You can always find a mention of archery in literature, art, Greek mythology, language, warfare,
Humanities, and much more. The bow was such a pivotal device back in the past, that many historians consider
it almost as important as the wheel and fire.
Simply stated, the bow is a stringed projectile weapon designed to shoot arrows. It consists of a slender stave
(the bow-stick) and a cord fastened to it at each end under a certain amount of tension. By drawing the string
and the arrow back until the stave is bent, and then releasing the string, the impelling force of the bowstring
shoots the arrow5. Though it sounds easy, many bows require as much as hundreds of pounds of force to bend
the bow sufficiently and then incredible marksmanship to make the arrow fly true.
Bows are of two basic kinds: wooden and composite. The earliest bows were
undoubtedly made from wood, probably simply cut from saplings and whittled into
the desired shape and strung with animal gut. These earliest of bows developed into the short bow, longbow, and various other plain
Composite bows were made of either part wood and other material, or entirely out of other materials. In
areas where wood of suitable kind and sufficient quantities were not to be had, composite bows developed.
Horn, bone, sinew and gut in various combinations were used in place or in conjunction with wood. Usually the
stave would be of a wooden core, with the back side (side facing the target) covered with animal sinews or
tendons, and on the belly (side facing archer) would be applied horn, or sometimes
The reasons for the uses of horn and sinew in bow making become apparent when you look at their properties. The horn was placed on the belly of the bow because horn resists compression, and springs back into
shape the moment pressure is released. Sinew is, on the other hand, elastic and was placed on the back of the
bow because after it is stretched it quickly shortens back to its original shape. When the two materials were
applied this way, the composite bow became much more powerful than its predecessor could ever
composite bow differed from the usual composite in that it was made entirely out of vegetation.
The back would be made from a strip of fresh bamboo that was cut after the end of the growing season (in place
of elastic sinew) and the belly would be made from dried, year-old bamboo (in place of the
compression-resistant horn). Vegetable glue was applied and the whole thing was
To attach the bowstring, a nock (notch) was made at both tips of the bow where the ends of the bowstring
could be inserted. Usually a nock was made on the back of a bow, but sometimes on the sides as well. For some
bows, such as ones that tapered at the tips and grew in thickness towards the grip, no nock was made since it
was not necessary. A loop at the end of the bowstring could be slipped over the tip where it would remain
To string a bow, one end of the bowstring is slipped over one of the tips and down the bow until the other
end can be secured to the nock of the bow. Then the secured end is braced, usually with a foot, while the first
end of the bowstring is brought toward the tip until it can be secured in its nock. Whenever a bow was not in
use, it would usually be unstrung.
To string a bow, one end of the bowstring is slipped over one of the
tips and down the bow until the other end can be secured to the nock of
the bow. Then the secured end is braced, usually with a foot, while the
first end of the bowstring is brought toward the tip until it can be
secured in its nock. Whenever a bow was not in use, it would usually be
Well into the end of the Ice Age, when the ice had retreated to approximately its positions today, the use of
wooden and composite bows was spreading all over the world. Wooden bows were used in Western Europe,
Iceland, most of Africa, India, the island groups of the Indian
and Pacific oceans, and the greater parts of North and South America. Composite bows were used in some parts of Eastern Europe and North America, isolated
parts of South America, and exclusively through what is now Russia and China, the northern half of North
America, and the coastal parts of Greenland1.
The first stone arrowheads were discovered in Africa before 25000 BC, which indicates that the bow and
arrow most likely developed there as early as 40000 BC. The spear would have come before the bow, and both
instruments used side by side. Fire-hardened arrow points, flint tipped arrows, and feathered arrow shafts
probably appeared anywhere from 25000 to 18000 BC.
Ancient Middle East
In the Egyptian Era they used stronger wood and horn glued together thus creating a more powerful and
durable bow. It is estimated that the draw weight for bows shorter than a manís height was 150-200 pounds.
These ancient hunters are believed to have used arrows that were two to two and a half feet long with a
bronze arrowhead. Also, in the Nile region came the first extant bow, which is
believed to be between 3,500 to 4,000 years old. This bow shows that the Egyptians had mastered the design and construction of the long
Also during this era, the Israelites made bows out of reed, wood, and water buffalo horns. To get rid of the
hornís brittle surface, they soaked the horn in water and then scraped off the brittle outer-layer. The sinew
backing came from the select Achilles tendon of cattle. As for the bonding material, the end pieces of tendon
were cooked until pliable. Then water was added to
the mixture, making it into a broth that was stored in small bins for later use. After some time, the broth jelled and was then diluted and cooked again. The bonding material
formed from the broth has yet to be surpassed even today.
