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History of Archery

Man kinds Inventions in Order of Creation

23.5 Million Years ago                    Beds

3.3 Million Years ago                      Stone Tools

2.3 Million years ago                      Invention of Fire

400,000 years ago                           Spears

350,000 years ago                           Invention of Spoken Language

200,000 years ago                           Glue

170,000 Years ago                           Clothing

135,000 Years ago                           Beads for decoration

64,000 years ago                          Invention of the Bow and Arrow

40,000 Years ago                             1st Cave Paintings

16,000 years ago                             Pottery

Early History

The earliest definite remains of a bow and arrow are from Europe. Possible fragments from Germany were found at Mannheim-Vogelstang dated 17,500-18,000 years ago, and at Stellmoor dated 11,000 years ago. The oldest existent bows in one piece are the elm Holmegaard bows from Denmark which were dated to 9,000 BC.

Although archery probably dates back to the Stone Age, the earliest people known to have regularly used bows and arrows were the Ancient Egyptians, who adopted archery around 3,000BC for hunting and warfare.

Egyptian Archery 3050 BC – 30 BC

Each regiment in the Egyptian army could have been identified by the weapon they carried: archers, lancers, spear men, and infantry. Bows were made of wood. They had a single curvature and were strung with animal sinews or strings made of plant fiber. These were used to fire reed arrows fletched with three feathers and tipped with flint or hardwood, and later, bronze.

The Ancient Egyptians fought many battles with the intention of keeping their jealous enemies from settling in the Nile Valley. A composite bow was later adopted in the New Kingdom, after fighting off invading nomads from Asia known as the Hyskos. The invaders also introduced chariot warfare, which the Egyptians readily adopted into their own army.

Chariotry, the backbone of the Egyptian army. Chariots were generally pulled by two horses and manned by two charioteers; a driver who carried a shield, and a man with a bow or javelin.

Its offensive power was in its capacity to rapidly turn, wheel and repeatedly charge, penetrating the enemy line and functioning as a mobile firing platform that afforded the fighting crewmen the opportunity to shoot many arrows from the composite bow.

After finally defeating the Hyskos, the Egyptians were much more aggressive in the security of their borders, launching incursions in all directions. Ramses II, considered to be the greatest of all pharaohs, marched his army into Syria to engage the Hittites. His campaign culminated in the Battle of Kadesh, most likely the largest chariot battle of all time, with an estimated 5000-6000 chariots.

Two picture of Egyptian Chariots


​​​​The Huns 370 AD – 470 AD

The Hun bow consisted of a combination of materials – horn on the inside, or belly of the bow, sinew on the back, and a wooden core. The materials were held together with fish bladder or hide glue.

A thumb ring was likely used when releasing a Hunnic bow. The asymmetrical design made for a more effective and accurate shot using a thumb draw. The Huns developed a complete unique technique from the rest of the world. A technique where the bow was whipped forward and slightly downwards as the archer released his shot.

In addition to the recurve bow, scholars today credit the Huns with the introduction of the stirrup into Western Europe. With this innovation, the Hunnic warrior could “stand” in his saddle and freely turn as he released deadly arrows upon his enemies.

The primary reason for their military successes proved their mastery of mounted archery and their bow, a weapon more powerful than that of the Romans. The Huns wrought havoc as they traveled East to West, which eventually led to the demise of the Western Roman Empire.

A male Hun became an accomplished mounted archer well before he reached manhood.


Modern day example of the Huns Horsebow

Archery in Asia 1766 BC – 1192 AD

In China, the earliest evidence of archery dates to the Shang Dynasty – 1766-1027BC. A war chariot of that time carried a three-man team, a driver, a lancer and an archer. During the Zhou (Chou) Dynasty that followed – 1027-256BC – nobles at court attended archery tournaments. Bows were seen as the most dignified weapon - a weapon for kings and lords.

Archery is one of the original Martial Arts. It is said the “Yellow Emperor” Huangdi introduced the earliest fighting systems, wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology and martial arts.


When Chinese people introduced Japan to archery in the sixth century it had an overwhelming influence on culture. The original Japanese thought of itoku (dignity and virtue), met with the Chinese thought of rei (courtesy) lead to form the Sharei (shooting ceremony) in the imperial court and in the later years, it became the thought of courtesy in the samurai ways of the bow.

Yoritomo no Minamoto founded the Kamakura Shogunate in 1192, he established the Samurai Ethic, stating that a samurai must devote himself to reaching a spiritual height by mastering the art of horseback archery.

Archery in Japan

One of Japan’s most well-known martial arts, originally known as “kyujutsu” (the art of the bow), is known as “kyudo” (the way of the bow). Modern kyudo is practiced primarily for physical, moral and spiritual development.

In East Asia, Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea was well known for its regiments of exceptionally skilled archers. The Second Imperial Dynasty of China, the Han Dynasty referred to their neighbors, the Xiong-nu, as "Those Who Draw the Bow".

Modern day Example of Kyudo Bows from Japan

Archery in the Middle East

Middle Eastern superiority in archery equipment and technique reigned for centuries. The first to master archery from horseback were the Assyrians and Parthians. Attila the Hun and his Mongols conquered much of Europe and Asia. The Turkish archers threw back the Crusaders.

Mongolian Archery 1206 AD – 1294 AD

Archery is so ancient and integral to Mongolian culture that there is debate amongst historians over which technological advance came first in the region, the bow and arrow or the wheel.

The Mongols lived a nomadic tribal lifestyle and relied on their considerable skill at archery not only for hunting, but also as their main weapon when fighting neighboring tribes or when raiding the rich lands of China.

