Once unreachably expensive, Asiatic Bows are now affordable thanks to being revived and re-worked in modern materials by a number of Hungarian and Korean bowyers, and more recently by Chinese bowyers.
Asiatic Bows are nearly all Composite Bows – meaning they are made of a combination of materials, selected and positioned to work better than would be the case if only one material was used. This use of different materials seems to predate what we call an Asiatic Bow by several thousand years, there is evidence of rawhide and sinew being used to provide additional tensile strength to wood bows much earlier than the first known representation of a recognisable Asiatic Bow on the Victory Stele of Naram Sin which dates from around 2030 BC. The bows are shorter than most ‘primitive’ types, and can take a much tighter radius bend. Even Naram Sin’s bow seems to have rigid limb ends perhaps 20cm long, a feature that Turkish archers call ‘Siyahs’, which make it easier to draw a heavier weight with Asiatic bow than with an equivalent simple bow.
The materials used in making traditional Asiatic Bows are horn (such as buffalo horn, because of the available length) or Antler, in combination with wood and / or bamboo, and sinew, all held together with salmon-skin or rabbit-skin glue, and wrapped in birch bark or snakeskin and lacquered to keep mosture out.
Recently these bows have come to be called Horsebows, because of their use by Mongols, Huns, Tatars and Magyars, but while there are large numbers of images of Asiatic archers in antiquity shooting on foot (or standing on Chariots), most of the images of Asian archers on horsback date from after the spread of Mongolian Archery in the 13th Century. The Persian Archers at Marathon were certainly foot soldiers, and there is no sign of a mounted archer in the Assyrian reliefs of Sennacherib’s expeditions, but plenty of pairs of standing archers shooting from behind a mobile pallisade held by a third soldier.
The Assyrian Archers are clearly shooting using their thumbs to draw the string – because the short limbs result in an acute string angle, which tends to crush the three-fingers used by Mediterranean archers. As well as using the thumb itself, an extremely fast smooth loose is possible by using a thumb ring, which are most commonly made of horn or jade, the Tibetan archer shown is using a jade ring.
Apart from Horse Archery events, there are no dedicated Asiatic Bow competitions and no special recognised Asiatic Bow Style in British or International Archery at this time, and users of the bow would be classified as Barebow or Traditional / Instinctive so long as they used a Mediterranean Loose. There is a long tradition of Korean sport archery using this type of bow (and there are also Archery Traditions in Japan and Bhutan that use different types of bow). Horse Archery is a long-standing tradition in Turkey and Hungary, and Turkey has a staggeringly impressive history of Flight Archery, achieving distances undreamt of by English Longbow Archers.