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Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Applied Bushcraft; Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Wisdom

This article used to appear as a separate page on this blog but has been updated somewhat to appear now as part of our Applied bushcraft series and provide a bit of added context to what we consider to be applied bushcraft.



TEKW

T(raditional)
E(cological)
K(nowledge)
and
W(isdom)



Bushcraft skills were once more than recreation, without knowledge of plants people would have been without food, medicine and material for construction. Without a knowledge of animal ecology and behaviour people would not have been able to efficiently hunt and trap and would have gone without food, clothing, bone for making tools, sinew for strong cord and hoof and hide for glue. While a knowledge of ecology is still important in many modern professions there may seem to be less use for the traditional skills and knowledge which can also be applied in the countryside and which we might choose to call bushcraft. 





Indig1.jpg
An Australian Aborigonee encampment depicted in a 19th Century engraving, first nation peoples like these are often credited with having a wealth of TEKW which is what puts them miles ahead, in terms of their familiarity with the natural world and the things that live and grow in it, of those of us more reliant on modern conveniences and technology.
Public Domain, Link






In the UK we have no first nations people left to pass on their skills and can really only speculate as to the skills they used, guided perhaps in part by archaeological discoveries such as those at Must Farm in the Cambridgeshire Fens and the work of experimental archaeologists. We do still have a wealth of traditional ecological knowledge through the anecdotes and experience of those who have worked the land for decades in professions such as forestry, game keeping, agriculture and perhaps, although as a game keeper and deer stalker by trade I hate to admit it, the old poachers knew a thing or two as well. So although we don't really talk about traditional ecological knowledge and wisdom in the UK it is there. 


There is an awful lot of literature on TEKW from other countries though, a lot of it is about the importance of preserving and passing on that knowledge for cultural reasons and to preserve the identity and culture of the first nations people who have that knowledge and practice the skills related to it. 

Poundmaker.png
While the traditional skills of first nations people would once have been taught to their children just as children in modern schools in the UK learn history, maths and phonics now those skills are in much less demand, the person in this picture is Pîhtokahanapiwiyin (c. 1842 – 4 July 1886), better known as Poundmaker, and was a Plains Cree chief known for his skill at using buffalo 'pounds' or corrals. These skills are now for the most part lost and if it wasn't for the efforts of remaining first nations peoples there would be very little attempt to teach these skills to a new generation at all.
Image by; By Prof. Buell, O.B. - Library and Archives Canada, Public Domain, Link   






In some parts of the world traditional skills are still very much in everyday use but with improvements in technology, and therefore less demand on young people to learn traditional skills, the number of people in these areas who have well developed practical ‘bushcraft’ skills is declining. Particularly, according to a study of the Transmission of Environmental Knowledge and Land Skills among Inuit Men in Ulukhakatok, in specialist areas such Polar Bear Hunting (Pearce, et al., 2011), making skin clothing (Kritsch & Wright-Frazer, 2002), Fur preparation, hunting, fishing and trapping (Ohmagari & Berkes, 1997). 

Modern technology may have made many hand tools and traditional skills less efficient than modern methods but by no means have they become obsolete. For example in many parts of the world subsistence agriculture relies solely on the traditional knowledge and skills of the farmers (Beckford & Barker, 2007) (Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1990) and researchers agree that TEKW is valuable and valid even when you consider the availability of modern farming methods and improved scientific knowledge of agriculture (Agrawal, 1995) (Colorado & Collins , 1987) (Posey, 1990) (Schultes,1988) (Hunn, 1993).
Today we are far removed from the ancient skills that would once have been used by native peoples living in the British Isles; the hunter gatherer societies of the Maesolithic (10,000-5,500 years ago) were the last people in the British Isles to operate without agriculture (Darvill, 2010) and would have used bushcraft as their means of survival. In other parts of the world primitive survival and bushcraft skills have been used by native peoples in living memory and in some parts of the world is still a way of life (Wescott, 2001). As Pearce et all (Transmission of Environmental Knowledge and Land Skills among Inuit Men in Ulukhatok, Northwest Territories, Canada, 2011), Kritsch& amp; Wright-Frazer (2002) and Ohmagari & Berkes (1997) explain, the successful transmission of these skills is a vital part of preserving the skills, traditions and way of life of surviving native peoples. Formal schools have been set up in some parts of the world to ensure these skills can be taught to younger generations such as the Samernas Utbildningscentrum (The Sami’s Training Centre) in Jokkmokk, Sweden, and the TePuia in Rotoroa, New Zealand.


