Using toy-bows to teach arctic bowyery skills

When teaching bowyery skills to others you often also learn new things as you teach. In my case I had a exceptional learing experience when I was visiting the archaeological repository at the Alutiiq museum in Kodiak. I stopped by the museum in between two scheduled archery workshops in Alaska. The first workshop was held in July at the Nutsiiq Spirit camp of 2012, the second one at Alitak Point in August.

Image 1. Toys in a drawer at the Alutiiq museum. The toy bown the top left corner is showing Yupík style recurved ends



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The repository at the Alutiiq museum has a large archaeological collection from mainly the Karluk one site, They also have objects from other Kodiak sites as well. Karluk one was inhabited between 1420 and 1700s and the among the findings there is a wide array of hunting tools as well as toys intended to prepare young children of the Karluk society for their adult lives. Among these toys there were several small toy bow fragments as well as some nicely preserved complete ones. These bows range 35-21cm and represent two sligtly different types of flat bow.
Image 2. Sinew-backing a miniature bow.
I was impressed by these bows and my enthusiasm was also shared by dr. Sven Haakonson Jr.

We quickly realized the potential of these small bows as we were faced with some practical difficulties. Everything we took from Kodiak to the Alitak Point camp had to be hauled in on small plane and boat. We were worried about getting enough bow-billets to the camp workshops as we also had a lot of camping gear that we had to bring in. The miniature bows proved to be an excellent alternative as we were able to bring set up a class with less billets in stock. It is highly likely that a first time bowyer will fail with his first bow and this has to be taken in to account when setting up a bow-building workshop. In Finland I usually make longbows out of ash ranging in the 45-55 pound range. These classes are usually arranged in carpentry shops in schools. In Alitak there were no carpentry shops, also we were working with a material that most bowyers would not bother with: - spruce. For tools we had to settle for axes, small hand planes, knifes and sanding-paper.  
Image 3. Sinew-backed miniature Alutiiq-style bow.

As we were using spruce for bows we also concluded that the bows had to be backed in order to hold together. The original bows were wrapped with braided sinew cord but we settled for barided nylon fishing line.The small bows were backed with artificial sinew line. These small bows proved to be a invaluable method in teaching basic bowyery skills to the participants without destroying lot of valuable spruce billets in the process. Making a functional small bow is technically just as demanding as making real size bows. Bigger bows just require a little more time to make.
Image 4. The bowyery shop at Alitak Point,

Once the Alutak camp was set up we were able to start with our workshop. All participants were required to first produce a functional miniature bow before they were allowed to attempt making a real size bow. This enabled us to controll the skill of the individual participants and avoid unecessary waste of bow woods We produced 14 Alutiiq style bows during the camp of which 12 survived. The real size bows were made out of spruce, the toy bows were carved out of cured yellow cedar. The original model bow for the class is in a Finnish collection in Hämeenlinna and was collected by Hjalmar Furuhjelm in the late 1860s at Nuchek, Prince William Sound.
Image 5. Normal size Alutiiq Archery tackle produced at Alitak.
A novice will use some 2-4 hours making a toy bow, making a big one might take few days.The requirement for setting up a mini-bow workshop are minimal. A makeshift workhsop can be arranged anywhere. Knot free segments of spruce tree branches will suffice for a miniatur bow. 

Later in Kodiak we arranged a bow making workshop at the museum during which we only produced miniature bows with some 30-35 eager students.

Photo credits: Images 1-5, Marcus Lepola 2012.

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