Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow, from Latin arcus. Historically, archery has been used for hunting and combat, while in modern times, its main use is that of a competitive sport and recreational activity. A person who participates in archery is typically known as an “archer” or a “bowman”, and one who is fond of or an expert at archery can be referred to as a toxophilite.
A LONG AND GLORIOUS HISTORY
The bow seems to have been invented in the later Paleolithic or early Mesolithic periods. The oldest indication for its use in Europe comes from the Stellmoor (de) in the Ahrensburg valley (de) north of Hamburg, Germany and dates from the late Paleolithic, about 10,000–9000 BCE. The arrows were made of pine and consisted of a mainshaft and a 15–20 centimetre (6–8 inches) long fore shaft with a flint point. There are no definite earlier bows; previous pointed shafts are known, but may have been launched by spear-throwers rather than bows. The oldest bows known so far come from the Holmegård swamp in Denmark. Bows eventually replaced the spear-thrower as the predominant means for launching shafted projectiles, on every continent except Australia, though spear-throwers persisted alongside the bow in parts of the Americas, notably Mexico and among the Inuit.
THEN CAME THE GUNS
The development of firearms rendered bows obsolete in warfare. Despite the high social status, ongoing utility, and widespread pleasure of archery in Armenia, China, Egypt, England, America, India, Japan, Korea, Turkey and elsewhere, almost every culture that gained access to even early firearms used them widely, to the detriment of archery.
OLDEST SPORTING BODY IN THE WORLD
Early recreational archery societies included the Finsbury Archers and the Kilwinning Papingo, established in 1688. The latter held competitions in which the archers had to dislodge a wooden parrot from the top of an abbey tower. The Company of Scottish Archers was formed in 1676 and is one of the oldest sporting bodies in the world. It remained a small and scattered pastime, however, until the late 18th century when it experienced a fashionable revival among the aristocracy. Sir Ashton Lever, an antiquarian and collector, formed the Toxophilite Society in London in 1781, with the patronage of George, the Prince of Wales.
ELITIST & EXCLUSIVE
Archery societies were set up across the country, each with its own strict entry criteria and outlandish costumes. Recreational archery soon became extravagant social and ceremonial events for the nobility, complete with flags, music and 21 gun salutes for the competitors. Playing an important role in the social networks of local elites., as well as its emphasis on display and status, the sport was notable for its popularity with females. Young women could not only compete in the contests but retain and show off their sexuality while doing so. Thus, archery came to act as a forum for introductions, flirtation and romance. It was often consciously styled in the manner of a Medieval tournament with titles and laurel wreaths being presented as a reward to the victor. General meetings were held from 1789, in which local lodges convened together to standardise the rules and ceremonies. Archery was also co-opted as a distinctively British tradition, dating back to the lore of Robin Hood and it served as a patriotic form of entertainment at a time of political tension in Europe. Incredibly elitist with the new middle class bourgeoisie excluded from the clubs due to their lack of social status.
CLASS BARRIERS & POMP DISAPPEARED
After the Napoleonic Wars, the sport became increasingly popular among all classes, and it was framed as a nostalgic reimagining of the preindustrial rural Britain. Particularly influential was Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel, Ivanhoe that depicted the heroic character Lockseley winning an archery tournament.
The 1840s saw the first attempts at turning the recreation into a modern sport. The first Grand National Archery Society meeting was held in York in 1844 and over the next decade the extravagant and festive practices of the past were gradually whittled away and the rules were standardised as the ‘York Round’ – a series of shoots at 60, 80, and 100 yards. Horace A. Ford helped to improve archery standards and pioneered new archery techniques. He won the Grand National 11 times in a row and published a highly influential guide to the sport in 1856.
Picture of Pope taken while grizzly hunting at Yellowstone
Towards the end of the 19th century, the sport experienced declining participation as alternative sports such as croquet and tennis became more popular among the middle class. By 1889, just 50 archery clubs were left in Britain, but it was still included as a sport at the 1900 Paris Olympics.
COMMERCIAL INTEREST & SCIENTIFIC ADVANCEMENTS
From the 1920s, professional engineers took an interest in archery, previously the exclusive field of traditional craft experts. They led the commercial development of new forms of bow including the modern recurve and compound bow. These modern forms are now dominant in modern Western archery; traditional bows are in a minority. In the 1980s, the skills of traditional archery were revived by American enthusiasts, and combined with the new scientific understanding. Modern game archery owes much of its success to Fred Bear, an American bow hunter and bow manufacturer.
Archery had its debut at the 1900 Summer Olympics and has been contested in 14 Olympiads. Eighty-three nations have competed in the Olympic archery events, with France appearing the most often at 11 times. The most noticeable trend has been the dominance of the Korean women archers, who have won 14 out of 15 gold medals in the women’s events since 1984. The Korean men archers have been strong in the team event, winning four out of seven gold medals, but less distinguished in the individual event. It is governed by the World Archery Federation (WA; formerly FITA). Recurve archery is the only discipline of archery featured at the Olympic Games. Archery is also an event at the Summer Paralympics.