A brief History of Bows

Bows and archery have been recorded and carbon dated as far back 9,000 years. The pieces found in European peat bogs attest to the creativity, adaptability and intelligence of our ancient forefathers when it came to making bows. These weapons where needed in critical pursuit of food as well as defense in warfare. Despite the bow’s utilitarian qualities, its aesthetic value was just as important to the ancient archer. Some bows where richly paint and adorned with precious metals and jewels signifying the rank and prestige of the owner. These bows which where highly prized where often buried with the owner when they died. Bows where produced by early man around the world. Nubians in Africa, Anglo Saxons, Egyptians, Pueblos, South Americans and Native American Indians all had a bow specific to there own regions and needs. Some cut from a single piece of wood some crafted from multiple kinds of wood plus many types finishes and wrapping depending on the environment and resources of the maker. The primitive bowyer and archer depended upon select trees for wood, stone for points, animals for glue, sinew, and feathers, even the soil, air and water - in short the community of life and land. Prehistoric Bows: The Stellmoor bow, found in a bog in Southern Germany included notched arrow shafts, arrow points and two pieces of wood that look like limb tips of a stone age bow, the pieces are about 11,000 years old. Wounds in bird skeletons found at the site show that the tips where most likely flint. The bows themselves where made from pine.

The ancient Holmegaard bow was also found in a bog but in Copenhagen it was found complete and is the very oldest complete bow found in the world to date. It is 5 ½ feet long this one is about 4000 – 5,000 years old made from elm. Modern reconstruction of this bow makes it about 27-inch draw with a 50-pound pull.

Choctaw peoples where traditionally a flat bow some 65 inches long from nock to nock. the Cherokee. In many creation myths the turtle is sometimes a symbol of the “foundation” of the earth. Some people call it the American Longbow.Most of the Stone Age and older artifacts are clustered in the lowlands in and around bogs in Southern England. A turtle was sometimes carved in the handle and the bow hand was place under it. and Northern Germany and around the Swiss lakes. Wampanoag. The American Indians have been using this type of bow since the first Indians crossed the Bering Straits from Europe. Algonkian. Yew and Oak where just some of the materials used. Osage. Some bows made by the Northern tribes (Chinook) where beautifully painted with ceremonial designs. Denmark. The tips of these bows where sometimes carved with a human figure and may represent the “ Spirit watching over the hunt. These bows where made with many types of materials depending of what was available locally. Hickory. Pine. . The Americas: Bows of the woodland & plains people.

The English yew wood did make superior bows but the idea was not new.Europe: The English longbow in its many variations of stacked and flats limbs descend from antiquity. The English inherited the basics of the longbow from ancient bowyers. For many it conjures up the visage of Robin Hood. In addition to this deadly force the English bowyer added a reinforcement of the horn tip. the strong Yeomen of Agincourt and Creacymighty archers who pulled the Mary Rose war bows (150# draw) decimating the French mounted Knights in battle. So why is it called the English longbow? There are several reasons. . The British in the medieval wars astutely used the military longbow with deadly accuracy. which allows the bow to be more tapered. The English fighting forces used the bow to full advantage in battle using large numbers of archers for specialized tactics such as the rain of arrows and specialized heads for different purposes. so they were lower in mass and a better cast.

. These bows where normally 70 inches long with a 28-inch draw. Italian armies used the Renaissance Longbow in the 14th and 15th century. Sketches by Leonardo da Vinci for the late 1400`s portray the saddle back handle and recurved limbs. Some of these wars bows where very large over 6 feet and had a draw of 170 pounds. even appearing in many Italian art works. A set back handle with recurved limbs was a popular design for this period. But normally they where about 73 inches tip to tip with a 50# draw. The bowyers also cut from the center of a stave rather then the perimeter they also may have been responsible for overall lengthening of the English bow.Padded handle grips and strike plates were attached and wear to the sides reduced.

The Basin has been invaded by horse–archers from the steppes of Central Asia for some time. The working parts of the bow are made up of wood. The bow was normally 61 1/2 inches long fired from horseback. .Asia: The Magyar bow. The composite bow tips or siyahs are bone plated and so are the bow handles. the Huns in 300 and 400 AD. These bows where even more powerful then the English wars bows at close range able to drive through plate metal armor at close range. Most of the archery artifacts have been found in graves located in caves. horn and sinew. the Avars from 600.900 AD and the Magyar (later to called Hungarians) in the late 900`s. one of the most widely researched and re-created Asian bows has its archeological record in the Carpathian Basin. The Scythains invaded around the time of Christ.

By the 14 to 15th century the Japanese where masters at making the laminated asymmetrical limbs. The bow is finished with a natural Japanese lacquer from the sap of a tree in the sumac family. A hardwood strip is then added to the two sides or edges to prevent twisting. All of these “perfected behaviors” were all called upon in Kyudo to even draw the bow properly. concentration. timing. a very long 7 – 8 foot asymmetrical all wood bows varies in length from 83 inches to 97 inches depending on the archer’s height. energy. breathing. The Falconer.The Japanese Yumi. . Although this collegium covers only a small portion of the bows in Ancient History I have collected information on the ones that are most interesting to me and hope you found them interesting also. Archery developed into a highly ritualized marital art called“ Kyudo”(way of the bow) and drew upon the Zen and Shinto tenets of spirit. It took months to even develop the muscles and breath control required to draw these powerful bows. and movement. Some bows are wrapped at periodic spaces along the limbs with reed. discipline and perfected behavior which included. Sandwiched between the two halves are five square bamboo strips of about a ¼ inch thick running the length of the bow. The back and the belly of the bow are formed of two strips of bamboo in running the full length of the bow.

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