Did you know that the roots of archery date back tens of thousands of years? Here you are going to read; in-depth resource on History Of The Bow And Arrow.
Although archery today isn’t what it used to be, throughout millennia. It has had a profound impact on the art of war and hunting. This is because it allowed man to hit his target from afar. Which, had dramatic implications for the effectiveness of armies and hunters.
Not only that, but the bow and arrow have played a major role in the culture and religion of many people (though in this sense, the role of archery is less researched).
In this post, we will briefly explore the history of the bow and arrow to hopefully allow you to better appreciate the art of archery and perhaps even spark an interest toward its modern forms in you!
Timeline Of The Bow And Arrow
Below is a rough timeline of the development of the bow and arrow technology.
- 60000 BC. The earliest remains of rock points which have been possibly used as arrowheads.
- 20000 BC. Cave paintings in the Iberian Mediterranean Basin, Spain, depicting hunting and battling archers.
- 8000 BC. Well-preserved bows from the Holmegaard swamp in Denmark.
- 3000 BC. Ancient Egyptians proficient in archery.
- 2500 BC. The first composite recurve bows.
- 1000 BC. Archery as one of the Six Noble Arts under the Zhou dynasty of China.
- 500 BC. The first Japanese asymmetrical longbows.
- 450 AD. The Huns at their peak under Atilla. They have devastated many Roman and Germanic armies with their renowned arrow showers.
- 1200 AD. The Mongol army under Genghis Khan with primarily mounted archers.
- 1500 AD. The decline of archery begins with the advent of firearms.
- 1600 AD.The first modern archery societies form and tournaments held.
- 1780AD. The rise of archery as a recreational activity among the elite of Britain.
- 1815 AD.The entry of archery into all social classes of Britain after the Napoleonic Wars.
- 1900 AD. Archery as an Olympic event at the Paris Games.
- 1961 AD. Bows with stabilizers developed by Hoyt Archery Company.
- 1969 AD.The first compound bow developed by Holless Wilbur Allen in the US.
- 1972 AD. Archery becomes a permanent Olympic event, starting with the Games in Munich, Germany.
- 2011 AD. World Archery Federation established.
History Of The Bow And Arrow
Long before man had gunpowder to power bullets and other weapons, a simple bow and arrow were all that separated early man from other beasts of the times. Since man was slow and defenceless as compared to other animals, he developed weapons. First came the spear, but he soon figured out how to make arrows that were propelled by a simple stick with a string tied to both ends – a bow.
This simple weapon helped ensure man’s survival, as even the fastest animal was no match for the speed of an arrow – propelled by an archery bow. As the centuries passed, archery equipment was needed less and less, mainly due to the proliferation of modern inventions such as the gun. When the last of the American Indians were placed on reservations in the early 1900s, archery almost died in the U.S. as there was no real practical use for this ancient technology.
The resurgence of archery, and the archery bow and arrow, began in 1900, as archery was added as a competitive sport to the Olympics, where it has remained to this day. No longer needed for survival, many people around the world began to develop the sport of archery, devoted to skill development and competition, rather than hunting and basic survival.
Technological developments such as the compound bow, which multiplied the force of a bow by using pulleys and a much stiffer bow material and arrows made of metals vs. stone propelled archery to a much higher plane of importance. While these improvements to the basics of archery occurred hundreds of years ago, their basic designs have carried over largely intact over the centuries.
New man-made materials such as fibreglass, plastics and graphite construction have contributed to huge improvements in performance as compared to archery bows of years ago. And, the resurgence of bowhunting as a serious sport, rather than using a gun, has given new meaning to the “art” of hunting, as bowhunters can’t rely on the awesome power of a gun to bring down their prey. The sport in hunting is back!
No matter if you use your archery bow for hunting or competitive sport, archery as a serious sport is here to stay. Archery is a great way to spend fun time with your family!
Advancements in the bow and arrow design
The design of the bow and arrow have varied significantly not only through time but also between different areas of the world. Although bows and arrows from different eras and regions are largely similar, there some important details in them that make them distinct.
Before our deeper dive into the history of the bow and arrow, let’s talk about the advancements in their design a little more in-depth.
Originally, bows have been made from a single piece of wood. These bows are now called self bows or simple bows. However, in about the 2nd millennium BC, self bows have been supplanted by composite bows.
