There are several indications throughout the story that the ritual of the lottery has been going on for a very long time. For example, we are told that the black box, from which the names of the townspeople are drawn, has been used since before the birth of “Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town.” This black box is so old as to be “no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side.”
Later in the story, we are told that the names of the townspeople used to be written upon “chips of wood,” which “had been used for generations” before being replaced with slips of paper. Paper was invented in approximately 100 BC. The fact that chips of wood were used in the earliest lotteries suggests that the ritual of the lottery could predate the invention of paper.
Some of the people of the town also remember that there once used to be a “recital of some sort” which would be performed “duly each year” before the names were drawn from the box. The author then writes that “some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang” the recital. However, this recital was dropped from the ceremony “years and years ago.” The phrase “some people believed” implies that the lottery has been around for so long that people can no longer know for certain how it used to be conducted but can only believe or guess. The phrase "of some sort" also indicates that the lottery has been around for too long for anybody to be able to remember exactly what this recital was.
It is unclear as to exactly how long the lottery has been happening for, but what is clear is that it has been happening for a very long time indeed. As one of the townspeople states, “There’s always been a lottery.” In other words, the lottery has existed for longer than anybody can remember and is, therefore, presumed to have existed forever.