How Old Might Archery Be?

The short answer to the question of how old archery could be is, 72, 000 years old. However, dates of early human technology can be pushed back with future archeological discoveries.

I’ve sometimes wondered how old archery might be and who invented it. Where does it fit in on the timeline of weapons technology? Upon looking, I was surprised to find out that evidence of bow hunting dates back to the middle stone ages some 63,000 years to 72,000 years ago. This finding outdates evidence of the atlatl and the sling. Our earliest evidence of the atlatl places its use at 17,000 years old. It can even be speculated that The bow and arrow was a factor in how modern humans overtook Neanderthals. With this finding, the bow and arrow can now be considered one of the earliest projectile weapons. Of course, this can always change with the discovery of even earlier evidence. The bow and arrow allowed for a more accurate shot than other weapons of its time such as the atlatl and sling. It could also be used to shoot multiple arrows in quick succession.

Photo by Balazs Simon from Pexels

The first bows were probably made from wood, bone, or horn. The string was likely made from animal sinew, gut, or plant fibers. The evidence for this comes from remains found in the Sibudu Cave in South Africa. In this case, the bow was made from wood, and the string was made from animal sinew. The arrowheads were made from bone and stone. Stone arrowheads were also found in Sibudu Cave in South Africa in an excavation led by Professor Lyn Wadley from the University of the Witwatersrand. 63,000 years ago prehistoric humans used bows and arrows for hunting. These stone tips were placed under a microscope where evidence of blood and bone fragments was found. These stone heads were estimated to be 60,000 years old. The oldest known evidence of arrows comes from South African sites such as Sibudu Cave, where the remains of bone and stone arrowheads have been found dating approximately 72,000-60,000 years ago.

Sibudu Cave bone points

Confirmation of Arrow Heads:

Seven bone-point replicas of the arrowheads found in Sibudu Cave were made. These experimental bone points were made using eland metacarpal bones, using the style of the Kalahari San.  The bone points were mounted or hafted onto a reed shaft and shot into goat carcasses from 8.6 meters, using a traditional San bow. The damage to the replica arrowheads was then compared to the damage observed in the ancient arrowheads. It was found that the damage to the ancient arrowheads was consistent with damage patterns observed in the replicated arrowheads that were shot into goat carcasses. From this Archeologists could surmise that similar patterns of damage likely came from the ancient heads being shot into animals.

a San Bushman of Namibia’s hunting kit

Human’s Legacy of archery

This is an exciting find and is So far the oldest evidence of ancient humans using bow and arrow technology.  

It is thought that the bow and arrow have been invented independently by different cultures around the world. It was a very effective weapon for hunting and warfare. The bow allowed for a more accurate shot than other weapons of its time such as the atlatl and sling. It could also be used to shoot multiple arrows in quick succession. This leap in hunting technology would have been significant to ancient humans.

The bow and arrow quickly became popular and spread to other parts of the world. It has been used by many cultures throughout history for hunting, warfare, and sport. Today, it is still widely used for recreation, target practice, and competition shooting. Who knows how far back in history archery really goes?

Taiwanese woman with a bamboo bow (credit: Klub Boks from Pexels)

Archery is such a great sport and I’m always happy to chat about it with fellow enthusiasts.

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below. I would love to hear from you! Archery is such a great sport and I’m always happy to chat about it with fellow enthusiasts. 😊

Featured image: photo credit: Faris Munadar

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