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History of Archery

1) Early Origins | A History of Archery

As we study the history of archery, some authorities date the origin of archery as early as the Aurignacian period, about 25,000 years before the modern era. The earliest people known to have used the bow and arrow, in the historical record, were the ancient Egyptians, who adopted the weapon at least 5000 years ago. In the time of the earliest pharaohs, the Egyptians practiced archery in hunting, as well as in warfare against the ancient Persians, who were then equipped only with spears and slingshots. Soon after, however, the bow and arrow was used extensively in the ancient world. The Assyrians and Babylonians depended on the weapon, and the Old Testament refers several times to archery as a characteristic skill of the ancient Hebrews. In China, archery dates back to the Shang dynasty (1570?-1045? bc). A war chariot of that time carried a three-man team: driver, lancer, and archer. During the ensuing Zhou (Chou) dynasty (1045?-256 bc), nobles at court attended sport archery tournaments that were accompanied by music and interspersed with elegant salutations.

The Romans owed much of their military superiority to armies of skilled archers. At the beginning of the medieval period the Romans were in turn defeated by the more highly skilled archers of the Goths, Huns, and Vandals. During the Middle Ages the most notable European archers were the English. Medieval ballads celebrate their feats in hunting, fighting, and sport. Outside Europe, in the same period, peoples of the Middle East excelled in archery. Archery also played a role in the folklore of the Middle Ages. Any history of archery woul be incomplete without the legend of 14th-century Swiss marksman William Tell. He was ordered by an Austrian governor to shoot an apple off his own son's head with a bow and arrow, because Herr Tell had refused to bow to the Governor. In addition, the story of Robin Hood, the heroic outlaw, originated in the late 14th or early 15th century. Robin Hood, glorified for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, wielded a bow and arrow. He was famous for his accurate marksmanship, including the ability to split one arrow with another.

Accounts of European travelers during the Renaissance indicate that the bow and arrow was the most important weapon used in East Asia, the Americas, Central Africa, and the Arctic regions. However, the introduction of gunpowder gradually made the bow and arrow obsolete, especially in western Europe. In the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English in 1588, for example, 10,000 English troops were experimentally equipped with firearms, while the Spanish relied on archers; the success of the English forces played a major role in convincing military theorists that archery had become a relatively inefficient method of waging war. Nevertheless, peoples of East Asia employed archers in warfare as recently as the 19th century, and the use of the bow and arrow in hunting and intertribal fighting continues in central Africa and South America to the present day.

2) Back in Time

As we try to determine the history of archery, we must also look at evidence such as arrowheads, because flint survived where actual bows may not have. The oldest arrow heads were discovered in Africa and were dated to be from before 25,000 BC. Scientists have theorized that the bow was created as an off-shoot of the spear-thrower. Somewhere around 25,000-18,000 BC, man began to use fire to further harden his stone arrowheads and added feathers to his arrows in order to improve accuracy. In Italy, a skeleton was found in a burial tomb with a fragment of a flint arrowhead lodged in it's pelvis. It was dated to a time from around 11,000 BC. Arrow shafts are found in Germany and were dated to be from 9,000 BC. Bows found in Denmark are dated to be from 8,000-6,000 BC. They were made from one piece of Yew or Elm. Drawings from 7500 to 5,000 BC show that the Egyptians used bows for hunting and warfare. In 1991, the body of a 45-yr. old man was discovered on the present-day border between Italy and Austria and dated to be from 3,300 BC. He was dressed in leather, a waterproof cloak made of grasses and carried a framed backpack, a utility belt with tools, a quiver of 14 arrows, a knife made from flint and a copper axe. The axe caused much interest as it's age pre-dated the previous estimations of the development of smelting copper by 1000 years. His wooden arrows had flint arrowheads and the quiver included a flap to keep the feathers dry. His body and hair tissues were analyzed and found to contain high amounts of copper and arsenic, by-products of smelting copper ore. He carried arrows of two lengths and it was estimated that he may have traded one of his copper axes for some arrows during his travels.

In approx. 2800 BC, the first composite bow was produced by the Egyptians. It was made from wood, tipped with animal horn and held together with animal sinew and glue. Unstrung, it resembled a "C" shape and would have required 2 people to string it. The bowstring was made from "catgut" (sheep intestines). The arrows used were extremely light, could be shot 400 yards using the composite bow and would easily penetrate the armor of that time period. The Egyptians used archers on the back of light chariots who were highly trained and skilled and could easily outflank an enemy army with devastating effect.

Literature from China, dated between 1500 and 1027 BC, included the first mention of Crossbows. Chinese nobles attended special schools, where they were taught archery, music, rituals, charioteering, mathematics and writing, between 1200 and 700 BC.

In 250 BC, the Parthians (from what is now Iran and Afghanistan) would battle with bows from horseback. They developed a technique of pretending to flee, while firing arrows back towards the enemy. This could be where the phrase "a Parthian shot" became today's phrase "a parting shot".

The First Emperor of China, Qin Shihuang, was buried in a burial pit in 221 BC. This burial pit included 6000 life-size terracotta figures, many of which carried crossbows.

Sebastian, the commander of a company of Praetorian Guards for the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, was ordered to be bound to a stake and shot to death with arrows when his belief in Christianity was discovered in 288 AD and he refused to renounce his faith. After the deed was done, he was found by a friend to still be alive and was nursed back to health. Later, he proclaimed his faith from the steps of the Emperor's palace and the guards were ordered to beat him to death with clubs and throw his body in the sewer. His body was recovered by friends and buried in the catacombs under the city of Rome. Sebastian came to be known as the Patron Saint of Archers.

Arrowheads evolved to include the following: Barbed arrowheads; these would make arrow removal difficult. Small Triangular tips; used to pierce chain-mail armor. Half - moot tips; used to cut through the rigging of opposing ships.

