If you were to crack open the 1st edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook from 1911 and give it a quick perusal, you would discover that those kids were tougher and more capable than the vast majority of adults today. Over the course of the past hundred years, we have grown used to convince but if we want to be truly ready it’s time to start learning what kept our ancestors alive.
Primitive skills are those skills that originated with our ancestors. The ancient skills that people first developed to make living in the world easier, more efficient, and safer. Skills, like predicting the weather, making your own tools and clothing, food preservation, and navigating, are all primitive skills.
There are a number of primitive skills most people have lost to time, the below list is a good starting point.
Predicting The Weather
We have all heard the adage “Red sun at night, sailors delight.” There is a least a little scientific basis backing it up. If the sky is clear enough to show red across the sky, it is likely that weather to the west is clear. My personal favorite and one I use most often is “Mackerel skies and mares’ tails Make tall ships carry low sails” which describes clouds and their formation in front of a low-pressure system. Lookup a few of these adages and pay attention in your local area to how weather forms.
Making Your Own
Making anything whether it is soap, candles, butter, cheese or really anything made from a raw material is a dying art. Even those that profess these trades often buy materials that are almost the finished product. DIY projects are one of the best primitive skills. Find yourself a yucca plant and make some soap or make your own butter with a homemade churn. Beekeepers will often part with wax for free for candles that last long and burn great!
If the grid went down how much food would the average family lose? More importantly, how much nutrition? Canning, pickling, smoking food on a campfire, and drying are great ways to make food last but they have gone by the wayside with the ease of buying preserved foods. Get out there and make yourself some salt pork, pickled onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and a nice jar of raspberry jam! Don’t forget to read about all of the reasons why food storage is important.
The advent of Smartphones has destroyed most people’s ability to navigate. People simply can’t read maps anymore much less point out the cardinal directions in their area. Why know when you can google the fastest way to anywhere? Do yourself a favor and get a decent compass and map and learn the world around you, in the woods or on the streets.
Edible Plants, Herbal Medicine, and Foraging
Most people can’t tell you an Oak from a Maple, even our illustrious scouts! Even if they know Willow will treat a toothache or to use Walnut for an infection, how will they know which tree is which? Or a worse scenario, poison hemlock looks suspiciously like wild carrot. Knowing which plants do what, how to identify them, and how to use them is a great skill!
Fire Without Matches
If you do much camping, watching someone struggle to get a fire lit with a lighter and natural materials can be an amusing pastime. If they don’t have a wad of paper or a chemical starter, their chances are dubious at best! Learn your fire lays and natural tinder sources. Then Learn to light a fire with a flint and steel and explore the challenging world of the bow drill. Never will you be more satisfied by the fire you made!
With TV shows like Forged In Fire, a lot of people claim to be blacksmiths because they get a roughly knife-shaped object and then grind it down. That isn’t blacksmithing. Knowing your materials and how to make nails, hinges, clasps, and a variety of tools is far more important. The blacksmith was often the most valued member of a community before the advent of factory machining. A simple forge is cheap and easy to set up, give it a try!
If breaking out a miter saw and power sander is your idea of woodworking, you are missing the beauty of shaping wood! Hit the flea markets and antique stores and get a drawknife, scraper, and wood rasp. Learn to work wood with your eyes and hands. While you are at it, take on the rewarding trial of making your own self-bow and arrow. Knock out two skills at once!
Do you slice beef with the grain or across it? Did you know beef had grain? Ever notice how sometimes you cut chicken and its clean slices and sometimes it all comes apart? Aside from skinning and dressing an animal, removing the meat in a way that is usable is a whole skill on its own. You can save a ton of money if you have a deep freeze and a little skill by getting whole sides of beef undressed. If you hunt, you can save even more by using primitive skills to butcher your own kill.
Working With Your Hands
This may be cheating but it’s important! A recent study showed that grip strength in 18 – 24-year-olds today is more than 20% weaker than it was in 1985. I am sure it is far weaker now than it was in the 1930s. We don’t know how to use our bodies anymore and we don’t use them enough! No matter what primitive skills you turn your mind to if you lack the physical ability to do it you will be lost. I don’t propose we undertake some fad workout, just that we get out and work! Use your body for what it was designed to do!
Mastering any of these skills would take years of work but you don’t need to be a master. If you can become proficient enough to get by, you will separate yourself from most of the population. You will never be dissatisfied by learning a new skill.