The earliest known depiction of cannon appeared in Song dynasty China as early as the 12th century, however solid archaeological and documentary evidence of cannon do not appear until the 13th century. In 1288 Yuan dynasty troops are recorded to have used hand cannons in combat, and the earliest extant cannon bearing a date of production comes from the same period. Evidence of cannon next appeared in Europe. By 1326 depictions of cannon had also appeared in Europe and almost immediately recorded usage of cannon began appearing. By the end of the 14th century cannon were widespread throughout Eurasia. Cannon were used primarily as anti-infantry weapons until around 1374 when cannon were recorded to have breached walls for the first time in Europe. Cannon featured prominently as siege weapons and ever larger pieces appeared. In 1464 a 16,000 kg cannon known as the Great Turkish Bombard was created in the Ottoman Empire. Cannon as field artillery became more important after 1453 with the introduction of limber, which greatly improved cannon maneuverability and mobility. European cannon reached their longer, lighter, more accurate, and more efficient "classic form" around 1480. This classic European cannon design stayed relatively consistent in form with minor changes until the 1750s.
Cannon is derived from the Old Italian word cannone, meaning "large tube", which came from Latin canna, in turn originating from the Greek κάννα (kanna), "reed", and then generalised to mean any hollow tube-like object; cognate with Akkadian qanu(m) and Hebrew qāneh, "tube, reed". The word has been used to refer to a gun since 1326 in Italy, and 1418 in England. Both Cannons and Cannon are correct and in common usage, with one or the other having preference in different parts of the English-speaking world. Cannons is more common in North America and Australia, while cannon as plural is more common in the United Kingdom.
The cannon may have appeared as early as the 12th century in China, and was probably a parallel development or evolution of the fire-lance, a short ranged anti-personnel weapon combining a gunpowder-filled tube and a polearm of some sort. Co-viative projectiles such as iron scraps or porcelain shards were placed in fire lance barrels at some point, and eventually, the paper and bamboo materials of fire lance barrels were replaced by metal.
The earliest known depiction of a cannon is a sculpture from the Dazu Rock Carvings in Sichuan dated to 1128, however the earliest archaeological samples and textual accounts do not appear until the 13th century. The primary extant specimens of cannon from the 13th century are the Wuwei Bronze Cannon dated to 1227, the Heilongjiang hand cannon dated to 1288, and the Xanadu Gun dated to 1298. However, only the Xanadu gun contains an inscription bearing a date of production, so it is considered the earliest confirmed extant cannon. The Xanadu Gun is 34.7 cm in length and weighs 6.2 kg. The other cannon are dated using contextual evidence.
The Heilongjiang hand cannon is also often considered by some to be the oldest firearm since it was unearthed near the area where the History of Yuan reports a battle took place involving hand cannon. According to the History of Yuan, in 1288, a Jurchen commander by the name of Li Ting led troops armed with hand cannon into battle against the rebel prince Nayan.