#42: Take a bow (and an arrow)

The Question

Patrick says:
2005-07-19 23:20:45

I was sitting in a meeting at work today and I thought about bows and arrows.

From what I’ve seen in books, TV shows, and movies, Native Americans used bow and arrows. And so did Robin Hood and the Romans and stuff.

My question is, did these two cultures, separated by an ocean, invent bows and arrows independently of one another? Did other regions of the world use bows and arrows? Who were the first? And is one type of historical bow and arrow more effective than the rest?

The Answer

My first response is, wow. Your meetings at work must be terrible. Were you thinking of using a bow and arrows on your co-workers?

Second, the answer is not parallel development – but instead, the fact that the bow and arrow was invented in paleolithic times (that is, the Stone Age). The first arrow heads were burnt wood.

If we assume that the Americas were settled from anywhere else (there are several theories on this, including the Bering Strait land bridge, coastal settlements from Asia and Oceania, among others), then the primitive bow and arrow was well known by this time and was brought over by the immigrants.

Of course, parallel development is also a possibility. The same refinements to the bow and arrow occurred independently in Europe and China (such as the crossbow). So it’s not that much of a stretch to make this claim. However, it’s most likely that the earliest settlers of the Americas brought it with them.

Bows and arrows were used all over. There isn’t one area that had them before others.

There are several different varieties – including the longbow, the crossbow, and the Asian shortbow. The longbow is arguably the best design – it is less clumsy than the crossbow, more accurate, and easier to use. It does require great strength to operate it effectively. The crossbow takes a long time to load and, although it is triggered (a crossbow is a bow on a shaft of wood that is cranked rather than pulled and released with a trigger) it is a clumsier weapon. The Asian shortbow can be fired from horseback, allows for more rapid fire and easier operation, but is less powerful. Longbows have defeated crossbows in even battles, so the title of “Most Powerful/Most Useful” belongs to the longbow.

Hopefully this knowledge will distract you from the excitement of your meetings.

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