Craftsmen at Te Puia, Maori Arts and Crafts institute in Rotoroa New Zealand where the traditions of carving and weaving are kept alive and strong.






These types of skills have already been lost, or at least only practised by a very small minority, in the UK and to teach them now is to re-introduce them rather than to preserve them. But they can be relevant in a range of applications, from developing social skills, to influencing environmental decision making (Ellis, 2005) and, conservation (Berkes, Gadgil, & Folke, 1993) (Richards , 1997) (Schultes,1988) (Ellis, 2005). 



TEKW related literature (including references from above);


Agrawal, A., 1995. Dismantling the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge. Development Change , Volume 26, pp. 413-439.

Beckford, C. & Barker, D., 2007. The role and value of local knowledge in Jamaican agriculture; adaptation and change in small scale farming. The Geographical Journal, 173(2), pp. 118-128.

Berkes, F., Gadgil, M. & Folke, C., 1993. Indigenous knowledge for biodiversity conservation. Ambio, 22(2-3), pp. 151-156.

Colorado, P. & Collins , D., 1987. Western scientific colonialism and the re-emergence of native Science.. Practice: Journal of Politics, Economics, Psychology, Sociology and Culture , Volume Winter , pp. 50-65.

Darvill, T., 2010. Prehistoric Britain. 2nd ed. London: Routledge .

Ellis, S. C., 2005. Meaning ful Consideration? A review of Traditional Knowledge in Environmental Dcision Making. Arctic, 58(1), pp. 66-77.

Hunn, E. N., 1993. What is traditional ecological knowledge?. In: N. M. Williams & G. Baines , eds. Traditional Ecological Knowledge; wisdom for sustainable development. Canberra: Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, pp. 13-15.
Kritsch, I. & Wright-Frazer, K., 2002. The Gwich'in Traditional Caribou Skin Clothing Project; Repatriating Traditional Knowledge and Skills. Arctic, 55(2), pp. 205-213.

Ohmagari, K. & Berkes, F., 1997. Transmission of Indigenous Knowledge and Bush Skills among Western James Bay Cree Women of Subarctic Canada. Human Ecology, 25(2), pp. 197-222.

Pearce, T. et al., 2011. Transmission of Environmental Knowledge and Land Skills among Inuit Men in Ulukhatok, Northwest Territories, Canada. Human Ecology, Volume 39, pp. 271-288.

Posey, D. A., 1990. The Sience of the Mebengokre. Orion, 9(3), pp. 16-21.


Richards , R. T., 1997. What the natives know: wild mushrooms and forest health. Journal of Forestry, Volume September , pp. 5-10.

Schultes , R. E., 1988. Primitive Plant Lore and Modern Conservation. Orion, 7(3 ), pp. 8-15.

Wescott, D., 2001. Introduction. In: D. Wescott, ed. Primitive Technology II; Ancestral Skills. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Primitive Technology in Riddy Wood

The latest instalment of environmental archaeology and primitive technology students experiences in Riddy Wood comes courtesy of James Findlay.

The view of Riddy Wood as we approached
Dinner Time
Riddy wood sits on a natural prehistoric border between hills and ancient fen land. This was the perfect location for our hunter gatherer ancestors. I was on a trip here with the archaeology and primitive skills course at Rease Heath College. Coming here is the perfect opportunity to learn and practice skills learnt. Thousands of years ago this area would have been brimming with useful resources. We intended to use as many of these as we could on this trip to fully understand the mind-set of the people of the past and enhance our skill set. We rushed to set up camp between the trees while it was still light then cooked over the open fire.

Home Sweet Home
 The following morning, before I had emerged from my hammock, our lecturer Pete Groom told us our task for the day, to make an arrow using only stone tools! Riddy wood is full of useful resources so this was not too difficult a task. We first went out into the nearby fields and collected flint and churt. This was to be used for knapping to make our arrow heads. Pete asked us to imagine how the landscape would have looked thousands of years ago with hunter gatherers living in these very fields. To fit with the idea of a prehistoric landscape I found a knapped piece of flint that I was told would have been used as a scraper for skinning an animal. This find really made me realise how skilled our ancestors were in crafts almost forgotten.

