The bow and arrow is a ranged weapon system consisting of an elastic launching device (bow) and long-shafted projectiles (arrows).
The use of bows and arrows by humans for hunting predates recorded history and was common to many prehistoric cultures. They were important weapons of war from ancient history until the early modern period, where they were rendered increasingly obsolete by the development of the more powerful and accurate firearms, and were eventually dropped from warfare. Today, bows and arrows are mostly used for hunting and sports.
To load an arrow for shooting (nocking an arrow), the archer places an arrow across the middle of the bow with the bowstring in the arrow's nock. To shoot, the archer pulls back (draws) the arrow and the bowstring, which in turn flexes the bow limbs, storing elastic energy. Typically while maintaining the draw, the archer sights along the arrow to aim it. Finally the archer releases (looses) the arrow, allowing the limbs' stored potential energy to convert into kinetic energy, which is transmitted via the bowstring to the arrow, propelling it to fly forward with high velocity.
The earliest definite remains of bow and arrow are from Europe. Possible fragments from Germany were found at Mannheim-Vogelstang dated 17,500-18,000 years ago, and at Stellmoor dated 11,000 years ago. Azilian points found in Grotte du Bichon, Switzerland, alongside the remains of both a bear and a hunter, with flint fragments found in the bear's third vertebra, suggest the use of arrows at 13,500 years ago. At the site of Nataruk in Turkana County, Kenya, obsidian bladelets found embedded in a skull and within the thoracic cavity of another skeleton, suggest the use of stone-tipped arrows as weapons about 10,000 years ago. Microliths discovered on the south coast of Africa suggest that projectile weapons of some sort may be at least 71,000 years old; however, these may have been used to tip atlatl darts, rather than arrowheads.
The bow was an important weapon for both hunting and warfare from prehistoric times until the widespread use of gunpowder in the 16th century. Organised warfare with bows ended in the mid 17th century in Europe, but it persisted into the early 19th century in Eastern cultures and in hunting and tribal warfare in the New World. In the Canadian Arctic bows were made until the end of the 20th century for hunting caribou, for instance at Igloolik. The bow has more recently been used as a weapon of tribal warfare in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa; an example was documented in 2009 in Kenya when Kisii people and Kalenjin people clashed, resulting in four deaths.
The various parts of the bow can be subdivided into further sections. The topmost limb is known as the upper limb, while the bottom limb is the lower limb. At the tip of each limb is a nock, which is used to attach the bowstring to the limbs. The riser is usually divided into the grip, which is held by the archer, as well as the arrow rest and the bow window. The arrow rest is a small ledge or extension above the grip which the arrow rests upon while being aimed. The bow window is that part of the riser above the grip, which contains the arrow rest.
Arrows come in many types, among which are breasted, bob-tailed, barreled, clout, and target. A breasted arrow is thickest at the area right behind the fletchings, and tapers towards the (nock) and head. A bob-tailed arrow is thickest right behind the head, and tapers to the nock. A barrelled arrow is thickest in the centre of the arrow. Target arrows are those arrows used for target shooting rather than warfare or hunting, and usually have simple arrowheads.
Bowstrings may have a nocking point marked on them, which serves to mark where the arrow is fitted to the bowstring before shooting. The area around the nocking point is usually bound with thread to protect the area around the nocking point from wear by the archer's hands. This section is called the serving. At one end of the bowstring a loop is formed, which is permanent. The other end of the bowstring also has a loop, but this is not permanently formed into the bowstring but is constructed by tying a knot into the string to form a loop. Traditionally this knot is known as the archer's knot, but is a form of the timber hitch. The knot can be adjusted to lengthen or shorten the bowstring. The adjustable loop is known as the "tail". The string is often twisted (this being called the "flemish twist").