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Archers' Thumb Rings

As the bow and arrow developed in various regions of the world, a number of techniques were created for pulling the bowstring and Mongolian release using cylindrical thumb ringreleasing the arrow. Many Asian cultures historically used a technique referred to as the "Mongolian release," wherein the string is drawn by the flexed thumb bent over the string, and the end of the forefinger assists in holding the thumb in position. This method was common in areas such as China, Japan, Korea, Persia, Turkey, and India, as well as various areas of lipped thumb ringNorth Africa. The Mongolian release necessitates the use of a thumb guard, usually in the form of a cylindrical or lipped ring. In Japan, a glove with a stiffened thumb stall [opens in new window] is used rather than a thumb ring.

Early examples of archers' thumb rings have been found in Zhou dynasty (1100 - 221 B.C.) graves in China. These early thumb rings are a version of the lipped form, but by the Manchu period (A.D. 1644-1911), the cylindrical form was universally popular in China. In other areas of Asia, the lipped thumb ring was common. Korean rings generally have a flattened lip, whereas thumb rings from Persia, Turkey, and India have a more rounded lip.

Archers' thumb rings are made of a variety of materials such as precious and semi-precious stones, bone, horn, wood, metal, ceramics, and glass. Highly decorated rings were often made for ornamental purposes and as symbols of status rather than for actual use in shooting the bow and arrow. In China, thumb rings were often carried in cylindrical cases that were suspended from the waist.

This exhibit presents selections from the Museum's collection of over 500 thumb rings in the Grayson [opens in new window] and Browne [opens in new window] collections. Select rings can also be seen on display at the Museum Support Center.

Related Link

Museum Collection Databases

Image Galleries

Chinese thumb rings

thumb rings
Turkey and India

Korean thumb ring
Korea, Japan & Africa


Image Galleries

thumb ring cases
Thumb ring cases

Persian thumb rings