Made of several types of material, composite bows were smaller and more mobile than simple bows. Apart from that, they stored more energy than simple bows and thus delivered more arrow velocity.
As archery spread throughout the globe, it has been influenced by various cultures and societal needs.For example, African bows have been small – this is because the ranges in African jungles were usually short.
In contrast, there also have been very large bow designs – for example, the English longbow that was roughly as tall as a human. These longer bows were more effective at long ranges and had more penetration because they were able to store more kinetic energy.
In modern times, the traditional composite bow grew into the compound bow – a bow with a system of pulleys and cables. Compound bows are very stiff and more energy-efficient than other bows, and they also are more accurate because of lower sensitivity to temperature and humidity changes.
Arrows have had more variations in their design than bows or strings. The typical arrow is made from at least two materials – wood or metal for the shaft and metal, stone, or bone for the arrowhead.
Most arrows have some kind of feathering for stabilizationas well, though heavy-shafted arrows may not be feathered.
These days, arrows are available in dozens of types for different purposes. We’ll briefly overview them a little later.
Earliest evidence and remains of the bow and arrow
Bow and arrow technology appears to be at least 60-70 thousand years old – this is the age of bone and stone arrowheads found at Sibudu Cave in South Africa, the oldest evidence of arrows known so far.
The earliest possible remains of bow and arrow from Europe are aged 17,500-18,000 years and have been found at Mannheim-Vogelstang in Germany. The oldest definite bows in Europe come from the Holmegaard swamp in Denmark, aged about 8-9 thousand years.
In Ancient Egypt, traces of archery date to about 5,000 years ago. Archery in Ancient Egypt has been practiced both for warfare and hunting. Apart from their use as tools, bows and arrows have also bone a somewhat big role in Egyptian tradition – some Egyptian deities have been connected to archery, and the Egyptians also used the term “nine bows” to refer to their external enemies.
Notably, Eurasia is where the first composite bow has been manufactured. This has happened in the Bronze Age (around 2500 BC). After that, it’s thought that the composite bow has spread to the Old World, particularly thanks to nomad peoples from the Eurasian steps. Likewise, it’s thought that mounted horseback archery has originated in Eurasia.
Archery from antiquity to the Middle Ages
Since its advent, archery has risen in popularity and reached its peak in the Middle Ages. Archers have been particularly valued in Europe, and they have been integral to the Viking society – both in combat and hunting.
Prior to the Middle Ages, archery has become very popular among Eurasian peoples such as the Huns, Mongols, or the Seljuq Turks. These peoples have been particularly skilled in mounted archery and used powerful composite recurved bows that were among the most feared and effective ranged weapons in mounted combat before the introduction of the revolving pistol.
Interestingly, the Romans and Greeks strongly despised the bow and arrow, even though they’ve have witnessed its devastating power when battling against enemy archers. With that said, the Romans did make use of archers eventually – for example, the army of Julius Caesar in Gaul incorporated Cretan archers.
In Europe, archery has become especially popular in the Middle Ages. The two most influential forms of the bow in Europe were the crossbow and the English longbow. The latter was particularly impressive – standing tall as a man, this bow had a 200-yard effective range.
As for the crossbow, it was less accurate than contemporary composite bows or longbows, but it didn’t have the same demands on training and thus was easier to use. Apart from that, crossbows were effective enough at short to medium ranges.
Around the 16th century, bows have begun to lose their popularity due to the development of the first firearms. This has marked the beginning of the bows’ supplanting by firearms – a process that would become more or less completed in the whole world by the 20th century.
Reintroduction of archery in recreation in the 1780s
After its decline in warfare, archery was revived as an upper-class hobby in the 1780s in Britain. The first British recreational archery societieswould hold archery competitions where the goal was to knock a wooden parrot down from an abbey tower.
It should be noted that recreational archery didn’t originate in Britain – it had been a thing back in the 17th century. However, British recreational archery has arguably had the largest contribution to archery as we know it today.
The reintroduction of archery in the recreational space of Britain was accompanied by the establishment of numerous archery societies across the country.
Initially, recreational archery was luxurious and extravagant – archery events incorporated music, gun salutes, and representatives of the highest circles of British society.And interestingly, back in those times, archery was particularly popular among females, which allowed archery events to serve as a platform for romance and flirtation.
