of the strangest cases of sophisticated, but technologically less advanced cultures utilizing crossbows occurs in the Canadian Arctic. There is some archaeological and ethnographic evidence that the Inuit knew how to manufacture simple crossbows already long before European contact, and were using them as recently as the last two hundred, three hundred years. This would make them the only known New World culture that ever used such an archery weapon. Which begs the question: Where the hell did they get them ? Did they invent them on their own ? Was there outside influence ? Similarly to the weird isolated occurence of native crossbows in west Africa, we don't know for sure.

Personally, given that we know there were lively native trade routes between the Canadian Arctic, Alaska, and the the area of coastal Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, the Bering Strait and Kamchatka, I am leaning towards the answer that the idea for the crossbow was imported to the Inuit from Asia. We know that many Siberian cultures traded with more southern polities and peoples, and trade routes went as far south as China. If you think I'm exaggerating, there's the fact that Kamchatkan, Aleutian and other Bering Strait peoples knew about mail armour (mail shirts, etc.) already centuries before European contact, and even wore mail armour, in addition to their home-made native armour (usually lamellar or padded). They didn't have the capability to manufacture these and treated them as prized trade items. Where did they get these mail shirts ? Correct, from China and Mongolia ! So, even though we don't have a satisfactory answer of where the rare Inuit crossbows originated as an idea, they might have gotten their initial spark as an idea brought along trade routes from China nortward, and then eastward. China-Siberia-Kamchatka-Bering Strait-Alaska-Canadian Arctic... bingo.

Naturally, the Inuit had no idea that something like China or trade with it exists at all, but some tech ideas from very distant lands could have dripped over to them over the many centuries, drop by drop. After all, though the Inuit didn't mine and didn't have metallurgy, we also know they knew how to use meteoric iron for simple spearheads, and that they also used copper parts for tools and weaponry long before meeting Europeans. So, the idea they could learn about the idea of a crossbow and try to occassionally build one with what they had handy (better wood they found in the tundra, some home-made rope) is not at all absurd.

To no one's surprise, I just couldn't leave that itch be, and so I developed that whole plausibility discussion back in July 2018.

And to no one's surprise, I just couldn't leave that itch from the plausibility discussion be either ! Multiple itches, in fact ! ;) All our wonderful board members provided me with plenty of intriguing stimuli and food for thought when we discussed the whole topic.

By September 2018, I began writing the first, early bits of what would evolve into the story you've just finished reading.

However, the development of this story wasn't entirely smooth sailing. Given that there is absolutely no evidence of Native Americans (sans the rare Inuit exceptions) ever having and using crossbows, I was facing a thankless writing task: How could I plausibly explain the invention of a native New World crossbow, even a very simple one ? Because "A bowyer just woke up one day and decided to build a crossbow" is not what I'd call a believable explanation. A lot of inventions get discovered by accident - after all, it's also the case in this story - but even those accidents and lucky coincidences don't occur every single day.

Thankfully, what me and the others had discussed in the plausibility discussion from July 2018 had proven very helpful in thinking about the factors that could have spurred, or in turn prevented, the technological development of the crossbow in the New World.

After thinking about the conundrum of "Native Americans invent crossbows in the Middle Ages, entirely on their own, without outside influence" and the conundrum of "Why would any native bowyer waste his time with making all the extra parts for a simple crossbow ?", I eventually found a plausible enough solution. It's the solution you've read in the first chapter of the story.

We have a skilled bowyer who is now partly disabled, so he can't go running around, going on hunting trips, doing heavier physical work or chores. He has loads of time now, and he's not making or repairing bows 24/7. To alleviate boredom and amuse himself, to practice his skills and inventive thinking, and to bond with his neighbour's children, he gradually discovers the concept of a bow with an added tiller/stock... Then he comes up with an added simple trigger, for greater ease of use... and things slowly spiral out from there and history subtly diverges.

Do note, I bothered to actually mention that, in the vast majority of timelines, this never occured this way. In the majority of timelines, the bowyer was not crippled and lived an ordinary life. In the majority of timelines where he was crippled, he had been annoyed by the boy's mischief, but didn't think about the implications of that prank any deeper, and dismissed the half-formed idea. And even in the majority of timelines where his tillerbow/trunkbow concept received some traction, it either stayed confined to the home village of the inventor or spread only throughout a small region of North America, not far from the inventor's home village. In a sense, this timeline and its narrative is very unique within the multiverse. One of those million-in-one chances. It might have a few close siblings, created as its own offshoots, but it's a rare occurence.

Because, honestly, Native Americans were very technologically skillful and far from uninventive. I feel that, if they had a real need for crossbows in OTL, they would have invented them. Either they didn't have much of a need for such an archery weapon, or various factors and circumstances prevented its invention or spread. That too is an intriguing thought: For all we know, crossbows might have been occassionally invented in the New World, but in such a scattered and very rare fashion, that both the material evidence and any other evidence that could have pointed to their existence has long been lost. Therefore, enjoy their existence at least in this humble contribution of mine to Native American alternate history works. (Also, please check out the other interesting Amerindian timelines and alternate history stories here on the site. Lots of hard work by other authors on this site.)

I would like to thank everyone in the July 2018 discussion on native crossbows for their wonderful feedback, ideas and general brainstorming. Without all of that discussion, I would never be encouraged to create this shorter timeline, and I might not have thought of some ideas that were implemented into it, besides ideas based on my own research. Once again, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who provided ideas and inspiration that helped make this little timeline a reality ! :)

I hope the following notes at the end of this afterword, in the appendices and two different artwork and images sections will also fill you in on any OTL and ATL information you might still find unclear, lacking or unknown to you. I've tried to do my best in that regard. Hopefully I won't disappoint. Thanks for finding the time to read my timeline, and feel free to provide any feedback and comments, if you're so inclined.

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Other Amerindian crossbow shenanigans I have planned
In the future, I also plan to incorporate a variation on this idea in The Westward Wind, but in a wholly different way that makes sense within that separate, unrelated story. I'm thinking that in The Westward Wind, the native crossbows based on the castaway-introduced crossbows might get the same terminology treatment, i.e. tiller-bows, but I have also been thinking of names that would reflect a rolling nut mechanism better, e.g. "claw-bow", "tooth-bow" or something in that vein.
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Native demonyms cheatsheet
Most of the story does not directly specificy the ethnicity or culture of the specific Native American protagonists, as I felt there wouldn't be much point in being overly specific. I didn't want to do any unintentional favouritism, it could seem reductive. So, you can slot in whatever geographically appropriate ethnicity (or their medieval ancestors) you'd like to imagine, into this or that particular vignette. All that said, I do use a few alternate terms for some nationalities in the story's main chapters, this afterword and also the appendices ahead. Here's a cheatsheet to help sort out any questions you might have left.

Hauden = ATL abbreviation of Haudenosaunee (as seen in the story), the Iroquois term for themselves and the confederation of their individual nationalities and tribes
Wendat = the Huron, known more natively as the Wendat or Wyandot
Kirikirish = autonym of the Wichita people from the southern Great Plains for themselves ("raccon-eyed people")
Chaticks = one of the autonyms used by the Pawnee for themselves (the modern OTL Chaticks si Chaticks means "Men of Men")
Pani = another alternate term for the OTL Pawnee, as they were referred to as Panis in French Canada; similar prounciation to OTL
Mexica = Aztec (the Aztecs never actually called themselves that, they called themselves Mexica)
Tawantinsuyu = Inca (also an alternate OTL term for them, based on the term for their state/empire)

The other nationalities and cultures mentioned appear under their OTL names. The Tuscarora called themselves Skarúre, a close-enough term to the modern English term. Blackfoots are also referred to as such, since one of the dominant nationalities that made up their confederation (Niitsítapi) were the Siksikáwa (literally "Black feet"). Nootka and Haida are also referred to by their OTL names, as are some southwestern and southeastern nationalities mentioned in passing.
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In-jokes cheatsheet
AH.com parody cameos

