Ute arrow straightener made of Jurassic dinosaur bone

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Gavin Noller (USA)

I am currently studying an arrow straightening tool left behind by the Ute Indians of the Northern Colorado Plateau long ago. The artefact is made of an unusual material – a Jurassic dinosaur bone. As I work with this object (which is more than 13 decades old), I imagine a scene when it was used:

A group of Ute braves are sitting on a forested mountain slope that overlooks the plains where the braves and their families have camped. They are manufacturing arrowheads and straightening the shafts of their arrows for hunting. The day is quite peaceful. The sun is shining – showering the landscape with its blissful, gratifying warmth and light. In the distance, the dark silhouette of a herd of grazing bison is visible.

One brave – Leaf Who Rides on the Wind – has a tool for straightening the shafts of arrows. It is made of a peculiar material that is like bone, but is as hard as rock, and all the other braves believe it contains great medicine.

The arrow straightener that Leaf Who Rides on the Wind uses is part of a large dinosaur bone. The bone was smoothed, so it could fit into his hand. A single long groove was put in to the bone to straighten the shafts of arrows, so they would hit their intended target, straight and true.

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Fig. 1. View of arrow shaft straightener made of dinosaur bone from a Jurassic bone bed. (From the G Noller collection. Photo by G Noller.)

After Leaf Who Rides on the Wind completes making and straightening an arrow, he wonders about how well the arrow will shoot. Ten quivers worth of arrows are finished, with more to make. He takes a moment to observe his surroundings in closer detail. Across the clearing in which he and the other braves sit, a couple of chipmunks are chasing each other. His thoughts are interrupted by a hunting call from a Shoshone hunting party from the west. Not wanting conflict, Leaf Who Rides on the Wind and the other braves quickly gather their possessions and hastily make their way down the mountain slope and into camp. They recount the events of the afternoon to their families late into the night around their campfire and, as the moon climbs into the night sky, they head for their tepees and soon fall asleep.

Leaf Who Rides on the Wind wakes next morning to find his special tool of untold magic and power is missing and he is afraid that he has lost it forever. He is desperate to find it, as he fears he will not now hunt so well. He looks everywhere and asks his friends if they have seen it. Several days later, he finds it behind a thriving mountain mahogany bush, where he had dropped it earlier, on his way from coming down the mountain slope. Eventually Leaf Who Rides on the Wind lost his arrow straightener one last time…

More than 130 years later, it was found again, this time by a fossil hunter. Arrow straighteners are not that common and are not often seen in museums. However, when they are, they will probably not be made of dinosaur bone from a prehistoric time that has long faded away. Now that the artefact has been recovered, it is currently being studied. Continued research will reveal more of the archaeological secrets of this arrowhead straightener made of a Jurassic dinosaur bone.

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Fig. 2. Two red lines show where the groove is on the top of the arrow straightening groove. (From the G Noller collection. Photo by S Veatch.)
Length (across groove)approx. 8.89cm
Width (tip to groove)approx. 6.89cm
Height (bottom to top pictured)approx. 5.08mm
Groove lengthapprox. 5.08mm
Groove width (at top)approx. 5.08mm
Groove depthapprox. 1.27cm

About the author


Gavin Noller is a 12-year-old middle school student in 6th grade. His favourite subject in school is science, and he loves finding rocks and fossils in his free time. Gavin also has a strong interest in archaeology. He is a member of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society and has worked on day-long outreach projects at the Colorado City Founder’s Day celebration and the Cool Science Festival at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

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