History of the Bow and Arrow

Let’s be clear about it… Robin Hood is not the guy credited with inventing bows and arrows, they have been around since prehistoric times! It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it all started, but we can all agree that the Stone Age breathed life into this fabulous hunting and defense system.

From hunting wild animals to fighting wars, these weapons have been used in many different situations. Before the use of gunpowder back in the 16th century, archers and their arrows were considered a very lethal combination for warfare.

The first time someone from the known civilizations used a bow can be traced back to 3,000 BC, but researchers claim that mankind invented these weapons way before that.

As a matter of fact, they’ve found remains of arrows in South African sites like Sibudu Cave, and they’re dated at least 60,000 years back! The history of the bow and arrow is a vast one, and it’s time for you to revisit the past.

The Origin of the Bow and Arrow

As we said, it’s not easy to pinpoint the exact place where bows were originated, but considering archaeological evidence, it is clear that the emergence of the stone age gave birth to bows and arrows.

Before Europe and Asia were divided into two continents, they were together as Eurasia. In these regions, especially the Mediterranean world, the bow and arrow were first used around the end of the final glacial period. The usage of the regular bow started in most of the regions in the world back then.

Apart from Africa, the latest discovery of ancient arrowheads was in Sri Lanka, in the Fa Hien cave. This arrowhead was dated back to around 48,000 years, and they used animal sinew on their bows to do target shooting.

In Europe however, the oldest confirmation of arrowheads is dated back 18,000 years. But they do have something other continents don’t, an extant bow, an all in one piece that was last used 8,000 years ago!

As a matter of fact, those bows from Holmegaard, Denmark, were so good in quality that the design is still followed today for making wooden bows!

The bow and arrow technology was widely used in the middle ages for hunting, warfare, and recreational games like archery. There were many different versions of bows too, including the famous crossbow and English longbow.

The prehistoric people mostly used them for hunting smaller animals, they preferred a spear thrower to hunt larger ones.

However, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the rise of gunpowder and the wide usage of guns made bows obsolete. Even though they were an essential weapon in ancient times, people started to prefer guns with different functions over arrows.

While their usage in organized warfare came to an end, people in the Eastern areas still preferred them for hunting and archery

Types of Bows and Arrows

Arrows basically have two main parts, the arrowhead and the bowstrings. They can be of many different types based on their usage. From bob-tailed, barrelled, breasted, target, clout, etc, there are many different types of arrows.

For example, bob-tailed ones have a very thick head while the breasted arrow is thick behind the fletchings. Again, target arrows are specialized for target shooting, while the barreled arrow is thick in the center.

Barrelled wooden shafts will help keep the arrow stable as it hurtles toward the target.

It also results in the arrow being lighter which not only minimizes inertia it also keeps the oscillation in check however, there is a downside, being lighter they do not retain as much speed as a normal arrow.

 The middle diameter of the arrow is around 10mm, with each end down to around 7mm.

The modern-day arrows are made from wood shafts, carbon fiber, fiberglass, and aluminum. Amongst them, the carbon fiber arrows are the most popular due to their non-bending abilities, while aluminum is a cheaper alternative.

Now, when it comes to bows, there aren’t any specific systems to classify them, but we can jot all the types down based on their characteristics, materials, shape, length, etc.

Recurve Bow

This is one of the most common bows out there. The recurve bow has a special reflex/deflex design that allows it to shoot faster. It also ensures stability while shooting the arrow.

Reflex Bow

Its limbs curve away from you if it’s unstrung. However, when you draw it, the curves go in the opposite direction, hence the name reflex bow.

Longbow

The longbow is a large-sized bow that can go up to 5 to 6 feet long from end to end.

Flatbow

A flatbow sits flat with wide limbs. They’re an easy bow to shoot. Created in the 1930’s, the American Flatbow is more efficient and stable in comparison to regular flat bows.

Self-Bow

This is a bow that’s made from one single piece of wood.

Composite Bow

They are a bit different from self-bows, as composite bows are made from wood and other materials.

Crossbow

Used in the medieval ages in warfare, crossbows have similarities to firearms, and they usually shoot shorter arrows which are generally referred to as bolts.

Takedown Bow

It doesn’t fire bolts, but you can disassemble it for transportation if you need it!

