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Fletching most commonly was made up of feathers. Feathers were attached in three primary ways. First is with a thread, which could be of actual textile, but could also be of sinew in regions where textile wasn’t a thing. Another way was to use glue made from animal fat, which was a messy process and didn’t produce a fletching that was as secure as the tie-down one. Finally, the third type of fletching involved making a slight cut or slit at the tail end of the arrow into which the feathers were inserted. This was the least popular as it ran the risk of damaging the arrow in a way that would make it difficult to release form the bowstring in one piece. Tying the feathers to the arrow was most common. For most applications, the optimal number of feathers (or half-feathers to be precise) was three. As more feathers are added, the increase in stability became more and more incremental, not justifying the extra effort.

History of Arrows

Once the full benefits of fletching were realised, arrows could travel further and with greater accuracy. However, this yielded two new challenges. First, because fletching was labor intensive, there was great incentive to make them reusable. This means making the shaft from sturdier materials, as well as making the tip last multiple impacts. Second, fletching increased the military utility of arrows, which is great, but unlike wild animals and fish, human warriors wore armour, which those arrows had to successfully and reliably penetrate. This marked the beginning of arrowheads. Initially, arrowheads were made of stone that was easily sharpened. One of those was flint, or obsidian stone. Both are excellent materials for arrowheads as their physical properties lie approximately between that or rock and glass. This resulted in hard, sharp arrowheads that could be produced on a relatively large scale. In areas with a low supply of usable stone, animal bone and horn was used, providing both the density and lightness needed in an arrowhead.

When we think of arrowheads we think of a flat, triangular piece of stone or metal. But that was only one of the arrowhead variants. With advances in metalwork, the so-called bodkin arrowheads became increasingly common. They resemble spears most of all, and were cheaper to produce than their wider counterparts. Also, the smaller overall area of the arrowhead reduced aerodynamic drag, enabling the arrow to travel that much farther. Field tips were the simplest of arrowheads, being conical metal tips. They were used for practice, as they didn’t get stuck in targets as easily, as well as hunting where damage to the animal was sought to be minimal. They were used for military purposes only due to the simplicity of mass production. Wide and often toothed arrowheads were preferred, as they were deadlier on the battlefield. Not only did they do more damage upon penetration, but their shape made the arrow impossible to simply pull out without additional damage and considerable pain. The only way to remove an arrowhead like that was to push the arrow through the body, an equally excruciating process. Just another reason why no one refers to medieval times as “the good old days”.