Looser analogues, so please don't consider these direct parodies of our board members. They do have some similarities, though.
  • Paulie = me (Petike) ;)
  • Wyvern = Balaur (both the wyvern and a balaur are a type of dragon, Wyvern also has similar historical warfare knowledge as Balaur)
  • Professor When = Doctor What (level-headed, good-natured, no-bullsh*t attitude in discussion)
  • JollyJester = MerryPrankster (more or less)
  • TheFourteenLeggedClimberUpper = TheSevenLeggedFallyDowner (mostly just the amazing username, as I don't know whether TSLFD had any disappointment with Turtledove or Stirling)
  • Doreen = Jared (female counterpart, with the same dry, punny sense of humour, and wrote two similarly epic timelines)
  • Paintifex Vexillographiarum = The Professor (mild-mannered, more of a reader than poster, due to different area of personal expertise)
  • Lawny = Mowque (especially the strong pacifist sentiments, but also an interest in cool, not-so-pacifistic historical things)
  • Sean the Admin = Ian equivalent, obviously (though the warhammer-banhammer strike catchphrase is also reminescent of CalBear)
  • Thirteen13 = stand-in for Eleven11, Ravaun, Kahing, and other classic tinfoilers and insulting trolls banned from AH.com (his obsession with ancient astronaut theories and aliens is obviously a dig at the OTL tinfoilers and pseudoarchaeology enthusiasts who believe such things)
The discussion thread created by Paulie is, obviously, a bit of a send-up/parody of my own plausibility check discussion from 2018, linked to earlier. Unfortunately for Paulie and his friends at their own equivalent of AH.com, their interesting AH discussion was derailed by an annoying troll. Luckily, I dodged that bullet in my OTL discussion with other AH.commers. ;)
  • Lands of Pelargonium and Zebras: Guns of the Bantu - a riff on Jared's Lands of Red and Gold, the late Bob Perkins' The Guns of the Tawantinsuya, and all the manner of "Lands of Something and Something" native and agricultural timelines that have appeared on AH.com over the years.
  • Centuries of Gloom = a riff on Jared's other epic timeline, the older project Decades of Darkness
  • "Zheng He had reached America" cliché = unfortunately, even more popular in this timeline (!), as there was no Operation Sealion.
  • Š. M. Hrdlička = alternate history author, composite figure based on two OTL authors. Guess which. ;)
  • Hrdlička's novel about time-travelling Sáami nationalists bringing rayguns to their ancestors in the past = an obvious riff on you know who's novel Guns of the South

Various people and things in the story
  • Doreen Emeralde = an ATL, female counterpart to Jared Diamond, him of Guns, Germs and Steel fame
  • Martin Heaps = Mike Loades (self-explanatory... the OTL and ATL versions both have heaps and loades of enthusiasm for their work)
  • Achilles Mann = Hector Cole (Coleman = Cole + man = Cole / Mann, get it ? :p)
  • Marke Paston of Lynx Blade Academy = Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria (SC has a lynx in their emblem, and also, the Pastons were an English 15th century family whose correspondence has survived)
  • Todd "Leo" Nardi, British-Italian craftsman of Ye Olde Lionhearte Workshope = Leo "Tod" Todeschini, Italian-British craftsman of Tod's Workshop
  • Per-Jürgen Kutil = sort of a tongue-in-cheek blend of myself and the very talented mechanical tinkerer and YouTube vlogger Jörg Sprave. Kutil means "handyman, tinkerer" in Slovak, a further in-joke. To quote Jörg, "Ah-ha-ha !". ;)
  • Charles Avril = a French-Canadian analogue to both Karl May and James Fennimore Cooper. Note the name "Charles April" (this timeline) and "Charles May" (OTL).
  • Hiawintu = a composite parody of Hiawatha and Karl May's Winnetou, with some native reworkings of Robin Hood and William Tell thrown in the mix. As a native trapper/fur-trader, he also has a bit of Cooper's Nathaniel "Hawkeye" Bumppo in him as well.
  • Instant Hiawintu = a parody of the "Instant Legolas" multiple-shot bow magazine invented by Sprave in 2017 (or the "Instant Robin Hood" version, made later). In this case, it's something more conventional, simply a Native American crossbow design combined with a Chinese repeating crossbow design. Of course, plenty of people in the modern day, both in China and many other countries, have done reproductions of historical Chinese repeating crossbows, much like any other type of historical crossbow.
  • TaleWeaver Entertainment, Warclub and Bow, Raru and Inês Echo-Hawk (Chaticks husband/European wife developer team) = TaleWorlds Entertainment, Mount and Blade, Armağan and İpek Yavuz (Turkish husband/wife developer team) ;)
  • New Connacht folk ballad, The Changing Lady = inspired by the lyrics of and the singing style of the song Proměny, by Czech folk/world-music band Čechomor and singer Lenka Dusilová
  • bandesine = an ATL contraction of bande dessinée, the French term for comics and comic books
  • Anglo-Danish = the language of New Denmark as a post-colonial sovereign country in eastern North America, originally founded and settled by English and Danish settlers, as part of the efforts of the Anglo-Danish Personal Union. Anglo-Danish evolved as a blend of the two languages, and though both modern forms of these languages are also used in New Denmark, the undisputed official language is Anglo-Danish.
  • New Zeeland = this world's New Zealand is a Dutch-speaking, post-colonial sovereign country in eastern North America, originally founded and settled by Dutch colonists in the early modern era. It lies south of New Denmark and New France. Like the OTL example of the name, it's named after the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands. Note the two "e"-s in the country's name, rather than an "e" and an "a". Young madam Brouwer, art researcher, is a New Zeelander, like millions of other people of European, Native American, other and mixed descent.
  • Last but not least, you might notice some references to a certain Real-Time Strategy game that was first published in 1999/2000 and some references to the theme song of a certain 1960s film in the vignette about the siege defence of a southwestern culture settlement. :cool: Also, one of the two arguing Cherokee or proto-Cherokee hunters (the "which is better: bow or crossbow ?" discussion) is apparently familiar with Mr. T's catchphrase. :openedeyewink:
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Background music used in the timeline
The red cardinal bird call is courtesy of the official Birds Inc. and Birdwatchers Kingdom LLC YouTube channel.
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Title card used in the timeline
The title card was derived from two existing images/photos:
- illustration of the Algonquian village Of Pomeiock, eastern North America, 1580s, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (public domain image)
- reconstruction of a Colletière à Charavines style thumb lever crossbow (10th/11th century) by Leo "Tod" Todeschini, featured in the "Two crossbows with yew prods" discussion thread at the forums of MyArmoury.com, 2015

Obviously, a Native American crossbow would not have a bowstave made of yew wood, would probably have different thickness and material to its bowstring and maybe even lack the added bowstave end-nocks, which are not necessary even on the OTL examples. Since I had no other adequate photos of this type of crossbow from OTL, and the Amerindian ones don't exist, I used this photo of an OTL reconstruction to depict the hypothetical native hunting crossbow in the title card (specifically, the older and more basic thumb lever type). Still, this OTL reconstruction is very, very close in appearance to how the ATL version would have looked, had the Amerindians made it. The crossbow depicted has the bowstring loosened on one end because it's not being currently used. If it was, the loop of the bowstring would be set in that end-nock, like on the right side. Loosening the bowstring on lower poundage crossbows (and even on many handbows) is a common practice for storage or transport purposes. Obviously, more powerful crossbow laths would be stringed far more perpetually, and only occassionally loosened, especially if it was a war crossbow rather than a hunting crossbow.
 
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This is a cool premise, and I look forward to seeing how this new weapon affects the politics of the region. I really like your portrayal of the hopes, fears, and doubts of the bowyer, as well as the gradual friendship that develops between him and the boy.
 
The final chapter and the afterword concludes today. Following that, I will also be posting one or two posts with some future space for art galleries related to this short timeline, and then a post that will act as a sort of appendix, with additional overviews and information.

implying the Inuit have/had them. ????
There is some archaeological and ethnographic evidence, including surviving specimens and some period photos that show they knew about them. From the stuff known, it seems they learned about the concept already before European contact. It was a rare weapon in the Canadian Arctic, certainly far less seen than a bow. They also knew the general principle of a crossbow, as children tended to occassionally play with a short piece of board or other straight wood, with a bow propped at one of its ends. Even in tribes where we don't know about any actual hunting crossbow usage. It seems all-wooden crossbows, while known to the Inuit, were generally rare and confined to a few scattered areas, not exactly Inuit-wide knowledge. It's possible they either figured out the idea themselves, or more likely, got the idea from Asia, via Siberian, Kamchatkan, Bering Strait and Alaskan trade routes. They weren't entirely cut off from the rest of the world, they did trade with the outside a bit, particularly in the western Northern Ocean and around Alaska. The crossbow concept might have trickled down to them via those trade routes.

