Arrow and Bow History Timeline

The History of Bows and Arrows

Arrows are used for various purposes like hunting, combat, and even as an emetic. This article will detail the history of arrows and what they were designed to be used for. While many people might not think about it much, arrows have been used for centuries and there is a lot to know about them. History has shown that this tool has been around almost as long as people have.

There is evidence of arrows being found in the Upper Paleolithic (50,000-10,000BC) and simple stone tips that would have been used by early humans during the time frame. There is also evidence that this was done in Africa and Europe with these stone tips showing up in items dating back to the Later Stone Age or about 40,000 years ago. Archers would have used these stone tips for hunting and combat purposes.

One type of arrow that was commonly used during this time frame was tipped with an antler point. These are referred to as “flint-tipped” because they were made with flint. The first arrowheads that were used by people actually date back to the Mesolithic period which was between 10,000-5,000BC.

Bow and arrow technology spread across California between ∼AD 250 and 1200, first appearing in the intermountain deserts of the Great Basin and later spreading to the coast. Arrows are widely believed to have been developed by the ancient Egyptians.

Evidence of this is seen with drawings on walls that are dated back to 4,000BC. History has shown that these arrows were made from wood shafts and tipped with stone arrowheads. The development of metal technology was just beginning at this time so arrows continued to be used as they had for hundreds of years.

Arrows continued to be used during the Bronze Age and a good example of this is found in literature from Homer’s “Iliad” which was written about 3, 200BC. History has shown that arrows were used during this period for combat and hunting purposes.

During the iron age, arrows were used heavily by many civilizations for various reasons including hunting, warfare, and even in some cases executions. One example is seen with the Spartans who would execute criminals with arrows to the chest.

During the Middle Ages, many changes were made in terms of arrow design because advances in technology like ironwork had improved dramatically over the years. One change was the length of the arrow which increased as technology improved. Another change that was made during the Middle Ages was an increase in arrowhead size and weight. Arrows continued to be used during the Middle Ages mostly for warfare and hunting purposes.

During the Renaissance, a new arrowhead was developed called a bodkin which was known for being very efficient against plate armor. Arrows continued to be used during the Renaissance and a famous example is seen with Bodkin point arrows being used by some soldiers at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

Arrows continued to be used during the Age of Discovery and some famous examples are seen with Native Americans using bows and arrows for hunting purposes. During the early 19th century, many changes were made to arrowheads because advancement in technology made it possible for them to be made stronger than they were before.

The History of Bows

Bows were the original weapon in the battle against man and beast. Anthropologists date the use of bows back to 30,000 years ago when they were used by both men and women to hunt for food. Bow and arrows became a staple of warfare during the nomadic era over 10,000 years ago because they were easy to carry and could be used with little training.

Early humans discovered that sticks and rocks thrown at high speeds could kill both small and large game. Using this knowledge, hunters invented early forms of the bow so they could hunt with speed and accuracy without having to carry cumbersome spears or run after prey. Spears were eventually replaced by bows in hunting but remained useful on the battlefield as both a backup weapon and as a primary weapon.

Bows were considered primitive weapons at the beginning of the Bronze Age, but they gave hunters an advantage over larger prey because it was easier to kill an animal from a distance with an arrow than it was to stab it with a spear or club.

During the Middle Ages, bows and arrows were used extensively on the battlefield as missile weapons. By this time, most kingdoms had moved away from using close combat weapons such as spears and swords in favor of long-range missile weapons like bows and crossbows. Bows and crossbows proved to be more effective weapons than their predecessors because they could strike enemies from a distance but stayed relatively lightweight so they could easily be carried into battle.

During the Hundred Years’ War, archers became very important on the battlefield. The English perfected long-range archery in a way that no other nation had been able to do. As a result, the English won many crucial battles during this war. By the end of the Hundred Years’ War, long-range missile weapons like bows and crossbows were considered more important than close combat weapons such as swords and maces.

Bows and arrows remained the dominant weapon on the battlefield for centuries because they were so cheap and easy to mass-produce. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, firearms had replaced bows as the primary war weapon in every major European kingdom. Firearms proved more effective than bows because they could be reloaded faster, were lighter, and could be fired from a safe distance.

Evolution of Bows

The first bows and arrows date back as far as 12,000 years ago. Bow technology has evolved significantly over the millennia. The evolution of the bow and arrow marks an important turning point in human history. It changed warfare and was a key factor in the development of settled agriculture.

Smaller versions of bows were used as hunting tools for small games such as rabbits or other small animals. Hunting with a smaller bow is more difficult than hunting with a larger one because the trajectory is not as predictable and it’s easier for an animal to notice that they’re being hunted.

Large bows are usually used for hunting large game because they can shoot arrows much more accurately and with much greater force. The use of bows and arrows for hunting is an ancient practice; archaeologists believe that the development of bows may even predate humans’ placement on the evolutionary tree.


