Otzi carved his longbow from the wood of the yew tree intending to kill prey, and perhaps his enemies. He would never have dreamed that the same tree would one day yield a chemical that saves lives.
Otzi was given his name by researchers who examined his mummified body, found in 1991 in the Otzal Alps of Austria. He died about 5,300 years ago. His well-preserved body, clothing and tools offer a glimpse into what life was like in the “Chalcolithic” age. That term derives from the Greek for copper, and lithos for stone, describing a period before the Bronze Age when the addition of tin to copper was found to form an alloy harder than pure copper. Beside his longbow, Otzi also had an axe with a copper head and a handle made of yew wood.
The wood of the English or European yew, as the tree is now called, has just the right springiness for the production of longbows. Otzi apparently knew about the value of yew, but it was the success of the English during the Hundred Years War with the French that made yew wood bows famous. By that time, most of the yew wood was actually imported into England from Europe, because a shortage had developed due to the use of longbows in the numerous battles the English fought among themselves. To make sure that enough longbows could be produced to satisfy the demand, the Statute of Westminster passed in 1472 declared that every ship coming to an English port had to bring four bow staves for every ton of cargo. read more >>