Aside from the surviving Inuit crossbow I've linked to in the original discussion on this subject matter, there are some 19th century and early 20th century Inuit crossbows collected in museums, many either small hunting weapons or children's toys.



Here's a Canadian Inuit child's crossbow from the 1910s, made from bone and wood (as seen in the above image). Here's two Greenlandic Inuit girls shooting small toy crossbows in the early 20th century. If the crossbow was entirely unknown across the Arctic, why does it show up so often in various places under the jurisdiction of different countries, as a children's toy alone ? I doubt the Canadians, Danish, etc., decided to teach Inuit kids all across the Arctic how to make simple crossbows. That's highly unlikely.

There's also this. One guy, along with a native Inuit guide, passed an old Inuit encampment, found the remannts of a simple wooden crossbow. He was shocked to see it there (never heard about Inuit having bows with stocks), so he asked the guide about it, the guy just shrugged and said it's a weapon his people used before they had mostly switched to firearms. Or the fact that I've seen two different places - one of them here - that identified hunting arrows or small harpoons as being shot from crossbows. Sure, these could be post-contact ones, but would the Inuit really bother to develop a brand new style of hunting arrow for a weapon that had no precedent in their culture ?

The native crossbows that seemed to occassionally crop up among the Inuit weren't really imitations of post-contact European designs. Unless you count the idea of a bow mounted on a stock to be inherently something only Europeans and Asians could figure out. Honestly, did European whalers and explorers bring that many crossbows with them to the Far North in the 1700s and 1800s ? No, they didn't, and even if they did, definitely not in significant numbers.I've never heard of European crossbows being fashionable accessories on Arctic expeditions. Spearguns, maybe, but crossbows ? No. I'd say that, as rare as Inuit crossbows were, they are certainly older than 18th/19th century contact.

This is a cool premise, and I look forward to seeing how this new weapon affects the politics of the region.
One of the main points of my timeline is that the spread and usage of the crossbow, while having some influence, isn't some amazing game-changer. In the end, Native Americans won't be able to fight off Europeans when they come. There will be some changes as the centuries go on, but the butterflies released by crossbow invention are not that huge, globally speaking.

I really like your portrayal of the hopes, fears, and doubts of the bowyer, as well as the gradual friendship that develops between him and the boy.
Thank you ! I tried my best to get those exact things across, and hopefully, I've succeeded well enough.

A very welcome by-product from your "mad scientist crossbow hobby" @Petike . Looking forward to reading the rest.
It is not merely a byproduct of my crossbow tinkering, but a byproduct of my long-term interest in historical archery, historical combat and warfare and hunting weaponry in general, and also my interest in the material culture of the past, including the material culture of the various New World natives.

Wonderful short tl. Great premise, and endearing to boot.
Thank you ! The first chapter is certainly endearing, what with the little boy and the middle-aged bowyer bonding over a shared hobby, so to speak. The second chapter is darker, though not without levity, some sense of fun and generally interesting content. The first chapter is a very local and personal story, while the second chapter is very intentionally the exact opposite, as closest to a "sweeping historical epic" as this timeline gets, while still keeping that locally focused, "a day in the life" undertone. And as for the third chapter... Hopefully, that will come across as a mixture of "informative" and "funny". ;)
 
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Artworks and images (Part 1)
ARTWORKS AND IMAGES (Part 1)

As I don't want this timeline to be too dry, I am also going to include some artworks depicting its alternate crossbows and related developments. (Please note, I am rather busy even during the summer, so the artworks will appear here gradually, in the near future.)

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1.) Tillerbow, trunkbow and wall-bow artworks

COMING SOON - I PROMISE !

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2.) Native American crossbowmen (and crossbow-women) artworks

COMING SOON ENOUGH - I PROMISE !

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3.) Other Native American crossbow and timeline related artworks

COMING SOON ENOUGH - I PROMISE !
 
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Artworks and images (Part 2)
ARTWORKS AND IMAGES (Part 2)

An addendum to the artworks section, showing OTL visual stuff that influenced the design and writing of this timeline. :)

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4.) Comparison images: Photos of Old World crossbows and related devices

These are photos of OTL crossbow technology specimens (some originals, some reconstructions).

Click the spoilers to read the individual sections, at your own pace.

a.) Crossbows with a string-catch groove and "thumb lever" crossbow lock


Reconstruction of a European all-wooden crossbow with a string-catch groove and "thumb lever" crossbow lock (based on archaeological find at Colletière à Charavines in France, near Lyon, ca 10th-11th century AD)



Reconstruction of a European all-wooden crossbow with a string-catch groove and "thumb lever" crossbow lock (based on archaeological find at
Colletière à Charavines in France, near Lyon, ca 10th-11th century AD, museum exhibit in C. a C.)

"Thumb lever" crossbow lock schematic (based on early medieval hunting crossbow find from Colletière à Charavines, near Lyon)

Further links and articles for those interested:
I have to search for the exact site, but I came across some articles a while back that mention a smaller type of Inuit hunting harpoon that would have been launched from a traditional hunting crossbow. Yep, traditional, not a modern one. A traditional harpoon for a traditional crossbow.

b.) Crossbows with a string-catch groove and "rising peg" crossbow lock


Reconstruction of a European all-wooden crossbow with a string-catch groove and "rising peg" crossbow lock (based on Skåne find in Sweden, ca early 1500s)




"Rising peg" crossbow lock schematic (based on late-medieval/Renaissance crossbow find from Lillohus in Skåne, Sweden)


Further links and articles for those interested:

c.) Crossbow spanning methods
I focus purely on the methods that would be available to the Native Americans in the story, albeit with a lower-tech base, of course.

Other historical spanning methods might be mentioned, but they aren't the focus.


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Reconstruction of a medieval European crossbow (with "rolling nut" lock) and a belt-hook tool for spanning the bowstring


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Medieval European crossbowman with belt-hook spanning tool worn on his belt (illustration by Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, 1870s)


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Medieval European crossbowman spanning his crossbow's bowstring with belt-hook worn on his belt (illustration by Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, 1870s)

I'd imagine some of the eastern woodlands Native American crossbowmen of this timeline would have similar equipment, except completely lacking any steel or other metals. The belt-hook is also far less widespread as a spanning tool than it was in medieval Europe. Most Native Americans in this timeline rely on hand-spanning only. To give you a rough live-action idea of how belt-hooks worked,
here's a video of the more advanced belt-and-pulley spanner, an evolution of the earlier and simpler belt-hook spanner. The Amerindians of my story would not have the extra pulley accessory.

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Gaffe levers

In Europe, the gaffe levers were made from wood and are known mainly from use on early modern hunting crossbows. Gaffe lever seen in action here and here. The gaffe levers of early modern Europe had a famous medieval predecessor in the all-steel goat's foot lever, with a slightly different spanning motion, used for hunting crossbows and military crossbows alike.

In this timeline, most of the confirmed use of such wooden levers is not for handheld Native American crossbows (though there is some indication at least some of those used such wooden levers as well), but for 'wall-bows', large Native American siege defence crossbows, comparable to European and Chinese wall crossbows and siege defence crossbows.

d.) Wall crossbows and large crossbows

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Austrian cranequin-spanned wall-defence crossbow from the 1460s/1470s, with an elongated stock and more massive lath (i.e. bowstave)


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Reconstruction of an ancient Greek gastraphetes ("belly-bow"), a rare and early form of European/Mediterranean crossbow (here's a working reconstruction)

Aside from the gastraphetes video linked above, two more videos for your consideration, showing medieval wall crossbows from Europe:
- 14th/15th century Munich example (yew selfbow)
- 14th/15th century Swiss example (composite hornbow)
These have the rolling nut lock typical of medieval European military crossbows and crossbows in general, so the Amerindian equivalents are certainly more primitive when it comes to the trigger mechanism.

e.) Medieval siege crossbows for siege defence
Siege crossbows are oversized crossbows for siege defence and attack that are not handheld weapons, but rather small siege engines. Unlike a wall crossbow, which is large and hefty, but still man-portable, siege crossbows are generally stationary and not portable by a single person. Both defensive and offensive versions of siege crossbows are spiritual successors to the torsion catapults of antiquity, as those were less popular in medieval Europe than the more simpler and straightforward crossbow-based design.


