Several ways to go about this topic. First, I've figured we should get some clichés out of the way: - Cliché 1: "Crossbows are impossible to build without metal parts !" - Cliché 2: "No OTL Native American culture has ever even thought of the concept of a crossbow !" - Retort 1: Several cultures in Europe, Asia, western Africa and even a certain New World culture had developed their own, all-wooden crossbow designs. Though it is true a crossbow with greater military potential, such as the ones we see in late-medieval Europe, favoured plenty of steel parts, you don't actually need any metal to create a working crossbow. - Retort 2: At first glance, it seems no Native American culture could have developed crossbows. Bow usage in North America became commonly widespread after 500 AD, but had a much earlier basis, scattered localy. It doesn't seem any culture went further than developing selfbows and sinew-enhanced bows and recurved bows (the latter similar to Egyptian and Middle Eastern bows from antiquity). Composite bows in the Old World sense seem absent. (Update: I partly retract the last statement, as some NA cultures seem to have utilised bows with horn-enhanced components in addition to sinew.) Not even Mesoamericans or the Incas, advanced Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures, invented the crossbow independently. Case closed, right ? Well, no. Possibly due to trade contacts with Alaska and Asia, or possibly independently, the Inuit had and manufactured hunting crossbows. All-wooden, of course. With the same basic design you see in early medieval European hunting crossbows, medieval and early modern west African hunting crossbows, and even colonial era Appalachian hunting crossbows (possibly inspired by European or African tradition). Yep, that's an Inuit hunting crossbow. Though it has its distinctive features (a gun barrel-like "roof" made from bark), it shares the basics with its European and Asian cousins. Ordinary bow lashed to the tiller, a flight groove in the front half of the tiller, a simpler lever trigger without the need of a crossbow nut, a "threshold" element on the stock ("string-catch" ?) to hold the bowstring spanned until you raise the lever (it replaces the function of the nut). The similarities between these European, African and Inuit crossbows also include performance characteristics. These are not exactly a weapon of war, but perfectly adequate for sniping small prey (seabirds, hares, maybe even fish in streams, etc.) or defending yourself from a pesky attacker ("Oi ! You there ! Stop poking around my igloo !"). ---- To compare, here are the Inuit crossbow's cousins from other continents: The European form. Specifically, the one based on the typology seen in a 11th century find from Colletiere a Charavines in France. The functioning of the two weapons is basically identical, though these cultures had never met. They had the same basic idea, though. You use the little string-catch threshold around the middle of the crossbow instead of a nut and spring and tickler lever. Instead, you have a little "thumb lever", attached to two elevated areas on the tiller of the crossbow via a tiny axle (either a peg or cord). By pushing down on the operating end of the little lever, you raise the other end, and that other end also lifts the bowstring beyond the threshold of the string-catch. At a certain height, this move, of course, releases the bowstring. The string snaps back forward with the flexing of the bow, and as the string travels along the tiller, it hits the back part of the bolt (they're flat and without nocks, unlike arrows) and shoots it in a fairly straight line. (Though the idea of a bolt-latch/bolt-catch was not invented yet by either Europeans or Inuit (it took the former until the 16th/17th century, oddly enough), there is a way around fearing you'll unintentionally drop your bolts. You can hold the end of the bolt down while not aiming straight, then release your bolt-holding thumb just as you release the bowstring by operating the lever. So, it isn't impossible to shoot bolts from these crossbows outside of a perfectly straight, still line. The vast majority of crossbows in human history did well without bolt-latches. Even though they're not held in place by anything, with a little practice, you can easily prevent the bolts from falling off the tiller, by using the thumb-trick.) Whether the Inuit invented their "thumb lever" crossbow idea independently, or got wind of some simple Asian design (identical to the CaC design) and tried to build their own as a result, we'll probably never know. First image: A replica based on the Colletiere a Charavines find, from the 11th century. Second and third image: The construction of the "thumb lever" trigger mechanism in this crossbow. The western African form. Used since at least the late Middle Ages in various countries of western Africa, these have a slightly different design, but they also lack metal parts and focus on simple mechanisms. They are rather skillfully made. There's been a lot of speculation whether these were invented independently by western African nationalities, or might have had some inspiration from Portuguese and other European sailors first. Like with the Inuit crossbow, we'll probably never know. Most of the surviving examples in museums are from the 18th or 19th century. Mind you, these were not necessarily weapons of rich African courts. Quite the contrary. They were often used by various forest-dwelling tribes, living a simple hunger-gatherer or partial-agricultural lifestyle. Again, simple designs used by cultures that didn't necessarily have all the resources to make