For tribes that inhabited desert areas (e.g. Arabian Peninsula, Sahara, etc...), there seems to have been a problem: a good bow would likely require materials that would be hard to come by in the desert (wood from trees).

  1. Is there an evidence that this was indeed a factor influencing the use of bow and arrows as military technology by tribes living in such conditions?

  2. If that's not the case, what did they use as far as materials to make the bows? The arrows?

I would prefer an answer that references a generic research that shows analysis across cultures, but would be OK with answer that cover a single tribe/culture. However, it must be one that did NOT have easy access to wood for bows (e.g. Levant area doesn't count, obviously, despite having some desert landscape).

  • I guess that the Mongol do not count as well since while they travelled across deserts, they never lived there. Although, the lack of trees may point you to other resources on how to make bows. Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 10:19
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    I think bows can be made out of bones also, and they are available everywhere.
    – apoorv020
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 11:27
  • Bone is generally too brittle
    – Dani
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 12:54
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    @SystemDown - would there be enough wood for many bows in just oases?
    – DVK
    Commented Dec 10, 2011 at 0:02
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    @DVK - I used to live in Saudi Arabia. And there are definitely plenty of trees in the less arid areas. The trees are smaller than the ones you would find in temperate climate forests (and I know very little about the process of actually making bows) but I would imagine that there would be enough. The second Caliph Umar is quoted saying "Teach your children horse riding, archery and swimming" that tells me that there were difinitely enough bows to go around. Commented Dec 19, 2011 at 21:53

4 Answers 4


Horn would seem the obvious solution to a lack of wood

  • Is that based on historical/archaeological sources, or just a guess?
    – DVK
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 14:45
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    I don't know of any bow made completely from horn, but it was used as a major component of composite bows, including those used by the mongols. Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 22:23
  • even allowing for the fact that the tribe is living in a desert there must be some wood to be had, also, I don't see why they would actually need any at all, they could use metal to make the "bridge" of the bow(the bit you hold that bonds the two horns together in the middle) as that doesn't necessarily need to be flexible, all the power comes form the arms
    – Dani
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 7:59
  • @Dani - "would"/"could" is a guess. I was looking for specific evidence/research, sorry.
    – DVK
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 16:31
  • No worries mate, just thought I'd point you in the right direction.
    – Dani
    Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 5:20

Actually, people never live in a pure sand sea. In deserts they live in oasises, where there is food and trees. If you live somewhere where trees cannot grow, then there is no food either.

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    If you live in oasis with 3 trees, cutting down one of them for bow wood may not be the best idea
    – DVK
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 6:05
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    @DVK oasises usually have plenty of water and food. There is no difficulty to rise new trees.
    – Anixx
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 10:53
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    @DVK and your impresson of oasises is wrong. Oasises are usually cities and towns, not just bus stops with three palms.
    – Anixx
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 14:38

I have a feeling you're not going to find any studies of this nature. Before synthetics, wood was just the only material with the properties needed to make a bow.

If you lived somewhere without trees and you wanted bows, you'd buy wood from somewhere else. The amount of wood needed to supply a tribe with bows would not be particularly expensive or difficult to transport.

On the other hand, imagine a tribe that lives so deep in the desert that not only do they have no trees, they never have contact with people who have trees - how would this tribe come to invent bows on their own? They're not hunting large game, and they don't have the population density to get a war on.

That's my take, anyway.

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    They could have migrated away from a bow-owning culture
    – DVK
    Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 19:30
  • Well, I'm not saying it's impossible, just that it seems highly unlikely to me. Even if they had the concept, I don't see why they would need to make bows in that environment. It's an interesting question, and I'd love to be proven wrong, because that would be a fascinating study ;).
    – Rose Ames
    Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 20:32

Horn, cartridge, and bone have all been used to make bows, however, usually in laminate form with wood as another layer. Also, nearly every part of the world has some kind of wood growing nearby.

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