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Reconstructions of various European siege crossbow designs for siege defense (all stationary, but often with a rotatable pedestal)

The ancient European (Greek, Roman, et al) polybolos, ballista and scorpion are portable torsion catapults, rather than huge crossbows.


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They employ a somewhat similar principle to that of a large crossbow, but they do not have an actual bow and they are not archery weapons in the true sense. Tellingly, the Romans called the crossbow arcuballista precisely because they wanted to differentiate it from the ballistae ("throwers") they already had. As an arcuballista was a crossbow and handheld, and had a simple bowstave and bowstring at the front, instead of being a chassis-dependent catapult with a torsion-thrower device at the front, they called it a "bow-thrower". Because it had a bow, unlike the usual ballista/scorpion light catapults they used frequently.

f.) Medieval siege crossbows for offensive sieging - European and Chinese
More of a bonus thing for those interested, as it is not known whether the Native Americans of this timeline ever built such devices.


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Reconstructions of various European siege crossbow designs for offensive sieging (stationary or wheeled chassis)


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Period image of a Chinese triple-bowed Chuangzi Nu stationary siege crossbow


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Wooden model of a Chinese triple-bowed Chuangzi Nu stationary siege crossbow

g.) Other traditional native crossbow stuff, general bowyery stuff and general historical stuff
1. Some additional reading and images on the subject of traditional bow and crossbow forms, specifically those found outside of Europe:
2. Some videos on weapons and armour of non-metallurgical cultures - including Native Americans, Siberians, Polynesians, etc.:
3. Other geographic, cultural and economic topics related to the timeline:
  • Domesticated crops from pre-Columbian North America - just a general list and a overview of these agricultural crops.
  • Native American ethnobotany - various plant species around the Americas, used as a source of food or domesticated crops, for medicinal and healing purposes, and for crafting and woodworking various tools and weapons, including archery equipment
  • Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America - article on existing examples of mettalurgy in the New World (generally gold and copper item manufacturing, very rarely bronze, and no iron or steel)
  • Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands - the eastern woodlands cultures of North America, including much of the Atlantic coastline. For the northeast equivalent, see here, and for the southeast equivalent, see here.
  • Eastern agricultural complex - the agriculture of the eastern woodlands cultures of North America, and some of its unique domestifications of plants for sedentary agriculture. Maize, though originally a central American crop, reached the eastern woodlands by the start of the 1st millennium AD, and became a commonly grown crop in eastern and northeastern North America by about 900 AD (so, just a few decades before our crossbow-themed story begins) ;)
  • Hopewell cultural complex - a continuity of archaeologically known natives cultures from eastern North America of the 1st millennium AD, sharing various technological, economic and cultural practices
  • Mississippian cultural complex - a continuity of archaeologically known natives cultures from eastern North America of roughly the 10th/11th to 16th century AD, sharing various technological, economic and cultural practices; an even more advanced successor to the some of the previous Hopewell tradition
  • Cahokia Mounds archaeological site and museum - documenting the remains of the largest known pre-Columbian city in North America, in the modern day state of Illinois (similar to the large native city appearing briefly in my story)
  • Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and the Northwest Plateau - the native cultures of northwestern North America
  • Pacific Northwest economy and agriculture - there was no real tilling-the-fields agriculture up in the northwest, but the local nationalities had a system of thicket and slash-and-burn clearing of coastal forests, encouraging forageable plants to grow, and of course, had a very well-developed fishing and whaling culture, the real backbone of their native economy, with hunting an additional source of food
  • Oasisamerica - overview of the region inhabited by the southwestern North American cultures (SW United States and NW Mexico)
  • Indigenous peoples of the North American Southwest - the southwest native cultures of North America
  • Agriculture in the prehistoric Southwest - the agriculture of the southwest cultures of North America, and some of its unique domestifications of plants and technique adaptations for sedentary agriculture in a more arid environment. Here's a further article on Hopi agriculture specifically.
  • Ancestral Puebloan dwellings - the dwelling and town architecture of the southwestern cultures, including the "pueblos" and other related architecture. (Fun fact: Acoma Pueblo is still inhabited nowadays, as a more semi-modern example, though it has a 2000 year old continuity.) Once the Navajo arrived in our world's southwestern US, they also constructed what's referred to as "pueblitos", small stone-fortified settlements and towns. These are surprisingly similar to smaller forms of European and other Old World castles, even moreso than the more traditional form of pueblos, many of them already quite formiddable in terms of defensive capability.
4. European "rolling nut" crossbows and Chinese "three-part roller" single-shot crossbows:
5. Other historical crossbow bonus trivia
 
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Appendices
APPENDICES

Various overviews from this timeline.