crossbows demanding sophisticated metallurgy. At any rate, the construction basics of these show a remarkably similar design philosophy to the European and Inuit all-wooden crossbows. First two images: 19th century originals, based on western African designs traditionally used for at least 4-5 centuries. Third image: The construction of the "rising peg lever" trigger mechanism in this crossbow. (Descriptions in French.) ---- Spotlight on the European (Colletiere a Charavines / "thumb lever") type: In addition to the French find from the 11th century, detailed in the above videos and earlier images, there was also a nearly identical type of all-wooden, simple mechanism crossbow, found in Sweden's region of Skåne. The two specimens found were from the 16th century, and it's been speculated they might have been used in a siege during a peasant uprising. The type represented by these finds is the so-called Skåne lockbow. Here is a pretty good replica: Yes, 16th century cheapo crossbows. It does make sense, though. While there were much more sophisticated civilian crossbows available by the 1500s and especially the 1600s - some 500-600 years after the French find - the simple design still saw some use. Possibly because it was inexpensive to make, with poorer Swedish peasants who could afford neither a gun or a proper crossbow building these very home-brewn hunting crossbows instead. Notice the one big difference when compared with the CaC crossbow: The rising peg isn't a little "thumb lever" attached close to the stringcatch, but more in the vein of the typical "tickler" levers that were commonplace on all crossbows by the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Peasants probably emulated those at the time more familiar designs more literally, since that was what they had for reference, even if it was a good bit more complicated than it needed to be. Notice that the wooden tickler includes a stub carved into a wooden peg or an attached wooden peg, and this rises through a hole made into the body of the crossbow in the stringcatch area. You raise the lever upward, like on most typical crossbows, and the peg lifts the string (just like the much simpler "thumb lever" of the CaC specimen) and the string is set loose and shoots the prepared bolt. Nice, but the lever design of the French find is a lot more compact, obviously. The Skåne lockbow also shares the rising peg concept with the West African crossbows, so we could say there are two "schools of thought" here, on how to make non-metal crossbows. (There's also a replica of this type with a more later-medieval steel bow, here. But I'm concentrating on the all-wooden version.) The 16th century Swedish example above wasn't the last time the simplicity of the all-wooden design found continued use. A little later in North America, the aforementioned Appalachian crossbows were famously used by 18th-20th century locals, who were too strapped for cash to buy gunpowder and hunting muskets/rifles. Here are two historical images related to local craftsmen, making these crossbows well into the 20th century: These are interesting, because they're a mix of the features seen in the traditional European and African hunting crossbows, including an all-wooden construction, but tend to also borrow from 17th and 18th century hunting crossbow designs, and occassionally include one or two metal parts (though not in any of the crucial bits, like the bow or its lashing to the stock). Interesting discussions I've found off-site, about simple hunting crossbows and their mechanisms: https://myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=31032 - Crossbows with rising peg mechanisms (Europe, west Africa, etc.) http://myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.19560.html - the post-Columbian crossbows used by rural European settlers in the Appalachians ---- Before we start concocting far-fetched scenarios about Inuits spreading hunting crossbows to Native American nations in the south (erm, why ?), let's think outside of the box a little. The timeframe I'll be using here is pre-Columbian. (And no, Scandinavians won't introduce crossbows via Vinland. They didn't have them at the time and they also barely inhabited Vinland, aside from one or two seasonal camps. So, those are out.) Let's imagine some culture other than the Inuit has a person who comes up with the idea of a hunting crossbow independently. Which ethnicities would be the most likely candidates ? I'm wondering whether the New World cultures that developed and used recurved bows in OTL, and were sedentary enough to have the time, tools and resources to make potential crossbows, could have developed them ? Though the influence of native-developed crossbow designs is largely negligible, as they'll be most useful for hunting, the fact that any Native American culture could have these would make for a really interesting divergence. Despite the primarily civilian use in OTL, we know European, African and Inuit all-wooden crossbows also saw some minor use in anti-personnel combat. Could Native American cultures that develop these simple crossbows in an ATL prove deadly during raids on tribes that have only ordinary bows ? The reload time for crossbows would be slightly higher, their fluid rate of shot-after-shot in turn slower than those of a usual bow. However, the straight flight of the bolts or quarrels, and less shooting practice needed for archers of raiding/fighting bands could prove an innovating factor in native combat tactics. (And, of course, European explorers might be unpleasantly surprised by natives laying down shots from crossbows in addition to bows...) Thoughts ?