From the third century BCE sources tell of raids into China by a tribe called the Xiongnu, who predominantly fought with mounted archers. Their tactics must have impressed the Chinese as they adopted them and used them to pursue the Xiongnu across the Gobi.

So successful were these raids that in a bid to keep out the tribesmen of what is now Mongolia, previously build fortifications were connected making the beginnings of the Great Wall of China.

Mongolian children were taught archery from a young age and the art was so ingrained in their culture, it was not only a weapon of war but also practiced as a sport with tournaments being held regularly in the nomadic camps and at the courts of the Khans.

The most important use for the bow on a day to day level was hunting and in this, the Mongol people also excelled. A source from China during the Tang Dynasty (c.618 -907 CE) stated; “Steppe inhabitants can hit at full tilt a running hare with a single arrow”.

Under the leadership of Genghis Khan and his descendants, archery was instrumental in building one of the larges empires the world has ever seen. Each warrior would carry two bows, one for long range shooting and one for fighting at close range. The bows were made from ten different materials included birch bark, fish glue, bamboo, deer antlers, natural silk threads and animal tendons, all of which could be found within Mongolia itself.

The design of the longer-range bow allowed them to fight at a distance while maintaining accuracy. This meant they could hit opposing forces with salvos of arrows while themselves being out of range.

The most powerful arrows were capable of piercing thick armor and their tips were metal.  They manufactured several different types of arrow, the composition of which depended on their purpose of use. They also designed some intended for short range, long range, double tipped and arrows designed to be lit on fire.

The Mongols fired arrows from horseback in all directions

The English Longbow 1600s - 1900AD

The English longbow became a force in the middle ages and was used in many famous European battles such as Crécy and Agincourt. There is still a law in England that forced every man of adult age to practice archery every Sunday that was never repealed.

The first-known archery competition relatable to modern times was held in Finsbury, England in 1583 and had 3,000 participants.

Since the advent of gunpowder, archery’s importance in warfare decreased – and it instead developed into a recreational and competitive sport. The British upper class led a revival of archery from the late 18th century. Sir Ashton Lever, an antiquarian and collector, formed the Toxophilite Society in London in 1781, under the patronage of George, then Prince of Wales.


​​Native American Tribes 500A.D. – 1900’s

Although archery is synonymous with Native American warriors, it began on the continent relatively late and was not invented there until around 500 A.D..

Native Americans used arrows to kill animals as large as bison and elk. Hunters approached their prey on foot or on horseback.

One major importance in American Archery is that many tribes developed different bows and arrows depending on the materials available in the section of America.

Some tribes in the Rocky Mountain area used composite bows made from animal horn and layers of sinew. These were the most powerful American Indian bows of all, able to shoot an arrow completely through the body of a buffalo.

Making a bow was a complex job that took time and a considerable amount of skill. The wood for a bow would be stretched for a week or more by the craftsman who would then cut notches at either end for the string. Next, it would be coated in protective liquids and allowed to dry out over a fire before the imperfections on the bow were smoothed out and the other components such as the bow string attached.

The strings could be made from various materials, depending on what was available to the craftsman at the time. They were often made from sinew often from a buffalo.

The string could also be made from plant fibres such as nettles, milkweed, dogbane or the inner bark of trees such as the basswood. Strings made from plant fibers involved much more work so were less common but as they were more stretch resistant and more durable in damp conditions, they tended to be of a higher quality.

A feather fletching was used to give the arrow balance and to improve its trajectory; turkey feathers were a favored choice but they could also come from crows, eagles, hawks or geese.

​​Archery at the Olympics

Archery was first included in the Olympic Games in 1900. It was also featured on the programme in 1904, 1908 and 1920 before a 52-year hiatus until 1972, when it returned. It has remained on the Olympic Programme ever since, with competition in men’s and women’s, individual and team, recurve archery.

Here is the Open Ceremonies at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo Linan from Spain, shoots a flaming arrow thru the Cauldron to light the Olympic Flame.

South Korea dominates world archery in the recurve styles. The United States comes in a close 2nd place to the tiny but dominant nation.

South Korea, U.S.A., Belgium and France have collected 65% of all Olympic archery medals. Compounds are not yet allowed in the Olympics.


​​​​Archery Folklore

Archery is featured in folklore around the world, Robin Hood being probably the most famous.

Odysseus, who returned home to Ithaca after 20 years at war in the Greek epic The Odyssey, was also an excellent archer. He was the only one to be able to draw his bow and shoot an arrow through 12 rings to claim back his wife, Penelope, and fend off a host of suitors.

Real Life Archers

Howard Hill, Fred Bear, and Jack Churchhill from WWII

Legendary and Fictional Archers

Artemis, Cupid, Apollo, Legolas, Merida from Brave, Katniss Hunger Games, Lara Croft, Green Arrow, Hawkeye,  Susan Pevensie from Narnia and of course, Rambo.

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Kiowa Chief Satanta, present at both famous Adobe Walls battles, in 1864 and 1874, holds his bow, bow case and quiver, made of animal hide trimmed with fur and trade cloth. Satanta not only led many attacks against settlers, but also helped negotiate the Medicine Lodge Treaty in October 1867.

Hunkpapa Lakota Leader - Sitting Bull

On the Right: an Inuit Indian commonly referred to as an Eskimo shooting his archery equipment.

On the left is an example of the Sioux Bow and Arrows


Apache Chief - Geronimo with his Bow and Arrows

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Lighting the Tourch.jpg
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