The exact origins of archery cannot be traced, as there are examples of bows and arrows being used throughout the history of many cultures. Primitive prehistoric cave drawings dating from around 25,000 years ago depict people using bows and arrows, as do elaborate tomb paintings from the ancient Egyptians. In Britain, although archery was used long before this period, the earliest documentation of archery as a sport comes from the rule of James II, when golf was banned as it interfered with the archery tournaments that were used to train archers who were used in national defence. Prior to this point, other sports like football and bowls had been prohibited purely for the purpose of bolstering the ranks of archers in the military.
The bow probably originated to be used in hunting, and then developed into a tool for use in warfare. In classical civilisations, archers formed the dominant body of their armies, with arrows proving particularly successful at attacking the massed formations of combat. In Western Europe in the Middle Ages, archers were not as dominant and were seen as one of the lower ranks of the army, both due the fact bows and arrows were relatively cheap compared to armour and swords, and the level of training required.
Archery has been particularly prevalent in Asia and the Islamic world, and persists even today in some Asian countries. Moreover, modern Hungarians and tribesmen of the Central Asian and American Plains have revived and still practice horsed archery in competition. Indeed, archery is the national sport in the Kingdom of Bhutan!
The history of archery in competition
With the advent of firearms, archery in warfare was made obsolete. However, the consequence was simply archery’s evolution into a fully fledged sport. Its status was improved by developments in the equipment used for competitions.
The oldest extant archery tournament is the Ancient Scorton Arrow, which was founded in Yorkshire in 1673. In about 1790, the Royal Toxophilite Society was formed with the aim of promoting and advancing the sport in the United Kingdom. The Grand National Archery Society was introduced in 1844, and has governed all major archery competitions in Great Britain since.
Archery as an Olympic sport was first represented in 1900, which is relative to its long history, and both women’s and men’s games were played from this time. It became permanently established as part of the Olympic Games in 1972, and Britain has been well-represented, winning 9 medals in the last two Olympic Games alone.