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a.) Chronological timeline
  • ca 950s AD - invention of the tillerbow in North America, presumably by an eastern woodlands culture of North American natives.
  • Second half of the 10th century and 11th century - evidence of initial spread of the tillerbow concept in a small region of northeastern North America. All native crossbow finds known from this period are equipped with a "thumb lever" lock (or "thumb-lock").
  • First half of the 12th century - based on radiocarbon dating, the oldest native crossbow finds with a "rising peg" lock ("peg-lock") have been dated to this time. It is presumed the natives might have invented the second and only other known crossbow lock of the New World at some point in the late 11th century or the early 12th century.
  • 12th and 13th century - the native crossbow spreads throughout eastern North America and gradually gains in sophistication. The three most important innovations of this time are the spread of the "rising peg" lock, the greater adoption of sinew-reinforced wooden crossbow laths (bows), and the invention of the Native American equivalent of a belt-hook for crossbow spanning. These innovations are particularly apparent in the development of a more dedicated native war crossbow, signifying a shift in native crossbows from a previously entirely generalist archery weapon. Native armour also sees interesting developments, including improvements to eastern woodlands forms of padded armour, and the emergence of a reinforced hat for tillerbowmen (similar in general shape to European, Chinese and Japanese military archer or gunner hats and helmets). There is evidence of fairly sophisticated siege warfare from this period. This leads to inconclusive speculation among historians and archaeologists whether tillerbows played a role in the changing nature of Native American sieges. The more extensive use of portable mantlets, both larger and smaller types, seems to point to this possibility.
  • Mid-13th century - oldest known evidence of eastern woodlands cultures developing larger crossbows, intended primarily for siege defence. This is considered the birth of the Native American wall-bow. Both known native crossbow locks occur among the rare eastern woodlands wall-bow finds. The majority are equipped with a peg-lock, operated by a bottom-mounted lever, but there are also finds that still utilise a top-mounted thumb lever.
  • Second half of the 13th century - oldest known evidence of the tillerbow/trunkbow concept reaching the native peoples in the Pacific Northwest, and the native peoples of the southeastern regions, including areas within the southern parts of modern day New Zeeland. The second half of the 13th century is also the point of origin for the oldest known, oldest surviving native crossbow stirrups. Usually in the form of leather foot-loops, or a wicker mesh foot-loop reinforced on the outside with cloth and leather cover, archaeological finds of surviving New World crossbow stirrups are rare. How common their use was remains a mystery, due to the small number of finds (possibly due to widespread organic decomposition), and the hypothesis they might not have been as common as their European counterparts.
  • Late 13th to early 17th century - gradual spreading of the tillerbow/trunkbow concept to the peoples of the Mississippian cultural complex. Though the native crossbow does not see overly great development in the hands of these cultures, they do create several minor innovations for the weapon, as well as develop a tradition of highly decorated and expertly crafted tillerbows.
  • Late 13th to early 14th century - spread of the tillerbow (also "trunkbow") to the cultures of the southwest, including the concept of a wall-bow. The southwest cultures soon refine both in remarkable ways, especially for the needs of defending their settlements. During this period, there is archaeological and ethnographic evidence for "whistling" arrowheads made specifically for crossbow bolts, in the manner of an existing native whistling arrowhead. This material evidence occurs in the Pacific Northwest, and the north and northeast of North America. The southwestern cultures also develop a form of flammable arrowhead, presumably used specially for wall-bows only, as a defensive projectile meant to intimidate enemy attackers, or set their equipment or encampment alight.
  • Mid-14th century - the invention of the wooden, rotatable bolt clip, or bolt safety, by the peoples of the Mississipian culture. This simple accessory allows a crossbow to hold the bolt in place and prevent it from falling off. The bolt clip seems to occur most commonly on fancier hunting crossbows of the culture, known from archaeological finds, pointing to the possibility it was seen as a "higher status" crossbow accessory (at least early on). It predates European equivalents by a century and half.
  • Early to mid-15th century - the tillerbow makes inroads into the Great Plains, but its spread largelly stays confined to their edges.
  • Mid-15th century - the tillerbow finally reaches the empire of the Mexica, or more accurately, is finally accepted by the Mexica as a potential, if niche ranged weapon. The first tillerbows arrived in this region and other parts of central America already at the beginning of the century, but it is only now that the Mexica are taking a more active interest in it as a technological concept.
  • Late 15th century - thanks to long-distance trade routes, including South American Pacific coast sea trade and fortunate happenstance, the tillerbow concept reaches South American cultures on the Pacific coast by the 1460s or 1470s. These include the Mochica and Chimor cultures. The knowledge of crossbow-making then spreads inland and becomes known to the Tawantinsuyu Empire by roughly the 1480s/1490s. This is the height of the tillerbow's spread southward and throughout the Americas.
  • Early 16th century to early 18th century - Native Americans, especially throughout North America and Central America, are confronted with European crossbows and European firearms. Use of confiscated or bought European firearms gradually increases. Tillerbows are still commonly used as weapons, alongside arquebuses and later muskets, until the first half of the 18th century.
  • ca 1500-1560s - the Spanish conquistadors attempt to conquer the Mexica and are surprised by the use of crossbows by the natives, in addition to spear-throwers, slings and bows. Some later historians would credit the Mexica holding out longer against European conquerors thanks to their adoption of the crossbow during the 15th century, but this remains rather dubious. The Mexica regarded the crossbow as more of a novelty weapon and their archery technology was somewhat average even by the New World standards of the time. Curiously, the highest number of Mexica crossbows built appears to correlate directly with the years of the Spanish conquest. Presumably, the Mexica saw their own version of the tillerbow as one way of building plentiful ranged weaponry for as many defenders as possible, in order to at least partly counter Spanish firearms.
  • 1530s and early 1540s - Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, a North American explorer in service of the Spanish crown, provides an account of native crossbows from the southern and southwestern parts of North America, north to the Mexica lands and the early Spanish colonies set up there.
  • 1607 - John Smith, early English colonial leader in North America, provides an account of native bowmen and crossbowmen from the surrounding area of the colonial settlement of Jamestown, noting some details about their weaponry.
  • 17th century - eastern woodlands cultures still use traditional tillerbowmen with lighter armour and portable mantlets alongside unarmoured archers and lightly armoured arquebusiers during inter-tribal warfare and in wars with European colonists. War crossbows also see some use in occassional tribal warfare among the Pacific Northwest cultures, and in the resistance efforts of Mexica exiles and other Indian exiles against Spanish colonists, fighting a hopeless decades-long guerilla war from the wilderness of central America.
  • 17th century to mid 19th century - the golden age of "trade arrowhead" bartering and trade, between native peoples and European settler merchants, or between native peoples and tribes trading with European settlers. Arrowheads made from steel, either purpose-built, or improvised by repurposing sharp steel objects and parts, gradually take off among North American native peoples and become increasingly sought-after. However, this does not mean an end to traditional arrowhead manufacturing techniques, as those continue to provide native peoples with independence in terms of economic and military resources. This same era also sees some occassional use of the native crossbow on horseback, mostly for hunting, but also in certain combat situations.
  • Early to mid 18th century - most Native American cultures gradually abandon the use of bows and crossbows in regular warfare, in favour of firearms. In the case of crossbows, holdouts of dual use - for hunting and self-defence, the tillerbow's two traditional main roles - will continue for well over two hundred more years, especially among more isolated and less wealthy native communities.
  • 1737 - last recorded use of Hauden and Wendat military tactics involving lightly armoured tillerbowmen and mantlets as part of infantry formations, during the Battle of Ferny Hillock. By that point, these traditional military tactics of eastern woodlands military archers had been in decline for about half a century.
  • Late 18th century to early 19th century - Haudenosaunee ironworkers and blacksmiths in northeastern North America begin adopting European crossbow innovations, such as the use of steel for laths and the parts of the trigger mechanism, and they also adopt the concept of the "rolling nut" crossbow lock itself, a feature typical of most European crossbows. The crossbow nuts made by Native American craftsmen are made most commonly of antler, but many of their manufacturers also forge steel nuts. These late expressions of native crossbow-making tradition are no longer warbows, they are hunting crossbows and recreational crossbows only. Many native ironworkers and blacksmiths build versions not only for the needs of their fellow tribesmen and countrymen, but also for non-native customers.
  • 18th century and 19th century - unlike crossbows, native warbows (military handbows) still see some specialist use in the 18th and 19th century, on foot and horseback. This is largelly due to the slow reload speeds of period long guns and other firearms (still mostly muzzleloaders). Pragmatic adoption of formerly foreign technology is highly noticeable: Settled tribes continue to forge their own steel arrowheads and make their own stone and leaden musket balls, while nomadic tribes buy large quantities of iron and steel nails from frontier shops and repurpose them into arrowheads. However, even bows eventually lose their last niche and their military significance completely, once repeating breechloading rifles are perfected and start being manufactured on a massive industrial scale. In an irony, many nations of New World natives still resisting the expansion of European and other colonists adopt breechloading repeaters en masse, due to their simple practicality, turning the weapons of the encroaching foreigners against them.
  • Second half of the 19th century - the use of crossbows in North America continues in some rural parts of the continent, among isolated native hamlets and settlements with European and Asian settlers and descendants of freed African slaves. New Connacht in particular preserves a lively crossbow-building tradition, based on a blend of European, Native American and African influences. The tradition would remain one of the tourist attractions of New Connacht well into the 21st century.
  • 1870s - New France prose writer and amateur ethnographer Charles Avril writes and publishes his first short stories and novels about the fictional Native American hero, the intrepid, tillerbow-wielding Hiawintu. The character will go on to develop a legendary fan following in North America and worldwide, and become a popculture icon of New France (though sometimes sneered at by critics of pulp literature).
  • 20th century - the Navajo are probably the last native culture of North America to use their native crossbows for horseback hunting (in addition to mounted hunting with handbows). By this point, knowledge of European style crossbows had reached the Navajo and some of their craftsmen also begin adopting European designs in addition to the traditional ones.
  • 1927-1959 -a major new phase in the research of the Mississippian culture and other advanced North American native cultures of the past. Many new finds of historical native crossbows emerge during this period, particularly thanks to archaeological research at various native sites and former settlements throughout North America. The theory that the Mississippian culture was destroyed by tillerbow-wielding invaders gains some traction at this time, due to a few influential old-school archaeologists.
  • 1960s-1970s - interesting new discoveries emerge about the use of horn-and-wood composite bows in the western half of North America, and their use on wall-bows, especially among cultures of the southwest. New finds concerning spanning levers for wall-bows, as well as spanning belt-hooks and native crossbowman armour among eastern woodlands cultures, also begin to emerge by the mid-to-late 1970s. To quote archaeology professor Fergal Martins: "The belt-hook finds were stunning ! Until then, they were an apocryphal part of Hauden and other eastern woodlands archery traditions, with no recent evidence. These finds changed a lot of our understanding of the native war crossbow during America's medieval and early modern period."
  • 1987-1990 - the infamous Mapuche Crossbow Hoax occurs in Cobrenia in South America, spearheaded by a local non-Mapuche archaeologist. The Mapuche Crossbow, originally billed as an authentic rediscovered find of native technology, is done in by several suspicious factors. Namely, it is the only discovered crossbow in South America far to the south of the Tawantinsuyu Empire, has an unusually complex integrated spanning lever (suspiciously similar to the Codex Löffelholz specimen and its existing reconstructions) and... contains modern, industrially manufactured, off-the-shelf screws you can buy at any hardware shop (by 1990, an investigative journalist finds out that the screws in the crossbow are identical to those from the hoaxer's local hardware shop). Despite the hoax being debunked some thirty years ago, some Cobrenian and Mapuche nationalists continue to support the veracity of the crossbow.
  • 1990s - partly spurred by the international media circus that errupted over the Cobrenia native crossbow hoax and its exposing, the New France archery enthusiast and experimental archaeologist Étienne Beaumont begins researching New World crossbow technology in-depth. Beaumont had shown an interest in this area of research already in the 1980s, but in interviews in the 2000s, he credits the fallout of the Cobrenia hoax and the ridicule it garnered as an inspiration to start his own systematic research effort into New World crossbows. This is a fairly overlooked topic at the time.
  • 1995 - Beaumont publishes his groundbreaking article On the Characteristics and History of the New World Crossbow in the science magazine Scientia. Well-received, the article eventually gains something of a following among researchers and leads to something of a mini-Renaissance in Native American archery research.
  • 2002 - an international crew of three are the first humans to land on the surface of the Moon, marking humanity's first manned expedition to the surface of another celestial body.
  • 2007 - Arcadia University Press in Cabotville, New France, publishes the non-fiction book Tillerbow: The History, Technology and Ethnography of New World Crossbows, by an international collective of authors and researchers (including Beaumont), initially in English and French only. The book tops the publisher's bestsellers list for that year and sees two more editions in the following decade and a half, gradually expanded with further new information. The third edition is expanded significantly with a more extensive coverage of Mexica crossbows, provided by professor Reinaldo Diaz. The successful first edition and the subsequent two new editions are also translated into Anglo-Danish, Dutch, Spanish, Hauden, Connachtene and Mexica, and then a whole number of different languages.
  • 2010 - founding of the North American Native Martial Arts and Historical Reenactment Association (NANMAHRA), dedicated to the study, research and preservation of Amerindian martial art and the mutual coordination of existing and newly-founded Amerindian historical reenactment groups. The founders of the association later acknowledge that text-based and video-based discussion over the OrbisMesh were instrumental in their mutual debates that led to the founding of the NANMAHRA.
  • 2014 - the inaugural year of the Native American Historical Martial Arts Games (NAHMAG), an international event bringing together members of Native American ancestry from groups for Amerindian martial arts preservation and historical reenactment. Among other friendly sparring tournament disciplines and reenactment disciplines, this year establishes several founding Amerindian historical archery disciplines, for both native handbows and native crossbows. The authors and contributors of the non-fiction book Tillerbow, by Arcadia University Press, are guests of honour at the event (including Étienne Beaumont).
  • 2020 - the "Instant Hiawintu", a tongue-in-cheek invention by Per-Jürgen Kutil, tinkerer and video-diarist, goes viral all over the OrbisMesh. Kutil combines a traditional North American crossbow design with a mechanism based on a traditional Chinese chu ko nu repeating crossbow. Some Chinese ultranationalists are furious and issue threats on the OrbisMesh, calling Kutil's invention "an intolerable act of cultural appropriation". Most Chinese OrbisMesh audiences are, in contrast, rather delighted at this tech-mashup.
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b.) New World crossbow technological summary and overview

