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Primitive skills were the everyday skills of our ancestors. As you and I utilize skills like typing, driving a car, using a Bic lighter, operating a gas pump, going to the grocery store, using a telephone, surfing the internet, buying our clothes, etc., our ancestors also had certain skill sets they relied on to live their daily lives…skills like brain tanning, fire by friction, shelter making, tracking, flint knapping, making cordage from plants and animals, identifying edible and medicinal plants, preparing those plants, and finding clean water are just a few of the very important skills our ancestors needed on a daily basis.
Learning these skills is of great importance to us. It brings us closer to the Earth, by learning how to use those gifts given to us. These skills lead to self-reliance and independence from the modern crutches and luxuries. It leads to a greater respect for the world around is, a world that we are so often apart from while sitting in our cars, offices, houses, in air conditioned and heated areas.
To learn more about some of the different primitive skills, read below.
The most important single thing in primitive mans life was his shelter. There are many types of primitive shelters you can easily make with virtually no tools or skills. The easiest to make is the debris shelter. You can make one with absolutely no tools. All you need is an area of dry ground with lots of leaf debris and short lengths of sticks, and one long log. The long log is braced into the crook of a tree, or tied to a tree if you have cordage, then you place lengths of sticks along the length of the long log (and perpendicular to it). You then cover the entire structure with forest debris. A very thick covering will keep you relatively comfortable to extremely low temperatures.
There are many primitive ways to make fire…one of the most widespread is fire by friction. This entails moving two pieces of wood together in a way that they create great friction and dust, and the heat from the friction actually causes the accumulated wood dust to become an ember or coal. Two of the most popular methods of fire by friction are the hand drill and the bow drill . Other methods include the fire plough, fire saw, and one ingenious little device called a fire piston.
Tracking has been discussed here.
There are some incredible books out there on tracking, and many can be hard to find. I recommend these:
The Science and Art of Tracking - by Tom Brown, Jr.
Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking - by Tom Brown, Jr with Brandt Morgan
Tracking and the Art of Seeing - by Paul Rezendes
The SAS Guide to Tracking - by Bob Carss
Animal Tracks - By Olaus J. Murie (A Peterson Field Guide)
Mammal Tracks & Sign - by Mark Elbroch
Bird Tracks & Sign - by Mark Elbroch with Eleanor Marks
Edible and Medicinal Plants:
Our ancestors could not go to the local corner store for their food. They needed to gather it themselves. There are so many edible plants out there in your backyard that you could probably make a whole meal without walking more than a few dozen yards of your back door. If you learn to identify these plants, you can always be assured of being able to feed yourself. The four most important plants are easily recognized…oak trees, pine trees, cattails and grasses. Many of the plants we call "weeds are edible, and are in fact quite tasty! Many of these plants are found in salads that expensive restaurants call "field greens"…we are paying good money for weeds like dandelions! You can harvest these plants yourself and have your own fancy salads at home! You can make flour out of acorns or other plants for bread. You can also add it to your store bought flour for hearty muffins or breads.
Many plants are also medicinal in nature. Modern man would not be around if we did not learn to treat diseases and problems by using plant remedies. A man can not hunt or gather food if he is sick.
There are many good books out there on these subjects, and a few that I recommend are:
Edible Wild Plants - by Lee Allen Peterson (A Peterson Field Guide)
Medicinal Plants and Herbs - by Steven Foster and James A. Duke ( A Peterson Field Guide)
Edible Wild Plants - by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman
Newcomb's Wildflower Guide - by Lawrence Newcomb (great aid in identifying plants)
Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants - by Tom Brown, Jr.
Flint knapping is the art of creating tools (especially edged tools) using stones and rocks. Click here to see some examples of stone tools.
Flint knapping can be summed up in two skill sets…using a billet (or large striking tool) to break off pieces of stone to create a shape of a tool, and pressure flaking, which is when a smaller tool is used to break off smaller pieces of rock to further shape, or thin out the tool. This page shows examples of both modern and traditional tools used in flint knapping.
A must read book on flint knapping is:
The Art of Flint Knapping - by D.C. Waldorf
How did our ancestors cook food? Do you know how to cook over a fire? On a fire? How do you boil water without a pot?
Boiling water (and thereby making it pure) requires some type of water container. You can burn a bowl out of wood, or dig a hole in the ground and line it with raw hide and filling it with water. Then you can heat the water to boiling (or to a simmer to cook a soup or stew) by adding rocks heated in a fire.
You can make an oven out of mud and grasses to bake bread or cook meats. You can cook many veggies and animals right on the coals of a fire. One of the best steaks I ever had was cooked on a fire in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. We got a good hot fire going with a good bed of coals. When the coals were nice and hot, we simply scraped away the wood on top, leaving only the hot coals, then plopped the steak right on top of the coals! Don't worry about the coals getting on your meat, they scrape away easily after cooking. (There are a lot of wild plants around to use for seasoning as well…learn which ones and you will eat like a king!)
Brain tanning is the process of using an animals brains to preserve its hide. Interestingly enough, each animal has just enough brains to tan its own hide. For more information check out www.braintan.comA recommended book on the topic of brain tanning is:
Deerskins into Buckskins - by Matt Richards
Here is a list of other books which cover a lot of other material or cover various subjects:
A Field Guide to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey - by Howard P. Boyd
Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival - By Tom Brown, Jr with Brandt Morgan
Tom Brown's Field Guide to Living With the Earth - By Tom Brown, Jr with Brandt Morgan
How to Shit in the Woods - by Kathleen Meyer
Natural Pathways of New Jersey - Millard C. Davis
Native American Crafts & Skills - David Montgomery
Wilderness First Aid - Tod Schimelpfenig and Linda Lindsey
Mullein is a great plant to use for the hand drill technique of fire by friction - Copyright 2005 Dan Atkinson
Here we see one of our members, John, smoking two hides he tanned - Copyright 2005 Dan Atkinson
Copyright 2005 Dan Atkinson