Archery - without a slap on the wrist

Period: Stone Age – The Neolithic (4000 BC - 1700 BC)


Project title: Beaker wrist-guards, how are they made and what was their use?


Researcher: Sasja van der Vaart, assisted by Wouter Verschoof, Laboratory for Artefact Studies, Leiden University, Holland


Email: sasjavdv(at)


Year: 2009





In the Northern part of Europe a type of grave is known, where the dead is laid to rest with arrows, a battleaxe and an odd sheet made of stone by the wrist. The graves are often called archer or warrior graves, and the mysterious stone sheets are interpreted as wrist-guards, which protects the arm against slaps from the string of the bow. But were the stone sheets really used for wrist-guards or were they in fact unsuited for the purpose? Some of the stone sheets are decorated and even at times with studs and nudges. Could the purpose of the so-called wrist-guards really have been purely aesthetic - an object of status or prestige - or yet another thing? In order to solve the riddle of the stone sheets, Sasja van der Vaart will be making replicas of the wrist-guards and test their functionality when shooting with Stone Age bows.



The Researchers Conclusions:


In order to test whether thin, perforated rectangles of stone known as Bell Beaker wrist-guards take time and skill to produce, four experimental reproductions were made using Stone Age techniques. The stones were cut into shape using flint blades and then further shaped on grinding stones. After having produced the correct shape the stone rectangles were perforated using flint hand-held drills. The experiments clearly showed that making these objects requires little to no skill, and less time than one might expect. The reproduced wrist-guards were then used in various shooting experiments with bow and arrow to test the long-held assumption that these objects were used in archery to protect the forearm holding the bow from the slap of the string when a shot is released. The conclusion of the experiments was quite clearly that there is no reason why some types of the Bell Beaker wrist-guards could not have been used as part of an archer’s equipment.


Reference number HAFF 03/09