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How Old is the Bow and Arrow?

The bow has stood the test of time. While it isn’t as practical on the battlefield today as it was in 3000 BC when Ancient Egyptians used it for warfare, the bow and arrow are still popular, helping hunters fill their freezer and bringing people together at the archery range.

If you enjoy shooting bow, you’re part of thousands of years of storied archery lore. Want to brush up on your bow history? Check out these interesting facts.

The first known bows helped make the soldiers who carried them more effective during war. From the Shang Dynasty of 1766-1027 BC to Greece and Rome where infantrymen wielded bows on horseback, the earliest bows allowed soldiers to accurately release arrows during a time when hand-to-hand combat was common.

Archery tournaments can be traced to the people of the Zhou Dynasty. Photo Credit: Absolute China Tours

In ancient times, bows weren’t just used in war. Archery tournaments can be traced back to the Zhou Dynasty of 1027-256 BC. The Chinese population would attend competitive shoots, which quickly transformed into social events complete with music and other forms of entertainment. Eventually, the Chinese introduced the Japanese to archery where kyujutsu, the practice of using archery for physical, spiritual and moral development, was born.

The designs of ancient bows made them surprisingly efficient. The Holmegaard bow, which dates back to 7000 BC, is constructed of a single piece of elm. At 64-inches long with tapered limbs and a narrow grip, it’s the oldest known bow in the world – yet, at first glance, it doesn’t look too different from today’s modern longbows. Animal materials such as horns, bones, and sinew (animal tendons helped reinforce the riser) were also commonly used to construct bows.

The bows Native Americans used were strong enough to stop a buffalo. Photo Credit: Pixels

Not surprisingly, early bows were also a fundamental hunting tool. Native Americans handcrafted bows powerful and accurate enough to harvest animals as large as bison. The type of material and overall design of the bow varied depending on use. Those designed for horseback shooting were generally shorter than bows used in a standing position. Because shorter bows place more stress on the riser, composite materials like horns and antlers were ideal. Longer bows distribute stress evenly, and were often made of wood.

Today, modern compound bows made of carbon and aluminum are drastically different from their ancient predecessors. But the general concept of archery remains the same. The next time you release an arrow at the range, think about the fact that you’re replicating an art that’s been passed on for more than 10,000 years.



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Learn the basics here, from the different styles of archery to how to choose the bow that’s right for you.


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