History of Inventions – Ancient Skills

Pine straw baskets

We are done with the Stone Age and are swiftly moving through Bronze Age with sights set on the Ancient Egypt. Back in school, prehistory was my favorite part of history, partly because there were no dates to memorize, but partly because the technology of that period seemed so… doable.

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Looking around me right now, I can’t think of a single thing I use that can be made easily, if at all, in the backyard. Good luck trying to DIY a television, a couch, a glass vase or my cast iron skillet. Sure, there’s this one guy who built a toaster from scratch, but it took him like forever and [SPOILER ALERT] the end result wasn’t very usable at all.

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By contrast, the prehistoric stuff – clay pots, stone tools, ropes made with natural fibers, and shelters out of twigs – seem highly doable. And it doesn’t have to look pretty!

So I was very excited to sign my son up for the Ancient Skills class or rather 4 classes. I probably did it more for myself since parental presence was required and participation strongly encouraged.

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The first class was mostly about theory. But even that was exciting because the instructor brought in all sorts of stone, bone, clay, and natural fiber tools and utensils that he made himself. Some looked familiar, just like the pictures of stone tools we googled at home. Others looked like nothing we’d seen before, such as beaver tooth carving knife! Mr. Bob, the instructor, talked about each tool, showed a few in action (even hunted breakfast cereal with a blow gun). As if the tools themselves weren’t amazing enough, the entire presentation was both interesting and funny.

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Except for that first presentation, the rest were very short because it was really all about making and being hands-on in these classes. In the first one we all learned to make ropes out of raffia (of course, other natural fibers can be used).

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Here’s another cool thing about this class. In addition to showing how things were done with ancient technology, Mr. Bob taught us how the same things were made by early American colonists (slightly less ancient technology in the eyes of many 8-9-year olds in the class).

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In the next couple of classes the kids (and adults) got to make clay oil lamps, but also beeswax dipped candles; made pump drills to start fire with, but also tried doing it with flint and steel; pounded corn into cornmeal; pressed apple cider; used atlatl to throw spears, and…

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… at the last meeting, after cider was pressed and thoroughly enjoyed, Mr. Bob said that the next activity required parental approval. We were intrigued and the kids sensed something exciting. Sure thing, Bob set up a wooden target, picked up what looked like a couple of smallish axes and threw them straight in the center of the target. Tomahawk throwing! The kids were thrilled, parents – a bit less so. But the entire practice went smoothly. And then the parents bandied together, sent the kids to the next activity (corn pounding) and took over the tomahawk range for the rest of the class. And let me tell you, that was awesome!

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