After the Napoleonic Wars, archery was introduced to all social classes. The 1819 novel “Ivanhoe” from Sir Walter Scott had a particularly big contribution to the popularization of archery in Britain. Not only that, but the connection of archery to the lore of Robin Hood and its patriotic nature during the political tensions in Europe also had a profound impact on the popularity of this activity.
Archery as a sport
The earliest attempts at turning archery into a sport coincided with its rising popularity among the elite circles in Britain. The Grand National Archery Society – currently the governing body of archery sport in the UK – has attempted to standardize archery in the 1840s.
Over the next decades, this sport has sharply increased in popularity and even gave some of the best target archers of all time, including Horace A. Ford (1822-1880). Mister Ford has contributed to the popularity of the sport of archery not only with his skill but also via his influential archery guide published in 1856.
Despite all this, archery’s popularity would decline in Britain by the end of the 19th century. Instead, the British became more interested in tennis and croquet. Nonetheless, archery was included as a sports event at the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris.
After an initial decline, the popularity of recreational and sports archery would again rise – particularly in the Western world in the 1980s after American enthusiasts became interested in the discipline. Traditional skills of archery were combined with modern technologies, which gave rise to dramatically different equipment and with it technique.
Archery has also seen an increase in popularity in other areas of the world. For example, in Korea, archery has become known as a healthy pastime under Emperor Gojong (September 8, 1852 – January 21, 1919). In the 21st century, interest in archery has risen in China as well.
History of the Bow And Arrow In India
The bow and arrow have been heavily used in the Indian subcontinent since the Vedic period (1,500-500 BC). Vedic hymns such as Atharvaveda, Yajurveda, and Rigveda have especially emphasized archery. Yajurveda, in particular, is a scientific work on archery describing the training of the army and listing the rules of archery.
The bow in India was used in the infantry, mounted troops (including elephant and camel units), and chariots. During the Indo-European migrations to India, Aryan tribes have also introduced India to the composite bow.
In the years of the Gupta Empire (3rd century AD – 543 AD), the popularity of mounted archery rapidly declined, and mounted units were largely replaced by foot archers – in contrast to Central Asian armies that instead preferred mounted archers.
Indian kingdoms after the Gupta Empire would reintroduce a large number of mounted archers to their armies. Archers would remain an integral part of the Indian army up until the advent of the first firearms.
History of the Bow And Arrow In China
Archery has had a pivotal role not only in the Chinese military but also culture and philosophy. During the Zhou dynasty (1146 BC – 256 BC), archery was one of the Six Noble Arts.
In warfare, the Chinese have particularly valued mounted archery and chariots. As for the infantry, the preferred weapon was the crossbow since it required less training.
The ritualistic role of archery has perhaps been the most prominent during the Zhou dynasty – back in their days, nobles have often had archery rituals that reinforced the hierarchy within the Chinese aristocracy.
Like in many other countries around the world, the decline of archery in China has begun with the introduction of firearms. In China, firearms have been used since the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD).
In the early years, bows and crossbows have remained rather popular due to the slow rate of fire and low reliability of firearms. However, between 1644 and 1911 (roughly the years of the Qing dynasty), the increasingly reliable firearms caused a decline in archery. And in 1901, Guangxu Emperor removed archery from the military syllabus.
In the early 20th century, bow makers made an effort to revive traditional Chinese archery, but they were unsuccessful. In the years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), many workshops had to suspend the manufacture of bows, which temporarily put an end to the movement of the revival of traditional archery.
With that said, in the late 20th and 21st century though, the tradition of Chinese archery has experienced a revival through the efforts of enthusiasts, researchers, and craftsmen.
History Of The Bow And Arrow In America
Archery appears to have come to America in 6000 BC via Alaska. It would spread into the south temperate zones by 2000 BC. And by 500 AD, the indigenous peoples of North America have been well-familiar with archery.
The bow and arrow have been extensively used by Native Americans in warfare up until the years of the European colonization of the continent.After that, most Native American cultures have abandoned bows in favor of the superior firearms captured from their adversary.
An exception to this was the Comanche nation that preferred mounted archery to muzzle-loaded firearms. On the other hand, the Comanches realized that repeating rifles were far superior to bows, so they adopted them whenever possible.
