Now a modern sport, archery dates back as far as 20,000 BC.
Archery is one of the oldest arts still practised today.
The history of the bow and arrow is entwined in the history of humanity. Archery initially emerged as a technique for hunting and then later for warfare. The earliest evidence of archery – arrowheads made of flint – dates back to around 20,000 BC. It’s possible that early humans were using bows and arrows even earlier.
Distinctive styles of equipment and technique developed in almost every region of the world. In Asia, where warriors were often mounted on horseback, shorter composite bows became popular, while longbows made of yew made England a military power through much of the Middle Ages. Large communities of archers shooting traditional bows remain active today.
Archery became obsolete in warfare with the advent of gunpowder and quickly developed into a sport.
The first-known archery competition that we can relate to modern times was held in Finsbury, England, in 1583 and had 3000 participants. Archery first featured at the modern Olympic Games from 1900 to 1908 and in 1920. World Archery was founded in 1931 to secure the sport a permanent place on the programme, which was achieved in 1972.
Popular articles: Archery history
Myths and legends
Archery is often featured in myths and legends, as well as modern literature and film.
The bow and arrow often symbolise control, precision, self-reliance and patience, qualities that have resonated in heroic characters – both fictional and real – for millennia. The legends of Odysseus, the Amazons, Arjuna, Ullr, Hou Yi and Nasu no Yoichi are linked by the values of the sport, despite coming from very different parts of the world.
One of the best-known mythological archers is Robin Hood, a champion of the people who is famously said to have taken from the rich to give to the poor. The story originated in England in the Middle Ages and is still retold in modern films and television programmes today.
More modern stories that include archers include The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Arrow and The Avengers. Katniss Everdeen, the main character in The Hunger Games, is credited with boosting archery’s recent popularity among young women.
Archery at the Olympics, Paralympics and World Games
Archery featured on the programme of the Olympic Games in 1900, 1904, 1908 and 1920. It returned in 1972 after a 52-year hiatus and has remained on the programme ever since. Athletes compete in target archery events with recurve bows at the Olympics. The winningest archery Olympians are Hubert van Innis of Belgium, including results from the early era, and Kim Soo-Nyung of Korea. Darrell Pace of the USA is the only archer to have won the individual Olympic title twice. Korea is archery’s most successful nation at the Olympic Games.
Read more about archery at the Olympic Games.
Archery has featured on the programme of the Paralympic Games since its first edition in 1960 and is rooted in the history of the Paralympic movement, having been used by Dr. Ludwig Gutmann as a rehabilitation activity at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England, where early versions of the event were held. Impaired athletes compete in para archery events with recurve and compound bows at the Paralympics.
Read more about archery at the Paralympic Games.
Archery has featured on the programme of the World Games since 1985. Recurve and barebow archers competed in field archery events until 1995, when the compound bow was added. In 2013, the compound competition was changed to the target archery discipline. Morgan Lundin is the winningest archer at the World Games, having won the compound men’s field archery event three times: in 1993, 1997 and 2005.