Compound Bow

The compound bow is a modern-day bow that can compete with firearms with its mechanical amplifiers working alongside the usual drawing method.

Where Did Archery Originate?

Arrow hunting was a fairly common activity for the earliest stone age folk, according to evolutionary anthropology. Archers were mostly active in hunting and wars, but archery as a sport first began around 10,000 BC.

The ancient Egyptians back then used them for both hunting and as some sort of competition. However, the Shang dynasty in China actually hosted archery tournaments around 1766-1027 BC. The archer who won a tournament was rewarded greatly, and such occasions were celebrated with music and food.

Who Were the Best Archers in History?

It’s not easy to list down the names of the most famous archers in the world’s history, but we can speak of a few names who did inhuman things with the bow and arrow:

Horace A. Ford

He is considered one of the best archers in the history of archery. He won 11 archery championships in a row back in 1849, and his highest score was a record for decades.

Lieutenant Colonel Jack Churchill

Widely known as the ‘mad jack,’ this veteran war hero actually fought in the second world war with a bow and arrow! He didn’t use firearms and ambushed a whole German Patrol with his archery pack!

Minamoto no Tametomo

Legends say that this hero sunk a whole ship with his spears and arrows back in 1156 in the Hogen Rebellion.

Fred Bear

This man is famous among hunters, as he instigated the widespread use of arrow hunting.

Nasu No Yoichi

The samurai warrior could bend his arrow like nobody else. In the Genpei War, he pulled off a miracle by sinking Heike’s ship with his arrows.

When Were Recurve Bows Invented?

The use of a recurve bow dates back to the ancient period. According to the history of archery, recurve bows were invented in 1600 BC in Central Asia. One of the earliest written records of recurve bows can be found in Psalm 78:57.

Recurve bows are the new, improved models of composite bows. When unstrung, their limbs curve away from the archer’s body. It’s a convenient bow shape that eliminates the problems of a longbow or a composite bow.

Their W-shaped limbs add speed to the arrowhead. It lets the archer shoot farther with ease and precision. What’s interesting is that Central Asians were the first people to have invented and used recurve bows!

Around 1000 BC, horse riders in Central Asia were spotted using this novel bow and arrow technology. People could finally go on arrow-hunting without worrying about longbows getting in their way.

For the same bow length, people were able to shoot at faraway targets. Therefore, recurve bows and arrows quickly became popular among Central Asians, which then spread to most of Asia.

Studies in anthropology tell us that Persians could have brought recurve bows to Western Asia. From there, the Egyptians got hold of the recurve bow and spread it to the Greeks and Phoenicians. The recurve arrow later made its way to the Romans and Carthaginians.

It’s hard to say exactly where the recurve bow was invented because Roman archers used this type of bow around the same period. They used siyah or stiffening laths to give the recurve shape in their bows. It sparked widespread use of recurve bows throughout the Roman Empire and eventually Scotland.

The Mongol horde chose this specific bow and arrow to raid the pacific shores of China under the rule of Genghis Khan. It was also adopted by Turkish hunters during the Ottoman empire. They reinforced the recurve bow with animal bone, horn, and sinew, which ultimately increased its destructive power at full draw.

When Were Compound Bows Invented?

The compound bow was invented by Holless Wilbur Allen in 1966. He developed the compound bow from a recurve bow in his hometown Kansas City, Missouri. The invention of compound bows by American engineers revolutionized modern-day archery as we know it.

To create this masterpiece, Holless sawed off the ends of the upper limb and the lower limb of his recurve bow. He added pulleys to the ends after experimenting with the bow window, camber and stick.

Following his invention, Allen received a US Patent in December 1969 and an Archery Hall of Fame recognition in 2010. Famous bowmaker Tom Jennings helped Holless Allen become the first-ever manufacturer of compound bows and arrows.

Compound bows are widely used in modern archery, hunting, and occasionally in self-defense. It’s fast, sophisticated, and easier to aim than a recurve bow and arrow!

Final Words

Even though the rise of different firearms made a skill like archery kind of obsolete in modern times, many hunters still prefer this weapon.

There’s a different sort of adrenaline rush for an archer when he pulls the string with enough force to hit the target after all! The era of bows ended long ago, but you can still try them out if you wish!

We hope our write-up was of help to you. Now, it’s time for you to go and ‘pull a string’