Combat aside, Native Americans would also prefer bows to firearms in hunting. After the arrival of the Europeans to the Americas, bows would long remain effective weapons for hunting. All Native Americans have used bows to hunt buffalo up until the late 19th century. Then, bow hunting declined because of the lack of buffalo populations.
In the early 20th century, primitive archery was revived after a native named Ishi, the last known member of the Yahi Indian tribe, came out of hiding in 1911 in California. Ishi’s doctor Saxton Pope learned traditional archery from him and decided to popularize it.
In 1961, the Pope and Young Club was established, named in honor of Saxton Pope and Arthur Young, a friend of Pope. Pope and Young Club would become a leading organization for bowhunting in North America. The club was established as a nonprofit scientific organization and advocated responsible bowhunting.
Finally, as mentioned above, in the 1980s, traditional archery was revived by American enthusiasts. Now, archery is a popular recreational and hunting activity throughout the continent and particularly in the United States.
The Bow And Arrow In Warfare
The bow and arrow have been a major weapon in warfare for millennia up until the introduction of firearms. Even after the first firearms have appeared on the battlefield, it would take a few more centuries before they became more effective in combat than bows.
Bows have been used in combat as far back as 20000 BC, which is testified by cave paintings in the Iberian Mediterranean Basin depicting a battle of archers.
With the introduction of firearms, the bow and arrow became obsolete in warfare. This was despite the various disadvantages of early firearms, such as thevery low rate of fire (6-8 times from a bow in a minute versus 2-5 from a musket) and susceptibility to moisture.
With that said, thanks to their longer range and greater armor penetration, firearms have quickly gained popularity.
The last regular army unit that had archers was the Archers’ Company of HAC (Honourable Artillery Company) of England – it has operated up until the late 1790s and existed up until the 19th century as a private club.
However, archers would still participate in combat, albeit in much smaller numbers. One of the more famous recent uses of bows in war was during the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940.
The bow and arrow are very rarely used nowadays in warfare – mostly, archery has been maintained in isolated cultures or poor regions. However, bows have been reportedly used in some 21st-century African conflicts, and they have used considerably in the Kenyan crisis of 2007-2008.
Types Of Bows And Arrows
These days, bows and arrows are exceptionally diverse, with probably at least a dozen types existing for each.
Bows, for example, can be categorized in several ways.
- Recurve, where the tips curve away from the archer.
- Reflex, whose limbs curve away when unstrung.
- Simple bows, made of a single piece of wood.
- Composite bows, made of more than one material.
By limb cross-section:
- Longbows, where the cross-section is rounded. These bows are also usually over 1.5 meters (5 feet) long.
- Flatbows, where the cross-section is rectangular.
Arrows are also available in multiple types, some of them being:
- Blunts with unsharpened tips.
- Bodkin points with short length and small cross-section.
- Broadheads with 2-4 sharp blades.
- Judo points with springs that extend sideways to catch on grass or other debris to prevent loss during training.
- Target points with a bullet-like shape so that target butts are penetrated easily without severe damage.
- Safety arrows with wide or padded heads.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who invented the bow and arrow?
It’s difficult to tell – the earliest evidence of bows & arrows comes from South Africa. However, there may be older traces elsewhere in the world, so it’s difficult to attribute the invention of bows and arrows to anybody.
Why were the bow and arrow so important?
A long-range weapon that was more accurate than the spear. The bow has dramatically improved the effectiveness of soldiers and hunters.
Although this is just a thought, this has probably accelerated the collapse of weak states and the reinforcement of powerful states. Besides, the invention of the bow allowed for more effective hunting which has likely lead to easier access to food and thus encouraged the development of human society
How did the bow and arrow change history?
Apart from obvious advantages on the battlefield and hunting. The bow and arrow are thought to have allowed social groups to effectively subjugate uncooperative individuals or encourage them to leave. This, on one hand, has likely reinforced strong societies and, on the other, forced weaker ones to disband.
How old is the bow and arrow in North America?
It is thought that archery has arrived in North America via Alaska in about 6000 BC. Though it would take a few thousand years for it to spread throughout the continent. The native people of North America were proficient in archery by 500 AD.
Archery is not only demanding on strength and coordination. But it also has traditional value behind it – after all, it has most likely accelerated human development(directly or indirectly). Remember about this the next take you take a bow – you’ll appreciate the millennia-old weapon much more.