Search
  • Adrian J. Boas

On Unlikely Finds and Losses


Wooden arrow shafts from Montfort Castle (now in the Rockefeller Museum Jerusalem and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Selah Merrill, an American clergyman, consul in Jerusalem, part-time archaeologist and full-time anti-Semite, published a brief note in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly of 1902 in which he recorded a remarkable find made in Jerusalem in the nineteenth century.* He describes being informed in around the year 1882 by "an intelligent old man" about a room full of ancient arrows that had formerly been discovered in the Citadel of David. His not overly enthusiastic efforts to trace this discovery led to repeated accounts by some older people who claimed to recall having heard about the find from their fathers when they were children, but not to a discovery of the whereabouts of the arrows themselves. He did, however, come across another more reliable account of this discovery by the diplomat and author Hanmer Lewis Dupuis (1829–1911), grandson of the English artist J.M.W. Turner, who published it in 1856. Dupuis' description of the discovery is detailed enough to make it sound reliable, and is worth quoting in full:


"It was during my residency in the country that the flooring of a room adjacent to the Tower of Hippicus fell in, and a vault hitherto unknown was discovered underneath containing a store of shafts of arrows. Opinions were divided whether this depot had been made in very early times or belonged to the Middle Ages. The later was the more general opinion, and so we pronounced it to be a military deposit for the arms of the Crusaders. These arrows, ready prepared for the head, may have been for the particular service of the garrison of the tower in which they were found, and being made of deal wood it is not unreasonable to conclude that they must have been weapons used by some northern and perhaps western nation, rather than shafts prepared by an Oriental people of the south, who invariably employ cane, or the stem of the palm leaf (jereed), for this purpose."**


So, not iron arrowheads but wooden arrow shafts. This was certainly an exceptional find as ancient wooden objects rarely survive except in very dry desert conditions and, if indeed these were of medieval date, it was an almost unique discovery. Almost, but not quite. Exceptional conditions enabled the survival of various wooden objects in the ruins of Montfort Castle, among them, painted arrow shafts. In this case the survival in a region with a high rainfall and so, far from ideal for the preservation of wood, was possible because of the manner by which the castle was destroyed. The Mamluks used fire to weaken the massive limestone walls, filling the chambers with combustible material and setting it alight. Where the heat was intense enough the limestone crumbled and became Calcium oxide (CaO) commonly known as quicklime, which in the winter rain slaked, and wherever it washed over and covered wood or wooden objects that had survived the conflagration they were preserved intact. The arrow shafts from Montfort, pictured above, were decorated with coloured paint, perhaps to identify the owner, perhaps to alleviate their retrieval by making them stand out, so that they could be seen in the brush and collected after firing.


As to Merrill's arrows, Dupuis mentions that they were "...ready prepared for the head" and that was indeed the case with one of the shafts found at Montfort (second from the top), which has a conical end intended for inserting into a Western type socket head rather than the eastern type arrowhead which had an extended metal tang that was inserted into the shaft. This fact would appear to support the idea that the shafts found in the Jerusalem citadel were indeed of the European type, and so, in all likelihood, Frankish. All the greater the pity that this important discovery has since been lost




Dr Selah Merrill, "Ancient Arrows in the Castle of David", Palestine Exploration Quarterly 34, 1902, p. 106.

**Hanmer Lewis Dupuis, The Holy Places: A Narrative of Two Years' Residence in Jerusalem and Palestine, vol. 2, London, 1856, pp. 10-11.

53 views