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 (where the Nahuatl word for “spear-thrower” is atlatl) and amongst the Inuit. But the oldest “BOW” we know of is from ancient Egypt 2800 B.C.
Bows and arrows have been present in Egyptian culture since its predynastic origins. In the Levant, artifacts which may be arrow-shaft straighteners are known from the Natufian culture, (c. 12,800–10,300 BP (before present)) onwards. The Khiamian and PPN A shouldered Khiam-points may well be arrowheads.
Classical civilizations, notably the Assyrians, Persians, Parthians, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Turks fielded large numbers of archers in their armies. The English longbow proved its worth for the first time in Continental warfare at the Battle of Créci. In the Americas archery was widespread at European contact.
Archery was highly developed in Asia. The Sanskrit term for archery, dhanurveda, came to refer to martial arts in general. In East Asia, Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea was well known for its regiments of exceptionally skilled archers.
Competitive archery involves shooting arrows at a target for accuracy from a set distance or distances. This is the most popular form of competitive archery worldwide and is called target archery.
A form particularly popular in Europe and America is field archery, shot at targets generally set at various distances in a wooded setting. Para-Archery is an adaptation of archery for athletes with a disability.
It is governed by the World Archery Federation (WA), and is one of the sports in the Summer Paralympic Games.
There are also several other lesser-known and historical forms of archery, as well as archery novelty games.