An overview of known facts about North American native crossbows, often referred to by the natives as 'tillerbows' and 'trunkbows'.

Known New World crossbow locks
  • String-catch with "thumb lever" crossbow lock - known to some native cultures as "thumb-bows"
  • String-catch with "rising peg" crossbow lock - known to some native cultures as "peg-bows"
So far, the existence of "rolling nut" crossbow locks, comparable to those of European crossbows, or "three-piece roller" locks, comparable to those of Chinese single-shot crossbows, has not been confirmed by archaeological or any other evidence. The rolling nut crossbow lock was first adopted by Native Americans using crossbows only well after contact with European colonists, around the late 18th and early 19th century. All currently known historical New World crossbows, existing or rediscovered, worked on the basis of a "string-catch groove" lock system.

Known New World crossbow laths (bows)
  • Self-bows (all-wooden, single-piece bows) - the commonest form, similarly common to the selfbow of regular handbows. However, selfbows become less dominant on native crossbows since roughly the 12th or 13th century onward.
  • Sinew-reinforced composite bows - not as common as the wooden selfbows, but the most widespread composite bow form. They were popular for hunting crossbows and war crossbows alike, and also appear on many surviving specimes of wall-bows.
  • Horn-and-wood composite bows - rare east of the Mississippi River, mostly found among western cultures of North America. The surviving wall-bow specimens were often equipped with this bow.
The lack of horn-and-wood composite crossbow laths east of the Mississippi is probably reflective of the fact that even ordinary handbows of such construction, utilizing wood-derived and horn-derived components, were rare in the eastern half of North America. It can be said that fully composite handbows and fully composite crossbows were more of a speciality of the western regions, including the Great Plains. In contrast, selfbows and sinew-reinforced bows seemed to have been a widespread and commonplace technological solution all over North and Central America.

Though some of the surviving or found native crossbows with fully composite bows seem to show characteristics of being hunting crossbows first and foremost, the vast majority of known horn-and-wood composite laths seem to have been part of dedicated war crossbows. This includes several known specimens of the large wall-bows, intended for siege defence.

Known New World crossbow stirrup forms
  • No stirrups at tiller front - most known archaeological finds of New World crossbows fit this description. It is presumed that most crossbow spanning was done by propping the butt of the crossbow stock (the back of the tiller) against the thigh or waist while hand-spanning. It is also possible that the front of the tiller was propped against a tree, wall or other terrain feature before hand-spanning.
  • Modified "lips" at tiller front - these are known from a smaller number of finds. Specially carved front ends of the tiller, including specially modified "lips" for front attachment of the bow, were presumably modified for siege defence roles (propping the front into an arrowslit) or for spanning similar to stirrup spanning.
  • True stirrups - crossbow stirrup finds as we understand them in the Old World are very rare in archaeological finds of New World crossbows (this might be due to the more easily decomposing materials they were made from). Known specimens of native crossbow stirrups generally include combinations of wicker mesh, cloth and leather as the materials they were constructed from.
As the stirrup in the Old World sense, used in conjunction with a saddle, was unknown in the New World, many of the Amerindian terms for this crossbow part translate to variations on "foot-loop", "foot-rest", "spanning loop", and similar.

Known New World crossbow spanning tools
  • Hand-spanning - the oldest, most widespread and most readily available form of crossbow bowstring spanning. It is not an exaggeration to say that 85-95 % of all known New World native crossbows were entirely hand-spanned, with no additional tools.
  • Belt-hooks - for lack of a better term, these simple spanning devices are comparable to European and Chinese counterparts. The hooks themselves were usually made of hardwood. There are no auxilliary spanning bands known from finds, so to date, no belt-and-pulley improvements have been confirmed. The belt-and-pulley system was an evolution of the belt-hook system, known from Europe.
  • Wooden spanning levers - comparable appearance-wise and functionally to European gaffe levers. Most of the surviving specimens (only a low number) were used for spanning defensive wall-bows. It remains semi-speculative whether they were used for handheld tillerbows as well. Such levers would be capable of that, but there is insufficient evidence of such use.
The existence of dedicated bowstring spanning tools in New World crossbows remains even less materially substantiated than that of crossbow stirrups. Currently, there is roughly a dozen surviving spanning levers, and at most, the remnants of some twenty belt-hooks (or their parts, a more common occurence). To date, there is also no known evidence for the existence of integrated levers, or repeating crossbows with magazines, whatsoever. Most New World crossbows were entirely hand-spanned and all known New World crossbows were single-shot only.

Known New World crossbow bolts
  • Broadhead bolts - the most common bolt arrowhead type. It seems to be the predominant type in everyday use throughout the North American continent and the Americas in general, both for hunting purposes, and in warfare as an anti-infantry projectile. Broadheads are effective not only against soft tissues and clothes, but also against certain forms of native armour.
  • Barbed arrowhead bolts - these seem to be predominantly or solely a more specialised form of hunting arrowhead, often with a barbed back section, and a stone-tipped or bone-tipped front point. The function of the barbs is to prevent the arrowhead leaving the prey.
  • Bodkin arrowhead bolts - presumably used mainly in warfare, as anti-infantry projectiles. Bodkins are more effective against certain forms of native armour.
  • Whistling bolts - whistling bolts are simply a crossbow bolt form of the whistling arrows. Some native cultures in the New World used whistling arrows and bolts for various purposes, including signalling each other from a distance, or for various hunting tactics (usually for hunting wild fowl).
  • Flammable bolts - equipped with a blunter, insubstantial arrowhead, and a wicker bulb behind it, carrying flammable material that can be lit before shooting. A form of arrow for igniting fires, presumably for intimidation or causing chaos during sieges. Most of the known specimes were wall-bow launched, hinting at their defensive role in sieges, rather than in typical handheld archery.
There are essentially two subtypes of the broadhead, barbed and bodkin arrowhead, for both native arrows and native crossbow bolts:
  • The traditional / pre-Columbian arrowhead form, generally made of stone (broadheads, barbed arrowhead points) or bone and antler (bodkins, barbed arrowhead points). These are the true "medieval" arrowheads of native North America, before the introduction of steel arrowheads by European colonists.
  • The "trade" arrowhead form, made of steel (trade broadheads, trade bodkins or steel nails repurposed as bodkins, or steel nails repuposed as barbed arrowhead points). Named as such because these purpose-built or improvised steel arrowheads were bought from European traders and shopkeepers or from other native traders doing business with Europeans.
Curiously, the peoples of the Mississippian cultures invented the minor but useful accessory of the bolt-clip (also bolt-holder, bolt-safety or bolt-catch) already around the mid-14th century. This predates the common European introduction of such a feature by a century, or even century and a half.