We then walked the field boundaries to see what other resources were available for collection. Being autumn the trees were drooping with laden boughs of sloes, hawthorn berries, blackberries and apples. We collected as much as we could to take back to our camp to make into fruit leather.

The knapped arrow head in place. 
The arrow head has now been secured with a sinew thread. 
When we returned to camp we started work on our arrows. First we had to collect a straight piece of hazel for the shaft. This had to be done without using a metal cutting tool so I twisted a piece off from the coppice. After that we had to strip the bark. We had found a piece of flint perfect for the job with a semi-circular hollow with a bevelled edge cut into the rock. It did a better job than a knife at stripping the bark! 

Next we had to knap our flint, using soft hammers made from deer antler. You have to hit along the lines that protrude from the piece of flint. This causes fractures to form and very sharp fragments to break off that can be used to make tools. We continued until we had a selection to choose from and then we selected the best to be used in our arrow. I made a composite arrow, this means I had the main arrow head and then there are more pieces of flint bellow that to follow into the wound causing more damage. These weapons are brutal but effective; it just shows that the hunter gatherer world was focused on survival without any care for suffering. I split the end of my hazel to place the flint into the gap created. We then used sinew from deer legs to tie the end together and secure our arrow heads. All that was then left to do was the fletching. 

This proved to be the hardest part because it was difficult to keep all three feathers an equal distance apart. My efforts came out looking rather poor compared to some of the other arrows but I just need practice.

And finally the fletching
Overall each arrow turned out alright. Only using stone tools really made me realise how much we take for granted our modern tools that make a job so much easier. Even people who call themselves bushcrafters use pieces of modern kit that they couldn’t manage without. This exercise drove it home to me how utterly dependant we are on our society and the benefits it provides. True freedom can be gained by the knowledge that you have the skills to survive if all this equipment is taken away from us. That is why I am keen to learn all I can about the world around us so I can know that if everything is taken away from me except my knowledge then I would still be able to live comfortably with the knowledge of our ancestors.


Friday, 28 October 2016

Experimental Archaeology in Riddy Wood

The second instalment in the student accounts of their experimental archaeology adventures in Riddy Wood;

Alex explains what they all got up to for two days;

Alex and lecturer Dr Peter Groom select flint for arrow making, Dr Groom has contributed to this blog in the past with an excellent post on experimental Archaeology

On the first night we had a quick first look around the wood but seeing as we arrived late, we had to set up our camp of tarps and a couple of tents. Some slept in hammocks but two of us slept on the woodland floor in sleeping rolls.

As it went dark on the first night we made our way to Geoff's fire to spend the evening cooking our dinner and chatting, it wasn't the best dinner during our trip though.

I woke up too early on the first morning so I warmed myself up by sawing some logs, a fire warms you three times. Pete showed me his camp and I was a little bit jealous that I didn't know how to read the woods to find a better spot. He had set up his tent next to a track which lead to him getting close to a deer.

We spent the first day in and around Riddy Wood foraging for materials to make arrows and beads for a primitive skills exercise. We found everything we needed, apart from deer legs needed for our fletching, and pine sap for glue to fix our arrowheads. I could have done better on the procurement side of things but all of the materials were there. We found flint across a freshly ploughed farmer's field, hazel in the woodland and nearly enough feathers for everyone (we ended up borrowing a pigeon wing from Geoff). After we sat around a slow burning fire, putting our arrows together and firing the clay we had found in a field to make beads, we started foraging for food to add to the food we'd brought. Crab Apples, Haw Berries and black berries went into a make shift fruit leather, we also made crisps from nettles found about 30 foot away from our fire. We sat around eating for hours, which is where it becomes apparent that there is a difference between survival and bushcraft. We were pretty much having a feast, especially when Geoff brought us a Muntjac leg to cook on the fire, and later on, during a hornet gunship attack, we cooked a rabbit.


On the final morning it didn't take long to pack up camp and to check for any litter we'd left behind before having breakfast, eggs bacon and beans. Then we were off to Flag Fen. It's easy to see how people would have lived around the area in the past, especially with a trip to one of the best Iron and Bronze age sites in the country.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Prehistoric Arrow Making Using Stone Tools

We've had some visitors in Riddy Wood recently, the new cohort of environmental archaeology and primitive skills students from Reaseheath College. Over the next week or so they will share some of their experiences at Riddy Wood. 

