Archery’s history is rich, complex and storied, dating back thousands of years: 64,000 years to be exact. Archery has been practiced by cultures all over the world as a tool for hunting, war, and recreation. To list every great moment in archery would be a feat as great as the invention of archery itself, but we’ve compiled a short list of seven notable moments in archery history.
Archery in Africa – 62,000 B.C.
One of the oldest pieces of archery evidence was found in the Sibudu Cave in South Africa 64,000 years ago. Researchers discovered “stone points” with traces of blood and bone, compelling evidence that these points were used as arrowheads. The geometric shape of the points allowed scientists to analyze where they had received the highest amount of impact, further proving that they had been used as projectiles rather than spearheads. It’s entirely possible that archery dates back even further than these arrowheads, but this evidence is the oldest on record.
Archery in South Asia – 46,000 B.C.
Archeologists have discovered new evidence of archery in Sri Lanka that dates back 48,000 years, making this the second oldest archery artifact recorded. Researchers discovered evidence that early residents of Sri Lanka crafted arrowheads from animal bones. The projectile points they uncovered were analyzed under a microscope and were determined to be too small to have been shot from a blowgun. The points had fractures consistent with high-level impact, which leads to the conclusion that they must have been arrowheads.
Ötzi the Iceman – 3,300 B.C.
The oldest arrowheads were found 64,000 years ago, but the oldest bowstring artifact is only 5,300 years old. Ötzi the Iceman’s body and hunting equipment were perfectly preserved in a glacier in the Italian Alps for years until German hikers discovered him in 1991.
Ötzi’s archery equipment was unfinished, but his quiver included enough materials to suggest he knew how to make everything from scratch. The quiver contained 12 arrow shafts, two complete arrows with arrowheads and fletching, and a bowstring. He crafted his bowstring out of animal sinew and knew to twist the various sinew pieces into a cord. He had constructed the notches in his arrows to fit the three-millimeter bowstring perfectly. His bow was far too tall for his frame, indicating that he was probably in the process of whittling it down at the time of his death. Ironically, Ötzi was felled by another hunter’s arrow. He was found with an arrowhead lodged in his shoulder.
Archery in North America – 500
Native American hunters began using bows and arrows around the year 500. They would craft bows from various materials, such as wood, horns, or antlers. Bowstrings were made from animal sinew or plant fibers. Hunters would often reinforce their wood bows by including a sinew backing. Larger bows were primarily used for hunting on foot, and smaller bows were ideal for hunting on horseback. More than just a way to hunt, the archery tradition is passed down to generations and practiced all over the U.S. at ranges like the first archery park on tribal lands in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Mongolian Children Protect Livestock with Archery – 1200
It was common to practice archery in Mongolia. Children honed the craft from a young age to protect their livestock. Young boys were tasked with taking larger livestock to graze. The young girls, armed with bows and arrows, stayed with the sheep and goats, animals who were more likely to be attacked by predators. The patience and skills required for archery were useful in hunting as well as in battle.
Battle of Agincourt – 1415
The Battle of Agincourt was a battle of French crossbows versus English longbows in the Hundred Years War between France and England. The French army outnumbered the English, but the English longbows had a long range. This allowed them to strike from further away, resulting in a victory.
Makha – 1879
Originating in 1879, Makha is traditional Pashtun archery practiced primarily by the Yousafzai tribe. Archers are tasked with hitting a board 32 feet away and 12-13 feet off the ground. The arrows, called gashash, are significantly larger than other arrows. The arrowheads are flat and round. The longbows, called leenda, are sometimes straight, not curved like English longbows. The sport has been preserved thanks to members of the Yousafzai tribe passing it down to younger generations.
Since 62,000 B.C., archery has been a distinct and legendary part of history. Hunters, soldiers, and recreational archers across the world have used archery in various ways for centuries. Each has their own unique story and has shaped archery as we know it. We encourage you to continue learning about archery’s history from those who paved the way.
You can be a part of the journey, as well. Visit your local archery range to get started.