Longbows are a type of bow that is drawn over the shoulder, and because the archer’s arm remains stationary this design renders it a powerful weapon for siege warfare. Longbows dominated in warfare for centuries in Europe and Asia, up until the widespread adoption of the crossbow in medieval Europe. The History of Longbows also goes on to mention that longbows were widely adopted later in various countries from Eastern Europe up into Eastern Asia. In Korea, examples can be found from at least as early as AD 1500, while Japanese illustrations date to the late 16th century.

The History of Longbows is tied with the History of Arrows, which mentions that the bow and arrow combo was invented in approximately 30,000 B.C., but that bows had to wait 4 or 5 thousand years before arrows were created with good enough tips to actually kill. 

Recurve Bows

Recurve bows date back to the Bronze Age and were first used as hunting weapons. They were developed by the Persians and soon became a primary weapon in Europe during the Middle Ages. Recurve bows eventually replaced compound bows as the most popular hunting weapon because they required less maintenance and were easier to use.

Recurve bows are particularly good for horseback archery because they allow the rider to shoot from a shorter draw, allowing them to control their horses better. A longer draw would cause them to pull back on the reins as they drew the bow and this could make them lose control of the horse.

The one major drawback to recurve bows is that they could not shoot arrows as fast or as far as compound bows. The result was that they lost popularity for use in warfare and hunting, and instead became more of a recreational sport. There are modern recreations of ancient-style recurve bows, but these usually use modern materials rather than traditional wood and reed construction methods.

Recurve bows continued to evolve through history, with improvements in materials and design. Bows made from fiberglass and carbon composites are now common: light and durable, they give hunters great power and accuracy.

Compound Bows

Compound bows have been around for centuries, but their popularity has been on the rise in the last century. Compounds are so named because they have a pulley system attached to the grip. This allows for a shorter draw length and more speed from the arrow.

Compounds owe their name to John Pearson who patented a new type of bow in 1868 after he found that his recurve bow was lacking power. With this new design, Pearson’s compound bow could shoot an arrow at a higher velocity than a recurve or longbow. The success of this design led to its popularization and eventually revolutionized archery as we know it today.

Compound bows were first used by hunters and soldiers but have since been put to use in target archery as well. The compound was a popular type of bow used in the Olympics until 1950 when it was replaced with the recurve bow due to its popularity with spectators. However, recurves were never popular among the Olympic athletes themselves which is why compounds are currently used in the Olympics.

Compound bows are great tools for hunting because their shorter draw length, lower weight, and higher velocity allow hunters to accurately target the game from a greater distance. Compounds allow archers to keep up with a game that has begun to run away, something that was almost impossible with recurve bows or longbows.


Crossbows are a type of weapon that uses tension, instead of the more common bowstring, to shoot an arrow. Crossbowmen are usually less skilled in archery than archers are because they have to pull the string back with their arms, rather than use their feet. History records that the crossbow was invented in China around 600 AD. Prior to this invention, there were only short-range weapons available for use in warfare. The crossbow changed all that and became a formidable weapon. 

It is thought the Chinese came up with the idea of putting wheels on a wooden frame so it could be moved around to face in different directions without taking up so much space. This crossbow could fire arrows further and faster than any currently known bow and arrow combination.

History records that the first use of the crossbow was during China’s Spring and Autumn Period (from 771 BC -476 BC). The crossbow was used in hunting, and by 475 BC it had been introduced to war. History records that this arrangement made China very powerful. Chinese rulers such as the Sung Dynasty (960-1234) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) built up powerful crossbow units. Crossbows were mainly used for siege warfare, though they were sometimes used on the battlefield.

Making a Bow and Arrow Set

Based on modern-day San Bushmen bow-and-arrow manufacture, existing bows and arrows curated in South African museums as well as archaeological evidence for Sibudu Cave, Klasies River Cave, and Umhlatuzana Rockshelter in South Africa, Lombard and Haidle (2012) operationalized the basic process of making a bow and arrows.

To make a bow and a set of arrows, the archer needs stone tools (scrapers, axes, woodworking adzeshammerstones, tools for straightening and smoothing wooden shafts, flint for making fire), a container (ostrich eggshell in South Africa) for carrying water, ochre mixed with resin, pitch, or tree gum for adhesives, fire for blending and setting the adhesives, tree saplings, hardwood and reeds for the bow stave and arrow shafts, and animal sinew and plant fiber for binding material.

The technology for making a bow stave is close to that of making a wooden spear (first made by Homo heidelbergensis more than 300,000 years ago); but the differences are that instead of straightening a wooden lance, the archer needs to bend the bow stave, string the bow, and treat the stave with adhesives and fat to prevent splitting and cracking.

What is the Importance of Knowing the History of Bows and Arrows?
  • They played an important role in warfare. 

  • The invention allowed for greater stealth during battle, since archers didn’t have to load their bow while they were waging war. 

  • Being able to understand how these weapons came into being is valuable because one can learn about early ingenuity. There are different ways people thought up on how to make them better suited for hunting or more effective in war, which opened new doors that lead into many disciplines relevant today. Even though some people believe that knowledge doesn’t matter or that it’s not useful, learning about why things are the way they are now by learning about history is important because it enriches everyday life.

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