Known New World crossbow types (by function)
  • Hunting crossbow - the most commonly seen and found type. It can also serve as a self-defence weapon in time of need. Most were hand-spanned and commonly had a simple wooden selfbow or a sinew-reinforced bow. The popularity of either of the two known native lock types for these evened out in the later centuries of crossbow spread and usage in the Americas. Most early specimens of hunting crossbows, including the oldest known New World crossbows of all, were equipped with the thumb lever as their trigger.
  • War crossbow - these often had more powerful bows, up to and including sinew-reinforced bows (also common on many hunting crossbows), and particularly, horn-and-wood composite bows. With each new century of the crossbow spreading and diversifying throughout the Americas, the "rising peg" crossbow lock became more common for native war crossbows, often with a peg tied directly to the trigger lever. There is some evidence of belt-hook use in addition to hand-spanning in New World war crossbows.
  • Wall-bow - large, more cumbersome crossbow, purpose-built for defending fortifications and settlements during a siege. The most powerful types had composite bows. Functionally, wall-bows are very comparable to medieval European and medieval Chinese wall crossbows (which were later supplanted in use by wall guns).
Many of the more richly decorated and more technologically accomplished native crossbows belonged to the nobility of wealthier tribes or even wealthier polities or proto-polities. These crosssbows seemed to have a dual use, as both hunting weapons, and as recreational weapons, for target-shooting and target-practice. Given their richly decorated and more lavish forms, they also played the role of status symbol.

Though some native cultures utilised wall-bows, to this day, it remains uncertain whether the siege warfare of "medieval" and "early modern" American natives (in the pre-cannon, pre-gunpowder era) included an equivalent of European and Chinese siege crossbows (either on a static, or wheeled siege engine chassis). Some wall crossbows were known to have been mounted on purpose-built pedestals and "rails" on flat roofs of settlements, by some of the southwestern cultures of North America. There is no other known evidence for a "siege crossbow chassis" among the native cultures of the New World, despite their rudimentary knowledge of other siege weapons (siege ladders, portable mantlets and pavise-like shields, simple battering rams, etc.).

Known New World crossbow use on horseback

The topic of horseback tillerbows remains the most controversial area of current research into the history of New World crossbows. Mounted crossbowmen are well-documented in Europe and Asia during the medieval and early modern period, but Native American examples are less straightforward. There exists a small amount of disputed evidence, that after the native adoption of horses in North America and the independent invention of horse archery by Great Plains and Northwest Plateau cultures, these native cultures might have occassionally used smaller tillerbows on horseback, in addition to their usual bows for mounted shooting. Though it is obvious the tillerbow could never have achieved widespread mounted use, due to the typical hunting and combat needs of a native horse archer, the weapon might have still found use in more niche roles (certain types of horseback hunting, in patrolling and guard duty at disputed borders with rival tribes and European settlers, etc.).

A few existing finds and surviving ethnographic specimens of tillerbows from the Great Plains are some of the only material evidence we have for this possibility. Tellingly, over half of the specimens suspected to be horseback tillerbows are equipped with a shorter and slimmer tiller (more light-weight and allowing for easier wielding and aiming on horseback) and their fronts are constructed in a manner that would allow a quick attaching or detaching of the bow, on a regular basis. A few of these specimens survive intact and are virtually all equipped with the exact same forms of Plains and Plateau bows that would be used in more typical horse archery. As a result, current archaeological speculation points to Plains tillerbows being designed primarily as detachable crossbow tillers. They could be easily carried around on horseback, tied to a small saddle bag or a horseman's quiver, and when quickly attached to a horse archer's regular cavarly bow, they would form a simple crossbow. This would represent another interesting technological parallel with Old World military developments. Certain Ottoman and western Asian mercenary horsemen from the early modern era occassionally utilised a very similar form of impromptu light crossbow, based on attaching a separate tiller to their cavalry bows.

Unlike the mostly disputed examples from the Great Plains and the Northwest Plateau, the examples of horseback tillerbow use among the south and southwest cultures and the Eastern Woodlands cultures of North America are better documented. Most famously, the Navajo people (Diné people) of the southwest, with their long tradition of horseback hunting, were known to use shorter and more comfortable "trunkbows" for hunting various prey, in addition to handbows. The Navajo are perhaps the best example of ample evidence for mounted native crossbow usage in North America, as native handbows and native crossbows had roughly equal popularity in their people's horseback hunting tradition. The tradition continues to this day, albeit often with more modern bows and crossbows, in addition to the continued native designs of the Navajo. Finally, though mounted troops were a less common feature of the Eastern Woodlands native militaries, there are several European accounts from the early period of European-Indian warfare in the 17th and 18th century that speak of native horsemen shooting at settler troops with native crossbows. From New France alone, we have two such accounts, one from the 1690s and one from the early 1710s, both having occured in the more sparsely forested parts of the land. It seems Eastern Woodlands mounted crossbowmen were used mainly for scouting/patrolling and occassional hit-and-run tactics against European settlers and soldiers. As the mounted troops of the Haudenosaunee were largelly equipped with traded or confiscated carbines and muskets by the early-to-mid 18th century, crossbows had a fairly short window of use in the history of Eastern Woodlands horsemen. It is possible that the Eastern Woodlands' independently invented tradition of "native dragoons" (typical for the 18th century) might have been partly inspired by their already existing mounted crossbowmen, but the connection remains unclear.

Source: Étienne Beaumont, On the Characteristics and History of the New World Crossbow, in: Scientia, Oxford-Sorbonne Academic Publishing, 1995
 
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Cool thread. Since they seemed to have fortified towns and used crossbows and wall bows for defense why not ask if they developed trebuchets or onagers or catapults. They understood slings.
 
Ooh interesting. Not often we get an invention TL.
Indeed. :)

Personally, I'm fond of timelines that look at the impact of one or more inventions or innovations on daily life and society and the world at large. Additionally, this is one of those plausible "what if" questions that's been an elephant in the middle of a room for a long, long time (all of history maybe). I felt I could offer my perspective on how this particular mechanical contraption could have been utilised in pre-Columbian America.

Cool thread. Since they seemed to have fortified towns and used crossbows and wall bows for defense why not ask if they developed trebuchets or onagers or catapults. They understood slings.
You have a point there, but it's easy to get carried away and think that, just because they understand and know how to work a simpler technology that a more complex technology is derived from, that means they can make that more complex technology. If that were true, we'd have motorcars already in the 17th and 18th century. Like Thande once put it, just because some guy in the Stone Age discovers how to make a simple wheel, doesn't mean that his offspring will be riding around in Buggatti Veyrons in a hundred years time. ;) The jump from sling to large and complex trebuchet is not so easy. You'll notice that I rather limited what sort of stuff the Amerindians can develop with their native crossbow technology. No steel is the biggest snag, they didn't have bronze (and that would be useless for laths anyway), and even some of the other developments, such as stirrups and spanning tools, also aren't that readily apparent. Even in historical China, for all their crossbow innovation, spanning tools were apparently a little thought about topic, strangely enough. (Nowadays, ballpoint pens or zippers seem easy to figure out, with the benefit of hindsight. Show them to a person from two hundred years ago, and they'd be really amazed. And a century and a half ago, aluminium was considered unobtainium, because of all the barriers at the time to manufacturing it truly en masse. Nowadays ? We waste aluminium in almost heinous ways.) Furthermore, trebuchets and catapults are advanced and complex enough that they become increasingly difficult to manufacture without any metal parts. For the sake of stability, I doubt you could build a trebuchet - they were huge siege engines, after all - in a culture that has no metallurgy whatsoever.

