Perhaps you thought to yourself about how ancient archers shot the bow and arrow. Did they simply allow for the bowstring to cause nerve damage? Shooting without finger protection especially on a bow with high draw weight can cause injury.
Did ancient archers use finger tabs? Archaeological evidence proves that ancient archers would use finger tabs in some cultures like England where people would shoot with two fingers and a tab. The ancient finger tab shared more resemblances to a glove than the modern archery tab that we use today.
If you’d like to learn more about ancient cultures and their use of finger tabs as well as other forms of protection, keep reading as we cover this topic in depth.
How Did Ancient Archers Protect Their Hands?
How archers protected their hands in ancient times depended on the culture. Some would use finger tabs like the English, but others used other forms of protection that we will cover here. This article talks about an archer’s finger tab found in Palmer Lane, Coventry, United Kingdom. The finger tab was made from pigskin.
England wasn’t the only location to use finger tabs. In ancient Egypt during the era of the Middle Kingdom, the archers used a type of thumb tab. The protrusion of the thumb tab helped the ancient archers to put their thumb into the right position.
Gloves for both hands when practicing archery was common in ancient times. The glove protected the fingers, but it also allowed for a smooth and accurate release.
Finger Protection for the Bow Common across Cultures
When the Mongol archers would fire their bows, they would protect their fingers with thumb rings. They did this because they differed in how they would draw their bows, using the forefinger and the thumb.
Native Americans would generally not use finger protection with their bows, but some tribes would use a type of pinch grip to protect their fingers.
For thousands of years, across many cultures, ancient archers made use out of finger protection in one form or another. You had some who didn’t, but generally speaking, all of them took measures to protect their hands from nerve damage. The tabs in ancient times consisted of a variety of materials that included bone, metal, antler, stone and gems in some cases.
The Phoenicians would use a two-finger draw. which resembles today’s Flemish loose. Examining the holes around the base, it suggests that they stitched them to gloves or thongs.
Tabs and Gloves Used in Ancient Europe
The three-finger draw took hold in most of Europe, also known as the three-finger Mediterranean pull. You still see this used in archery circles in North America and Europe today. One of the issues from gloves came from how most people saw them as peasant’s clothing for the time, which meant that archers would often discard them when no longer usable. This makes it difficult to track as an archaeological piece of history.
Medieval Archers Used Similar Protection to What You See Today
Medieval archers often used the same types of protection that you would see today, except for a few modifications. However, tabs were extremely common among the ancient archers in one form or another. You did not see archers who didn’t take steps to protect their fingers all too often because even then, they knew how shooting a bow without protection could harm your hands.
The other thing that we must consider is how taking a few shots on the bow didn’t matter as much as when you shot regularly with it. At that point, they looked for ways to protect their fingers from nerve damage. Longbows and bows with a higher draw weight demanded a greater need for the use of finger tabs or some other form of protection.
How Much was the Bow Used?
The cultures that made heavy use out of the bow more commonly used tabs because they quickly realized that you could lose the feeling in your fingers if you didn’t protect them. During the Greco-Roman period, they mainly used the bow for hunting. They didn’t use it as much for warfare. Because of this, you may have found that they used finger protection like tabs less because they didn’t encounter the issues with it as much.
Thumb Rings More Common in Asia
If you study the ancient archers in Asia, you will find that they used the thumb ring more predominantly. For example, the Mongols used the thumb ring, but other examples exist as well. Since the Neolithic period (10,000 to 4500 BCE), also called the New Stone Age, thumb rings came into use. The first examples of it were likely made from leather. Unfortunately, leather doesn’t last for thousands of years, which has meant that we have almost no record of it.
One of the first records that we find for the use of the thumb ring in Asia was in a cemetery in Rui state. Here, archaeologists uncovered a Lord of Rui buried in the 8th century. In his tomb, they uncovered two thumb rings made of pure gold. The pattern was quite modern for the time period.
Especially in China, you would encounter thumb rings made from jade. While you found many that were used for practical purposes, others had so much decoration on them that they would have made for poor archery equipment and were only for show.
During the Qing Dynasty, they encountered thumb rings again in a cylindrical form, which gradually came to displace the other thumb rings with padding. Instead, they used a hook to draw the string back.
What Other Cultures Used the Thumb Ring?
It’s a lie to think that ancient cultures didn’t make use out of things like tabs and thumb rings because of how everyone even back then understood how the shooting could damage your fingers, making your shots less accurate. Some of the other cultures where archers made use out of the thumb ring included:
- Mughal empire
Why Don’t We Have Evidence of Ancient Archers Using Finger Tabs and Other Finger Protection?
One of the biggest reasons that we don’t have a large amount of evidence for it stems from the fact that finger tabs, even back then, were made of leather. Old leather becomes fibrous and decomposes, especially when repeatedly exposed to moisture. In the most common cases where we knew of its existence, it came about because the archers made tabs out of metal, jade or other objects that will be preserved for centuries.
Did Medieval Archers Use Gloves?
In different parts of the world, different cultures used different things to release the bow. Gloves were commonly one of those things used. However, the two-finger glove that we see today is a more modern invention. Back then, the ancient archers would use regular gloves when shooting their bows.
For thousands of years, ancient archers have used finger tabs and other archery gear to protect their fingers. What they used depends on the culture that they came from because how they protected their fingers would vary. Some may wonder why there isn’t more evidence of it, but there exists plenty of evidence throughout a number of cultures. While you may have had a couple that didn’t use tabs or finger protectors, most wisely thought of ways to protect their fingers from the bowstring.