The first in our series of articles all about archery introduces you to the history behind the sport, where did it start and why? We take you through what archery can do for you, how it has featured in mythology and religion throughout the ages and how it looks in its many different guises today.
Table of Contents
What is Archery?
Let’s start with a basic definition just so that we are clear on what we are talking about.
Archery is the skill of using a bow to propel arrows, it is defined in the Oxford Living Dictionaries as a noun meaning “shooting with a bow and arrows, especially at a target as a sport”.
The origin of the word Archery (in English) is latterly from the Old French word “archier” and originally from the Latin word “arcus” (meaning bow).
So now you know….
Modern Day Archery
There are recreational archers, disciplined martial artists, world championship and Olympic level archery competition, record breaking distance attempts, some have organized archery competitions for hunting game (bow hunting) and even fish (bow fishing), but archery is rarely used for defence any more, except well… ‘sort of’ in leisure pursuits such archery tag.
In Bhutan, archers shoot and compete because it’s their national sport!
The Origins of Archery
The earliest form of archery was undoubtedly the use of a simple one-piece traditional bow to hunt for food, a skill still practiced to this day by bow hunters and bow fishers. Evidence of the practise of archery has been found throughout the world but the who was first to create the bow and arrow isn’t crystal clear.
The earliest arrow discovery
According to Wikipedia, the earliest signs of arrow use found to date are from the Stellmoor, Ahrensburg valley, Germany, (Europe). Stellmoor was a seasonal settlement dating back to around 10,000-9,000 BC where the bones from 650 reindeer were found along with well preserved arrow shafts. The arrows were pine and consisted of a shaft and a flint point and crucially they were found with a shallow groove in the base of the shaft (a nock!). People have discovered pointed shafts and points flints dated previous to this, but there is no concrete understanding of whether these were just spears thrown by hand or not. No bows were found at Stellmoor.
The oldest bow ever found
The oldest bows are from a bog in Holmegård swamp in Denmark. The Holmegård is a municipality that no longer exists (as of 2007) because it’s been merged with existing municipalities to form the new Næstved municipality. The bows found in the bog were a series of self bows (a self bow is a bow made from a single piece of wood) and were dated back to around 20,000-9,500 BC.
The Evolution of Archery
The first bows ever used were made of wood and had wooden or stone (flint) arrowheads, as the bronze age arrived (3,300 BC) this changed the makeup of the arrow to bronze which could be sharpened and shaped more easily.
In 1,200 BC the dawn of the Iron age allowed arrowheads made from Iron, which is harder than bronze and allows for armor penetration and a more deadlier shot.
Archery was used for hunting food throughout history but by many classical civilizations in war, the Assyrian, Greek, Armenian, Persian, Parthians, Indian, Korean, Chinese and Japanese all these used archers in their armies and the introduction of horses into armies gave us the mounted archer.
The English longbow, a very ‘long’ bow made from Yew, was dated back to 1337 and used effectively during the Hundred Years War as it could outrange the enemy bows.
After the development of the firearm in the steel age, bows were rendered obsolete and their use declined until the eighteenth century when archery started to experience a revival as a sport with recreational societies being set-up and several large tournaments being held.
Archery was included in the 1900 Paris Olympics and from the 1920’s onwards professional engineers began to develop new types of bow including the modern recurve and compound bow which are the current most popularly used forms of Western bow.
Archery in Mythology and Religion
Due to the use of the bow and arrow throughout much of history for survival and warfare, many gods and heroes were, and still are, depicted using bows and arrows, you’ve probably heard of at least one of these in your time…
- Artemis and Apollo
- Hayk and Marduk
- Kama (son of Radha)
- Wilheml Tell (William Tell)
- Robin Hood
Interesting Fact: Archery is not only limited in Greek mythology. As a matter of fact, in Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic in India, there’s a famous archery competition. And, one of the archery skills depicted in the epic includes striking a fish’s eye.
How Archery can Benefit you Physically and Mentally
The practice of target archery has physical and mental benefits for both adults and children, and unless you find yourself living in a post apocalyptic world, or are trapped on a desert island you’ll probably not need it for defence or finding your dinner these days… but you may just find the following things come as a benefit:
Upper body strength is gained from drawing the bowstring, this action involves your back, chest, shoulders, arms and hands, stabilizing core muscles and leg muscles for balance.
Hand-Eye Co-ordination is practiced in the routine of standing correctly, nocking an arrow, drawing the bow, setting up your shot, and releasing the arrow with good form.
Focus in order to achieve a good shot the aim must be precise, must account for all variables such as wind, distance, power and in order to achieve exactly what is required to perform a good shot archers are required to focus on the target and their technique by tuning out all other distractions.
Exercise the act of drawing a bow can burn upto as many calories as walking at a brisk pace.
Relaxation the act of seeing your arrow fly through the air and hit the target is a very satisfying and relaxing experience.
Friendships are made and social skills are improved as archery is practiced at local clubs throughout the world.
Confidence and self-esteem can be gained from success in competitive archery.
Archery is a cool sport… archers are and always will be portrayed as heroes by Hollywood and Bollywood, they are the stuff of old and modern legend (Robin Hood, Katniss Everdeen), the bow is a weapon of the gods, mastery of it is an ancient Japanese martial art, what more is there to say?
How To Get Started in Archery
It’s upto you exactly how you approach starting out, but the best first suggestion is to seek out your local archery club or archery range. Just google ‘archery club near me’ or ‘archery range near me’ and you’ll find somewhere you can start your journey. Alternatively Team USA offers a ‘Find a Club’ service http://www.teamusa.org/usa-archery/clubs/find-a-club and similar services exist in the UK http://www.archerygb.org/support/clubs/ and for other nationalities.
Once you’ve found a club they will advise the best course of action to get your membership, this may involve a short introductory course to ensure you know how to operate on the range and your first steps to learning correct technique, or if you are inclined, regular coaching sessions to really get the best out of your new sport. If you need to select equipment, we will keep you upto-date with the best and most popular choices of the various types of bow within our guide pages.
You can also check the National Field Archery Association or the National Archery Association of the United States.
Of course if you’re more remote and you don’t have a local club handy, maybe you are somewhere remote and want to shoot targets in your backyard… then read through our guides where we will attempt to tell you everything you need to know in order to select the best bow, it’s draw weight and size, and how to shoot it with good form and technique!