An arrow-tip from the Tenerian, where a grand variety of such artifacts can be observed.
In the historical and ethnological record, many human groups have added the bow and arrow to their repertoire of hunting technology. Experimental data indicate that bow and arrow may have some potential advantages compared with other hunting techniques. Bow and arrow technology:
- Bows and arrows are distance weapons, decreasing the risk for the hunter to be attacked by the wounded pray.
- In the hand of an experienced hunter the bow and arrow by technique is characterized relatively high kill rates
- They are appropriate for game animals of various sizes
- They can be used in conjunction with a variety of hunting strategies
- Projectiles can be fired by the hunter from a variety of positions
However, the bow and arrow was neither universally adopted nor used exclusively among hunting groups, as can be shown by the use of spear and atlatl based weapon systems in a number of prehistoric and historic settings.
The time-depth of the bow and arrow technique is not known. During the last years, it became clear that some classes of MSA-points (e.g. Stillbay points), dated to 80-50 k.a. BP are statistically indistinguishable from ethnographic dart tips regarding their geometrical characteristics. In addition traceological evaluation and impact fractures confirmed their use as projectiles. These observations raise the possibility of ancient spearthrower use in Africa.
Light weighted projectiles, that may have been used as arrow-points are usually bladelet / blade based and only known from the late MSA/early LSA in Africa (at Mumba and Nasera, Enkapune Ya Muto and Ntuka River 3 Stratum 15/16), the Middle East (Ahmarian; e.g. at Kebara) and in Europe (Protoaurignacian e.g. at Fumane, Isturitz and probably at Krems-Hundssteig).
The first direct evidence for the bow and arrow technique is not older than 9 k.a. During his excavations in Stellmoor, Alfred Rust and his team extracted 105 pinewood arrows or arrow fragments from the Younger Dryas / oldest Preboreal levels. The technocomplex, he excavated was later called the “Ahrensburgian” and characterized by small tanged points, that were mainly used for reindeer hunting (Rust 1943). One arrow at Stelloor were still armed with the typical Ahrensburgian point in situ. Unfortunately this unique material was destroyed during the WW2 and Rusts description remains the only documentation of these artifacts.
The oldest bows known so far come from the Boreal Mesolithic at Holmegaard, excavated in the 1940ies. Fragments of similar bows were subsequently found in other Scandinavian bogs. Bows of the Holmegaard-type are generally between 150 and 170 cm in length and less than 6 cm wide. They have flat arms and a D-shaped midsection. The center section is biconvex. The oldest specimens are made of elm and some of the more recent examples are made of yew.
A Reference Work (in German): Jürgen Junkmanns: Pfeil und Bogen: Von der Altsteinzeit bis zum Mittelalter (2013)