On the Origin of Technologies: The Invention and Evolution of the Bow-and-Arrow

  • Giuseppe CarignaniEmail author


The bow-and-arrow was a major radical innovation and ‘a nearly ubiquitous example of the evolution of a cultural trait’ whose diffusion led to extraordinary socio-economic developments. Unfortunately, the emergence of this new technology is not easy to research: most modules composing the weapon – made of perishable materials – rarely survive, so the remaining physical evidence is found mainly in small stone components: the arrowheads. Moreover, the evolutionary theories of technological change face difficulties in explaining the inception of this kind of discontinuous, radical innovation.

This paper addresses the bow-and-arrow case through a novel evolutionary approach to technological change based on the evolution of bacteria rather than that of eukaryotes and therefore acknowledging Horizontal Transfer (the recombination of functional modules across diverse lineages) as an evolutionary force as powerful as Vertical Inheritance.

The interplay between technological and cultural processes clearly emerges through the evolutionary trajectory of the bow-and-arrow, in that it is impossible to understand it without considering it both a technological radical innovation and a cultural trait.

Finally, the author argues that the same evolutionary pattern could apply to many a radical innovation, opening new interesting research avenues both for innovation management and for evolutionary archeology, and possibly contributing in shedding some light on the nature and origin of technology.


Cultural trait Invention Radical innovation Horizontal gene transfer Evolutionary archaeology Technological Change 



The inception of the bow-and-arrow has been fascinating and intriguing to me for a few years now, so I have bothered a number of colleagues and friends with this case study, and I would like to thank them all for their patience and suggestions.

However, I would like to acknowledge in particular my debt to five people, without whose support and help I would not have been able to write this paper.

First of all, my friend and colleague at the University of Udine, Dr Giusi Zaina. Giusi is a biologist and a molecular geneticist: I would not have ventured into bacterial evolution without her guidance. The background and insight into the Woesian World is hers; the possible misunderstandings, of course, are mine.

I would also like to acknowledge my friends and colleagues, Gino Cattani (Professor of Management and Organization at the NY Stern School of Business – New York University, US) and professor Pierpaolo Andriani (Professor of Complexity and Innovation Management at Kedge Business School, Marseille, France), with whom I discussed at length and ‘coevolved’ the theoretical frameworks underlying this paper.

Finally, I would like to thank Michael O’Brien (Dean and Professor of Anthropology and Archeology at the University of Missouri, US) and Robert Layton (Professor of Anthropology at the University of Durham, UK) for their suggestions and their encouragement which finally triggered the writing of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DIES - Department of Economics and StatisticsUniversity of UdineUdineItaly, EU

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