There is also an additional snag concerning why Native Americans wouldn't be prone to building large stationary or wheeled siege engines of any kind: They had no beasts of burden, other than dogs. And, as also demonstrated in this very timeline, they also had no wagons. In a world where your best bet as land vehicle were your own feet (the "foot-bus", as we joke in my homeland) or a travois pulled by a dog, and only much later by a horse (aside from winter, when a handful of cultures in the extreme north of the New World could use skis and simple dog-drawn sleds), then you wouldn't be that eager to build heavy siege engines and haul them around roads unfit for vehicles. Even a small catapult built from traditional materials is pretty heavy for a crew of a few men hauling it for many kilometers/miles, to the place of some siege.

If you read medieval accounts about hauling trebuchets around - yes, just the individual parts, in disassembled form - you'll realise you're gonna need a lot of wagons and horses, or wagons and oxen. And I doubt you could force llamas to live all over the Americas and pull carts. They weren't willing to pull carts even for the Incas, at all. Not a suitable animal for a beast of burden, unless you count saddle bags and riding on it very slowly, and only in its native Andes. Huge siege engines, anything bigger than most people can carry or push relatively easily, are just out of the question in the Americas.

I didn't want to cheat in this timeline, so they don't get any mysteriously surviving North American horse species, or any of that stuff. That would essentially be an evolutionary/geological POD, and it would mean I'd have to move my timeline to the ASB forum. It's supposed to be a realistic medieval Amerindian timeline, not an entirely wish fulfillment timeline. If I wanted, I could have given the Indians clockpunk railways and technobabble cobbled-together rayguns (like the ones joked about in the final chapter of the story), but that would be missing the point. ;)
 
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The entire timeline/story is now completed. Pleasant reading to all ! I will be adding some illustrations and maps in the near future, but that's it.

Feedback and constructive criticism is welcomed. Provided it's not just questions about wanking the various Amerindians to conquer the world...

If anyone would like to write a spinoff story in the setting of this timeline, just send me a PM in the conversation tab (rather than asking here) and we can talk it through. I'm hardly some jealous creator, but for the sake of this ATL setting's quality, I'd prefer if any spinoff stories were kept believable enough and didn't veer off wildly into implausibility or ASB elements. You have ten centuries of history to play with (my cut-off date is ATL 2020), and while there are plenty of restrictions in terms of canon, as long as you focus on Amerindians and the original theme, it's okay.

Will I myself do any spinoff stories in this setting one day ? As things currently stand, I honestly don't know. This already took a lot of work, thinking and concentration. I'm glad it's finished, but I definitely won't be jumping back into it in any major way for some time.

And if you want to nominate... Be my guest. That's up to you as a reader.
 
A well written and thought out narrative, @Petike . I particularly enjoyed the story about the inventor and the boy in chapter one.
I think you are right in a lot of inventions are accidental. Some creations even ended up as children's toys or household ornaments until someone realized their potential. Some things have probably been invented hundreds of times in history, but were largely forgotten or seen as unimportant at the time. I definitely like the way the crossbow was introduced in your story.

I also learned a lot about crossbows and the different designs. I never knew there was so many!

Thank you for sharing. :)
 
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A well written and thought out narrative, @Petike . I particularly enjoyed the story about the inventor and the boy in chapter one.
That first chapter was really the backbone of the story, especially my first draft from nearly two years ago.

I knew that even a grouchy, physically disabled and mentally depressed middle-aged man would probably be more willing to be cheerful and optimistic if he had found a friend in a child who shared his area of interest. If it was about a friendship between two adults, I just don't see the story going in the direction it did at all. Adults, as cheerful as they can be, have a habit of not taking too many needless risks, and indulging in ideas about a new technology or new toy would be one such "risk". Funnily enough, childhood curiosity and spontaneity are basically what sets the entire POD of this timeline into motion, along with the earlier POD of the man becoming seriously injured and limping.

Given that the boy considers the whole thing good fun, from his far more relaxed childhood perspective, and brings some cheer even to that suffering bowyer, the bowyer is encouraged to keep going in developing that "funny toy". Years later, the boy and many others gradually realise that it can be far more than just an unusual toy for recreational shooting at targets...

I think you are right in a lot of inventions are accidental. Some creations even ended up as children's toys or household ornaments until someone realized their potential. Some things have probably been invented hundreds of times in history, but were largely forgotten or seen as unimportant at the time.
We even have quite a bit of various historical evidence for inventions that were centuries ahead of their time, but were often either too expensive to construct on a regular basis, or had some flaws that went unsolved at the time or were missing the relevant technology that could improve them in some way.

One of my personal favourites is the fact that 15th century Europeans apparently had the know-how of how to build a simple enclosed diving suit, with an air hose and simple bellows providing the air for the diver ! At least if we can trust one of the manuscripts authored by Hans Talhoffer at the time (1459 !), often in the form of colourfully illustrated "encyclopedias" or various fencing manuals, all for wealthy customers.

Some ten years ago, the Medieval Technology Museum in Denmark built a replica using only period materials. They sent a diver into a village pond, on the grounds of their medieval open-air museum. Three men were pumping air through large bellows. The diver volunteer spent several minutes in the pond, walking around at the bottom, he could breathe normally. He came back from the bottom, climbing up a ladder and was perfectly fine, just a little wet around the neck. It is pretty remarkable that people over 500 years ago could send humans into a hostile environment and allow them to survive through simple technology, without any engines, electricity, electronics, anything. The first step towards modern diving equipment and eventually spacesuits, already in the late Middle Ages.


Sidenote: One of the co-hosts of the TV documentary that captured footage from that medieval diving suit experiment was also Mike Loades, the ever-enthusiastic historical documentary presenter. :p ;) Oh, and that Danish open-air museum is amazing if you're interested in old technology. :)

Going back to Native Americans, I feel that some authors often feel writing a story about a non-metallurgical culture is difficult from the perspective of a modern person. We take metal tools and metals in general for granted. Native Americans got as far as working on copper, mostly just for decorations, and never got further. Some authors think that writing a story about a pre-Bronze Age or pre-Iron Age culture would make things boring or make it difficult to write entertainingly... Based on all the advanced civilizations of OTL that did not use metals traditionally (Native Americans, Inuit, Polynesians, etc., etc., and even all our oldest ancestors in Paleolithic and Neolithic Europe) and got by in their lives just fine, I'd say they're definitely not boring. Given all the associations most people in Europe and Asia have about crossbows "needing metal parts", I feel a story like this, that highlights how the basic technology is much older and much more accessible, can put a lot of those claims of "stories about pre-metallurgical cultures are boring" to rest... ;)

I definitely like the way the crossbow was introduced in your story.
Thank you. My biggest worry when coming up with the initial draft for that first chapter, nearly two years ago, was that I wouldn't be able to find a half-decent plausible reason of why some Amerindian would bother building such a thing. With that particular man's situation being what it was, I felt it was closer to the type of circumstances that could potentially spur the creation of a slightly more complicated archery weapon.

I also learned a lot about crossbows and the different designs. I never knew there was so many!
Like with many historical and technological topics, the variety is something that keeps surprising me as well, and not only in this area...

Interesting work, Petike! :)
Thank you.

Thank you for sharing. :)
My pleasure.
 
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If you think I'm exaggerating, there's the fact that Kamchatkan, Aleutian and other Bering Strait peoples knew about mail armour (mail shirts, etc.) already centuries before European contact, and even wore mail armour, in addition to their home-made native armour (usually lamellar or padded). They didn't have the capability to manufacture these and treated them as prized trade items. Where did they get these mail shirts ? Correct, from China and Mongolia ! So, even though we don't have a satisfactory answer of where the rare Inuit crossbows originated as an idea, they might have gotten their initial spark as an idea brought along trade routes from China nortward, and then eastward. China-Siberia-Kamchatka-Bering Strait-Alaska-Canadian Arctic... bingo.
This sounds very interesting. Google isn't much help, do you know where I could read up more on the use of mail armor north-east of China?
 
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