How many times was the bow invented?

The random question I want answered is this:

Was the bow and arrow invented once and distributed throughout the world? Or was it invented independently in isolated populations?

The answer to this question is not as easy to determine as I would think.  You type the question into google and you get links to a bunch of people on sites like “chacha” and “yahoo answers” and “” making up explanations and arguing with eachother without siteing anything other than their own internal logic,“something I read somewhere,”  or worse “everybody knows.”

The concept of the bow does not seem like an obvious one to me.  The spear, yes.  “The pointy end goes in the other man.”  Fire hardened points and stone knapped heads seem inevitable improvements on the basic design.  Varying lengths of spear also seem inevitable for various applications.  A 5 foot spear for throwing balance and a 3 foot spear for infighting and a 8 foot spear for stabbing at someone over your friends shoulder.  The concept of the spear thrower. Or atlatl seems an easy enough leap, the end of a stick moves faster than my hand can and a stick would extend my reach (and thus the time I’m in contact with the object throw)n, therefore it could get my spear going faster.  I could’ve invented the atlat, however it might’ve gotten thrown in the trash if I couldn’t develop accuracy with it in a reasonable amount of time.

If I was to design my own primitive weapon it would be the lacrosse stick with a spearhead on the butt end.  I think I’ll make one on my next long-break.

The bow, on the otherhand does not seem to me to be a trivial upgrade, but rather the insight of a genius.  And genius is by definition rare.  And given the smaller world population back then you could easily wait generations between geniuses.  Not only are you involving spring tension, you are designing the string, and the concept of fletching the arrow for stability has to be invented at the same time (not as a later improvement) or else the arrows wouldn’t hit point first and your bow would be useless.

So here we move away from my conjectures and into the results of research.  The oldest evidence of archery is knapped stone arrowheads in Africa 64,000 years ago.  This is not proof of archery, but solid evidence.  It’s also worth note that if the bow was invented in Africa the technology was long lost to them by 1800 when the British were dealing with Shaka of the Zulu.  The oldest arrow was found in Stellmar Germany about 11000 years ago.  The end of the shaft is vertically knocked for the bowstring proving the existence of the bow and that we’re talking about an arrow and not an atlatl dart (which would have a round indentation).  Then 8000 years ago in Holegaard Denmark the oldest actual archeological bow was found.

The landbridge from Asia to N America closed about 11,000 years ago.  The people in North America didn’t show evidence of the bow until 2500 years ago, so here we have something to support an independent development of archery.  Unfortunately the bow migrated into the American continent from the north to the south, and since the Inuit populations travel along the islands of the bearing straights between the 2 continents with some regularity I remain suspicious that this was imported technology through cultural contamination.

The Australian aboriginals did not have the bow and arrow at all, and this is despite intermittent contact with the Malays who did have it.

After a fair bit of research I am led to believe that the bow and arrow was only invented once.  There were several design modifications along the way, and all bows are not equal.  I will discuss these in a future post, but for now I’ll leave it that these advances seriously improve the performance of the bow while adapting to local materials, but could be made incrementally and these adaptations of the technology were without a doubt developed numerous times independently.

So, If I went back in time and killed the inventor of the bow and arrow, how many thousands of years would this set back humanity?


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