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j-san = Jason
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When I look at a number of primitive bow designs ranging from English longbows to Asian composite bows, I notice all of them lack a shelf as we see on modern bows (at least as far as I understand). This makes me wonder if the shelf is a relatively recent innovation? I can imagine ancient peoples may have added a hump of leather or wood at the grip to make a rest of sorts, but a sight window cut into a riser would be a completely different thing.
 

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Early Bear bows did not have much of a shelf. My first one had a plastic like shelf whipped one with the leather grip.

 

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Hhmmmm .... Good question Jason. There's a small amount of pictorial evidence of arrow rests from the 18th and 19th century on European bows, but I think the cut away shelf as we know it today is a fairly recent American innovation as you suggest in your original post.
Rusty's picture demonstrates the evolution of the shelf feature perfectly.

Good question .. be interested to hear what others have to say
 

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There is supposedly "some" evidence (maybe") for a wedge inserted under the top edge of a grip wrap. However really old bows have an ultra low survival rate and cord or leather grip wraps are even less. So finding actual provable evidence is nil as far as I can ascertain. It certainly seems like it would be a logical step as would grip wraps, from a functional role rather than a decorative one, if only to help maintain a proper consistent grip location for the optimum dynamic balance between the limbs.

I suspect the shooting off the fist was common for the eons, with archers protective gloves and gauntlets developing by the early medieval period. My personal suspicion is that the inserted wedge shelf probably developed in the archery sport revival in Britain after the war bow and the career military archers with gnarly hands and monstrous shoulders gave way to a more effete archer who's hands required more protection from shafts and fletchings.
 

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Mammoth Hunter
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Turkish archers went the other way and used something called a siper. Rather than cutting a shelf onto the bow, they built a shelf that you wear on your bow hand. It has a groove in it, through which the arrow passes. It is also long enough that it can add length of draw to the bow beyond the length of the arrow. So, you can draw a 25 inch arrow up to 30 inches, for example. This enables you to shoot faster and farther.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Siper_Topkapi.jpg
 

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i had one of damons 40's era yew self bows. it had a piece of harness leather cut in a wedge shape under the skived glove leather grip in lieu of a shelf. that was/is a pretty common thing on self bows. i shot an old native american bow some years ago that had a very thin wedge of wood under a thong wrap that i used as the arrow pass. really do not know when damon started cutting a shelf in his bows. i suspect it coincided with the laminating of risers and limbs. that would have provided the material strength and stiffness to allow a cut in shelf.
 

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the Siper was used functionally as an overdraw allowing extra short stiff arrows made of cane/reed shafts footed with wood; and used primarily in their 'flight archery competition (see the Turkish archery appendices in the Payne-Galloway books on catapults and ballisti)

" i suspect it coincided with the laminating of risers and limbs. that would have provided the material strength and stiffness to allow a cut in shelf." I am in complete agreement. you cannot go cutting into "self bows" and even early organic adhesive composite bows with out weakening the structure unless the "stick" is incredibly massive.
 

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j-san = Jason
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Turkish archers went the other way and used something called a siper. Rather than cutting a shelf onto the bow, they built a shelf that you wear on your bow hand. It has a groove in it, through which the arrow passes. It is also long enough that it can add length of draw to the bow beyond the length of the arrow. So, you can draw a 25 inch arrow up to 30 inches, for example. This enables you to shoot faster and farther.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Siper_Topkapi.jpg
Interesting. I guess an overdraw could be considered "trad".

I suppose the advent of modern adhesives and materials allowed bowyers to construct stronger risers that permitted a chunk cut out of the side and still retained sufficient strength.
 

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When a bow was part of daily life, as the iceman, it msde a great deal of sense to carry as little bow as possible i'd think.
 

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I have a vague recollection of pictures of a India Raj era all damascus steel ambidexeterous bow that had a shoot-through window in the riser.

Re : Sippar I have not looked at my copy of Payne-Galloway for a couple years but I recall it being a steamed, shaped, and polished "trough" of horn that strapped to the bow hand wrist and almost butted up against the riser. Remember they were shooting strictly for distance, and the kind of accuracy and or penetration we look for in our archery were not a high priority.
 
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