In 1208 AD, Temujin became Great Khan of the Mongols, better known as Genghis Khan. The Mongols used composite bows of approximately 70lb. draw weight and used a thumb ring to release the bowstring. Unarmored Mongol soldiers would wear silk under-shirts to minimize injuries inflicted by the arrows of the enemies. The silk fabric would wrap around the arrow head without being cut as the arrow stuck the Mongol soldiers. This would allow the clean removal of the arrows by slowly pulling on the silk fabric, eliminating further damage caused by the barbed arrowheads.

1307 AD--William Tell: William refused to bow towards a hat placed on a pole as a sign of imperial power and was ordered to shoot an apple off of his son's head. (He was known as an expert crossbowman.) He succeeded in shooting the apple, leaving his son unharmed. It was also said that he had another crossbow bolt hidden and, if he had failed to shoot the apple and had killed his own son, he would have quickly reloaded in order to kill the official who had ordered him to shoot the apple off of his son's head.

1346 AD-The French army included crossbow men. Their crossbows were fitted with cranks used to draw back the bowstrings. During the Battle of Crecy, Edward III of England lead his army against the French. The French were defeated when the previous day's rain weakened their bowstrings which misfired or snapped completely during battle. The English had kept their bowstrings dry by putting them under their helmets during the rain.

Both crossbows and standard hand-shot bows were used as the most effective battle weapons until the late 1500's, throughout what is modern day Europe and Asia.

In 1520 AD, the musket was invented. Thus began the slow decline of the bow and arrow as a weapon of war.

In 1545, Roger Ascham wrote the first book written in the English language about archery, called "Toxophilis" (Lover of the Bow). Much of the history of archery was begun in this book.

In 1588 AD, 10,000 soldiers from the English fleet, armed with muskets, defeated the Spanish Armada.

The last battle in which English archers were used was 1644 AD.

During the latter half of the 1600's, contests of archery skill came into vogue in England.

In 1872, Ephraim Morton of Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA is granted a patent for his wood handled bow with steel rod limbs.

3) History of Modern Archery

Archery was included in the Olympic Games in 1904, 1908 and 1920. It was discontinued until it reappeared at the 1972 Olympics.

1934-Year of the first Bow hunting season in the United States, held in the state of Wisconsin.

1937-First use of bow-sights in archery competition.

1939-James Easton experiments with making arrow shafts out of aluminum, rather than wood.

1941-Larry Hughes uses aluminum arrows to win the American National (archery) Championship.

1942-Hoyt Archery co. founded by Earl Hoyt, Jr.

1946-Easton produces it's first trademarked aluminum arrows, the "24 SRT-X".

1951-Max Hamilton introduces "Plastiflech" vanes to replace feathers.

1953-Bear Archery develops and sells the first working recurve bows. Previous bows were straight-limbed longbows.

1956-Hoyt Archery develops the first "Pistol grip" bow handle.

1958-Easton develops the "XX75" aluminum arrow shaft.

1961-Hoyt Archery introduces the "Torque stabilizer".

1966-Easton develops the "X7" aluminum arrow shaft. The earliest patent for the compound bow was issued to Holless Allen.

As we look at the history of archery, many will say that the next event was one of the most significant, especially in the modern era.

1969-Holless Wilber Allen is granted a patent on his invention of the Compound Bow which he designed 3 or 4 years earlier. His original wheels were triangular in shape.

1970-Compound bows and release aids make their national debut in U.S. national archery competition.

Early 1970s-The "Take-down" Recurve bow that we know today came into being and was accepted by a large part of the archery world.

1971-Andy Rimo develops the "flipper" rest. Pete Shepley starts PSE archery company. Flex Fletch manufactures it's first soft plastic arrow vanes.

1974-Freddie Troncoso invents the first dual-prong arrow rest.

1982-Cam wheels on compound bows first appear. Previous wheels where perfectly round.

1983-Easton develops the first carbon arrow shaft.

1992-The Olympic torch, in Barcelona, Spain is ignited using a flaming arrow shot by Antonio Rebollo of the Spanish Olympic Team. Matt McPherson founds Matthews Archery Co., manufacturing bows with single-cam technology.

1995-The Compound Bow is included in the World Target Archery Championship competition for the first time.

3) Recent History of Archery The mid 1990s seems to have been a watershed for the sport of archery. From this time, design variations started to proliferate and ideas on the ideal bow changed. New technology, in the form of CNC (Computerized Numerical Controlled) machines and the wide availability of carbon fiber matting were important drivers. Also important was the decision of GNAS and FITA to put an upper limit of 60lbs on the peak draw weight of compound bows used in their competitions. The first two enabled designs to be changed more cheaply and more often and the third caused target archers to look to the hunters for ways to increase arrow speed within the new peak weight limits. This resulted in bows becoming shorter, with reflexed risers and more aggressive cams. The use of high grade aluminum for the riser, carbon matrix based limbs and synthetic fibers for the strings and power cables allowed the bows to sustain much higher stresses, reliably. Power or “Buss” cables had mainly been made from plastic covered steel wire, similar to bicycle brake cables. The availability of high strength synthetic fibers made the bows faster and gave greater flexibility to the cam designers. Design innovations such as split limbs to improve stability and reduce limb splitting, were also reintroduced. (They had been tried several times in earlier years, but manufacturing problems had prevented their general adoption). At the same time limb mounting accuracy was improved, so that target archers found that they could use hunting bows - with lowered poundage - successfully for their style of shooting.

It is difficult to predict what changes are in store for the ancient sport of archery. I have seen a movement toward shoot-through bows and other innovations. No matter what the upcoming changes are, we can be certain the future of this sport will be exciting.

Happy shooting and happy hunting.

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