Bows were found in Denmark dating back to approximately 9000 - 6000 BC. These were one piece bows
of yew and elm and tillered, meaning they had an equal amount of bend on the top and bottom. The first
composite bow appeared in about 2800 BC. It was most likely developed in Asia, though it was also widely used
(of now Iran/Afghanistan) became excellent horsemen and archers. They used a tactic of
shooting with their upper half of the body facing towards the enemy and firing backwards while going at full
gallop, which became known as "a Parthian shot." The Parthians tried to invade Rome in 53 BC, but their
archers proved no match against the garrison walls. Likewise, the Romans tried to invade Parthia in 37 BC, but
they lost thousands to the Parthianís hit and run techniques.
About 500 AD the Byzantines used mounted archers in their cavalry charges against the Saracens, Vandals,
Goths and Franks, although through to 900 AD they also used archers on foot.
The Mongols were excellent mounted archers. About 1208 AD, they used high stirrups which allowed them
to shoot in every direction. They also used composite bows with draw weights of 70-160 lb. and used thumb
rings to release their bowstrings which allowed them to considerably increase their
Europe in the Middle Ages
During the Crusades, about 1099 AD to 1192 AD, the English knights and crossbow men attacked the
Mohammadean army who used mainly mounted archers with composite bows.
The unarmored soldiers wore loose silk undershirts that would not tear with
the impact of an arrow. The whole arrow could then be removed by carefully
pulling on the shirt. This minimized serious cuts and infections.
Since bows were made from organic materials, they decayed and disappeared
over time long ago. What we have to date them with, therefore, are the arrowheads of flint, stone and obsidian, and pictures carved into stone or
painted in caves.
Through the course of time, the wooden bow was made longer as fit the needs of archers on foot. At first,
bows were small and simple. For example, the Normans employed a bow only 1 1\2 meters long but it proved a
formidable weapon as the Norman army, led by William the Conqueror defeated the British forces at Hastings in
1066. Learning well the lesson, the British improved their ordinary bow until it became the renowned longbow
which would be as tall, or taller than the archer himself. There were considerable advantages to the longbow,
such as, its great range of fire and the fact that one could shoot a large number of arrows at a time. A good line
of long bowmen would be quite impenetrable and opposing troops
would not last long.
In areas where a bow was needed, it could be shot equally well from horseback or chariot, the composite
(sometimes called recurve) bow was developed. However sometimes the two types of bows would be used
within the same culture and time. In which case the ordinary folk and soldiers used the simple or self bow, while
the composite was reserved for the loftier positions of high
The legendary William Tell was said to be a
traveling story teller. In 1307 AD he was ordered to shoot an apple off his sonís head
because he refused to bow to a hat put on a pole as a sign of imperial authority. He succeeded in shooting the
apple, but some tellings of the story say that he had an extra bolt hidden on him. This was in case he accidentally
killed his son. If so, he would shoot the official who had ordered him to shoot the
At the battle of Crecy, August 26 1346, Edward III of England led his army against the French. It had rained
the day before, and some reports say the English archers kept their flax bowstrings dry under their helmets. As
the French force attacked, their bows misfired or their strings snapped, probably due to the weather. The English
showered them with arrows. Many French crossbow men fled and their cavalry charged. But, they were no
match for the English longbow men. 1,542 Frenchmen were killed, while, only 50 Englishmen fell.
As the 15th century rolled by, use of the bow in England began to dwindle. In 1472, the practice of archery
went down because of a shortage of bow staves. In 1477, Edward IV of England banned an early form of cricket
because it was interfering with regular archery practice. Crossbows were banned in 1508 to promote and increase
the use of the longbow. With the invention of the musket in 1520, the fate of the bow in Britain was just about
sealed. In 1588, the English fleet used the musket to defeat the Spanish armada, and in 1595 all bows were
ordered to be replaced by muskets. The last battle in which English archers were used was the battle at Tipper
Muir in 1644.
Since the danger of material shortages for bows was ever present, a cultivated supply was needed. The
emperor Chalemagne (768-814), in addition to many military changes, ordered that the bow be made a regular
weapon for certain divisions of his troops and, also, that the yew tree be cultivated to ensure a plentiful supply of
its wood that was excellent for bow staves. Many centuries later, Charles VII , another king of France ordered
that yew trees were to be grown in every Normandy churchyard. The British, large consumers of yew, made a
trade agreement with Italy (for Italian yew wood was known to be of superior quality) that with every import of
wine a trunk of yew would accompany it.
