One of the most enduring and effective weapons of human history is the bow and arrow. The oldest archaeological evidence of this weapon is 10,000 years ago.

That's a pretty young date compared to Out of Africa, which varies between 125,000 and 50,000 years ago. By then, the only projectile weapon they had was the spear. Effective, maybe, but not without its problems. For one thing, you're throwing it with one arm, which does not provide stability compared to holding the bow on one hand and pulling the arrow on the other, which provides better control.

So if humans invented the bow and the arrow BEFORE leaving Africa, would the course of human culture be affected? If so, how?


closed as too broad by SJuan76, TrEs-2b, HDE 226868, Monty Wild, o.m. Jan 20 '16 at 6:20

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ I'd argue that the spear was more effective, $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Jan 19 '16 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ More effective how? $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Jan 19 '16 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ Close-voters: Please don't vote to close without leaving commentary. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jan 20 '16 at 0:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I was talking with a friend about this recently. Apparently spears were not thrown very often. A thrown spear often could not pierce the hide of an animal. I wish I had the article to link, but if this is indeed accurate, spears were used as melee weapons, not ranged. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 20 '16 at 0:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So many things could have changed - voting to close as Too Broad. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 20 '16 at 2:02

The spear

The technology behind the spear is pretty simple: pretty much, you find a pointy stick, and you're done. Over time people learned that if they rubbed something on a rough rock, they could make it sharper. Then they cut out the middle man and just shoved the rock on the end of the stick. You can affix it with friction in a pinch, but some bit of grass or sinew works better. But remember these are just improvements. It's still basically a pointy stick.

Versus the bow

Comparatively, the bow is a magical instrument. Think about it from the perspective of your average prehistoric spear-throwing thinking person: the idea that you can take a (smaller) pointy stick, and instead of throwing it, you pull back on a tiny little string (what's that?), let go, and the stick goes forward, far faster than you could ever throw it, and that a smaller stick with less work from the wielder could be more effective than a big stick? All of that would likely seem extremely counter-intuitive and come as a huge surprise, possibly with rather violent disagreement.

Thus, while I admit I don't know what actual steps we took between the spear and the bow, I bet history will back me up on at least this basic theory: several other key technologies would have to be invented between that first pointy stick and the bow. Those would probably include rope/twine/sinew, basic knots, (leading first to better spears), then slings, snares, springy things leading to mechanical advantage, better tools, crafting methods, and so on.


Had we developed those technologies c. 100,000 years earlier (based on your dates), the humans of that era wouldn't simply be better hunters and warriors.

Smarter, faster, stronger

They would have better tools, they would be smarter hunters, battle tactics would evolve. Defenses to long-range attack would come sooner.

What about our old friend, the pointy stick?

I think that despite the early adoption of the bow, the spear would still be just as useful throughout history (after all, it's still useful today!). The bow is not universally superior: even modern military rifles are still sometimes fixed with bayonets.

Gender differences

Women might participate more heavily in combat, as drawing a bow requires less upper-body strength than throwing a spear or swinging a bludgeon. Whether that would help equalize gender roles or not might be an interesting question to explore.

Global spread (and beyond...)

Once we spread across the globe, every civilization would have a much higher starting level of technology than we did historically. Very often these types of "small" changes (and I don't think this is a small change!) have compound interest (i.e., exponential growth) effects over longer timescales, meaning that by 2016 in your world, who knows, we might have developed the technology to spread halfway across the galaxy by now!

  • $\begingroup$ The atlatl made the spear much more effective and reduced the need for weapons like the bow. I suspect that many of the predicted effects of the bow were possible with the atlatl. The bow was a huge technological advance, but more important would be using the bow for other things like the bow drill to start fires and drill through various materials. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jan 20 '16 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with the atlatl is that everything's done with one arm, which is not good for focus. $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Jan 21 '16 at 0:06

Humans could not use a bow until they evolved into modern humans. At some point we traded strength/power for finesse and precision, and gained brain features for control.

There are good reasons to suppose that this required drastic changes in environment and lifestyle, to select for the lucky mutations. That is, it required hominids to spread out of Africa in order to become modern humans.

If you want this to occur by some means other than roaming the Earth, perhaps you could have the climate or ecosystem back home change more drastically and repeatedly. That is, the background would be more drastic in difference than just the people you propose.

Total population would be smaller and they lack the isolation of distance and natural barriers. To make it work (evolving, not just inventing) you would need to bring all that to Africa. How to break it up into smaller regions while keeping people from crossing, and change the conditions in them?

  • $\begingroup$ I WAS talking about modern man. $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Jan 20 '16 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ Which was formed due to traveling. That's my point. To become modern man without leaving Africa. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jan 20 '16 at 1:14

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.