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Home > Books > The British Archer > On the Invention of the bow
Part I: The introduction of Archery, and high consequence of the art to the early hunter and warrior


Moseley, in his essay on Archery, thinks it vain to make conjectures on the probable cause of the invention of the bow, and concludes, because the earlier periods of the world are hidden in such dense obscurity, that we cannot form any plausible hypothesis to serve as an explanation.

Some circumstances however must have given rise to the Bow and Arrow, and as we are in possession of the fact, that this weapon was known in the most distant times, it may not be amiss, to endeavour to draw some conclusion as to the probable mode of the discovery.

The use of the bow may be dated from about that early period which immediately succeeded the fall of man!

The invention of the instrument like most other discoveries, was probably from something which nature presented, either in the whole, or in part.—It is easier however to conceive, that a combination of circumstances led to the discovery, than to imagine that the display of any single natural object first attracted attention, and from which we might venture to assimilate its construction.—Among the very earliest people of the earth, no doubt, recourse was soon had to missive weapons. Let it be presumed then that the first means which Man took for self defence, and subsequently for the destruction of his prey, were a stick and a stone.—Throwing the stick would suggest the utility of sharpening one or both ends of it. Here we have the invention of the Spear, or small Dart, useful either in throwing, or, for close contest.

The stone, doubtless was soon found to be an effective missile, and the desire of casting it with greater force than could be given by the arm alone, would naturally at the same time be entertained. In this we perceive the first dawn of the Invention of the Sling; and as it must have been immediately evident, that in the increased length of a stick, would be produced an additional power or weight of blow, so it would have proved the certainty of throwing the stone with much increased force, by whirling it with a longer instrument than that, which the mere hand and arm afforded. Length and flexibility were wanted, and these deficiences, it may very reasonably be supposed, were supplied by the intestines of Animals, or the bark of trees, by which, we will also presume, the Sling was formed. Having by these means experienced the efficacy of throwing a stone with a surprising increase of force, the thought probably suggested itself to the early hunter, that the throwing of his small spear or dart with equal strength, would be desirable.

The elasticity of wood must necessarily have been known before the construction of the bow. Trees bending from the effect of wind and recovering themselves, afforded a perpetual example of it, and could hardly have been overlooked.

Let us then place before us some circumstances through which probably it was discovered, that a piece of wood bent, and recovering or disengaging itself, displayed a casting power, pointing out the utility of the application of the string.

The primitive huts or places of shelter were, most likely, constructed in a manner similar to that which is adopted at the present day by Savage Nations, viz,: by bending long stakes, and fixing each end of them in the ground, thereby forming both the ribs and the rafters of their humble dwellings.

Then let us imagine one end of a bent rib, or rafter to break its hold. Being thus freed, Expansion would naturally take place, and the adherent smaller parts of the little building would be forcibly cast away. Such an accident would be sufficient at once, to give a hint for the formation of the bow; and the application of its powers to propel the rudely formed dart or spear, would soon be discovered.

In some such instance, probably was first displayed the propelling quality which existed in the Combination of the stick and the string.

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