Archery groups were very popular at that time. Henry VIII started a number of archery groups for sport. The
first group was called a "Patent of King Henry VIII Concerning Archerie (Old English Spelling)". In Patent, it
states that any member of the group can not be prosecuted for accidentally killing a pedestrian. Another
famous archery group was "The Society of Finsbury Archery", which was organized in 1652. It held the first organized
archery contest in 1583 with over 3,000 participants. Sir Ashton Lever founded the final famous archery group
of that time period in 1781, called the Royal Toxophilite Society, which is still in existence
Even though the bow and arrow is an ancient weapon, archers have maintained military significance in many
countries until recent times. Kalmuck mounted archers, irregulars in the Russian army, succeeded in troubling
Napoleonic troops several times. Even in the Second World War, a detachment of American archers were used
in several specialized actions in Asia. Yet even as the use of the bow has declined militarily, it is still pursued as a
sport in many countries worldwide.
However, in the so-called underdeveloped parts of the world the bow may still be found in use. The Pygmies
of Africa use a very short, simple bow with a rounded stave. Among the indigenous people of the Amazon it is
used as well. The people of the Andes use bows shaped like a rectangular cross-section, and in the Congo and
New Guinea a semi-circular bow is used.
Interest in bow hunting had just begun anew right before World War II. After the war, those veterans that
had been archers took up their bows again, yet soon they were joined by more and more enthusiasts. As interest
climbed, various state agencies started setting up special hunting seasons for the growing number of bow
Early American History
The archers of the Americas were masters of the bow long before European cultures began to spread across
the continents. In the open plains strong bows of great range were used and in the woodlands where stealth and
cunning was needed, lighter bows were used. The final early bow was that of the Eskimos of the Western
Hemisphere. The bow of the Eskimos, which was constructed out of spruce tree and sinew, was used for
hunting, as well as, warfare. The arrows that they used were either one of two things, driftwood or splintered
mammoth bones, held together with feathers from a ptarmigan. The arrows were then tipped with needle like
bones. The Native Americans became proficient in both the wooden bow and the composite. The bow became
such an important tool that it was regarded as a symbol of magic, power, or
Archery as a sport wasnít really around in the United States until a group of Philadelphia gentlemen founded
the United Bowmen in 1828, a club still in existence today. As the sport became more widely accepted, the
National Archery Association was founded in 1879. Any further growth in archery was held back in the 1930s by
the Depression. Yet, the sport was preserved by Howard Hill, an excellent bowman, who made short movies
about bowhunting and trick shooting. Later, as the devastating effects of the Depression subsided, sportsmen
began to take up archery once again.
Scientists began to take interest in the physics behind archery and established a criteria for the efficiency of
bows and arrows. Later, scientist/ bowmakers began to experiment with a new material, fiberglass, in the design
and manufacturing of bows.
Archery tournaments as we know them can be traced to England, where such events were part of grand
community festivals since the seventeenth century. Target archery is perhaps one of the earliest forms of
competition archery, which, besides England, is practiced in many other countries. The target archery field is
level and clear, with targets of varying distance. Field archery is just like it sounds. A very irregular shooting
ground which provides practical training for field hunters. It is an American sport and, since, very few other
countries practice field archery, there is no international tournament.
The type of archery done at the Olympics is target archery which is supervised and regulated by the National
Archery Association. Archery was made part of the Olympics in 1900, in Paris, France, and continued in 1904,
1908, and 1920. 1904 and 1908 being years when women competed. The bow of choice back then was the
longbow because it was the easiest to use back then. Unfortunately, popularity was one of the weaker sides of Olympic
archery. It was hard to even get a stand full of people to see people shoot in the early years of Olympic archery.
Furthermore, each countryís team used different rules and formats. It became too chaotic to continue.
It was finally reinstated in 1972 for men and women. 1984 was a key year for Olympic archery because,
during the Los Angeles games, the stands were completely packed with spectators watching the game. Because
of this new found interest in archery, advances have been made in equipment and technique ever since then.
This, in turn produced higher scores and world class archers who drew in even larger crowds. Furthermore,
public awareness about archery was raised to a new level due to this surge in popularity. In the 1992 Olympic
games, Antonio Rebollo of the Spanish team shot a flaming arrow to ignite the Olympic torch at the opening
ceremony. He inspired the Spanish team to bring home the gold.
Archery has survived the test of time, resisting progress and disinterest. It is
perhaps one of the most challenging and rewarding sports around.
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