First you'll read an account by Evon Kirby, one of the archaeology students, of some prehistoric arrow making using materials found at Riddy Wood. 


Evon making her arrow



First Step -­ Procurement



To start making the arrow first I had to find all the resources I would be using. This consisted of a whip form either hazel or ash long enough for the shaft, I collected a hazel whip, 3­-4 feathers around 6 inches long, plus a selection of flint and abrasive stones. The feathers were the most difficult to find because of the size needed but I found them by looking for areas around Riddy Wood with lots of smaller feathers, indicating a roost. The whip I choose was about the same size as my draw length.

Second Step ­- Stripping the Whip



To strip the bark off the whip I needed to select a piece of flint out of the ones I'd found that had a sharp, ideally concave, edge to run down the shaft to strip off the bark and twig ends. The flint I picked was quite large and had a good concave edge, removing the bark easily. Once I'd fully stripped the whip I lightly ran it through the embers of the fire to burn off the frayed bits and tidy the shaft.

Third Step - Flint Knapping Blades



To begin flint knapping I needed to select a piece of flint that had a fairly large face that I'd be able to get good sized shards off for the arrow tip/blades. Once I'd picked the flint I wanted to work I then grabbed a soft hammer made of deer antler that had already been shaped. I had to practice hitting with the soft hammer on my thigh to get my eye in before hitting the flint.


When I was comfortable I placed the flint on my thigh, on top of a pair of gloves for padding, and rubbed an abrasive stone over the edge of the face I wanted to work and would be striking. I then began striking the flint on the edge where I had abraded. It took a few goes to get used to where I was trying to connect but once I had I began getting shards I could shape into blades.

Once I felt I had a good selection of shards to work with I picked out five that I wanted to use for the arrow. I picked shards that were the thinnest, flattest and closest to the shape I wanted to end up with.


I then grabbed some shaped antlers pieces for pressure flaking. I practiced on some smaller pieces I wasn't planning on using and cracked a few to begin with. Once I was used to the pressure needed and how far in to apply the pressure I started to shape the blades I wanted. I started with the tip which was a pointed arrow head around 1.5cm by 1.5cm and then shaped the four blades that I would place down the shaft near the top, two either side. I curved the edges that would be facing out from the arrow so they followed the same line as the tip blade as much as possible. I then used another piece of flint to run down the edges of the blades to give them a serrated edge.

The reason I shaped the blades this way is because this style of prehistoric arrow was designed to pierce the hunted animal in the chest and then as the animal ran the movement would cause the side blades to act like a saw and would embed the arrow deeper, eventually piercing the lungs.

Fourth Step - Grooves for the Blades

When I had shaped the blades I needed to make grooves in the shaft for the blades to sit in and shape the end for the arrow tip. First I used a sharp piece of flint to shape the end of the shaft into a point. I then used the flint to cut into the middle of the point so I could fit the tip and also cut in the two grooves either side of the shaft for the other blades.

Fifth Step - Fletching



For the fletching I picked two pigeon feathers around the same shape and size and using a sharp piece of flint scored down the middle and split the feathers in half. Once I had split the feathers I needed to attach three to the bottom of the shaft using sinew. Before I began attaching the fletching I removed the blades so didn't lose them in the process. I was given deer's legs for the sinew and once it was removed I used the soft antler hammer to hit the sinew until it opened into workable fibre.

When I had the fibre I separated it into thinner strands and wetted them so they became slimy and pliable. Once the fibre was wet and workable my instructor showed me how to begin attaching the feathers to the end of the shaft by placing the first and then wrapped the sinew around it at the base, then placed the second and wrapped the sinew around and then the third. I then tied off the sinew and grabbed another piece to connect the feathers at the middle. I made sure I split the feathers at the same point for wrapping the sinew so that once it was attached the feathers could be pushed back together and the gap closed. I still had sinew left once I had secured the middle so I used the same piece to begin attaching the top of the feathers using the same method, using an additional piece when needed. When I had tied off the last of the sinew I then used a flint piece to cut off the excess feather and sinew.

Sixth Step - Attaching The Blades



To begin with I began attaching the tip of the blade using just sinew, wrapping it around the corners and the shaft but this wasn't very secure and when the sinew got wet again it loosened. As it wasn't effective I then made pine resin glue to help attach them. I collected pine resin from and pine tree and heated it on a flat rock next to a fire until it softened and became runny. I then mixed it with ash from the fire using a stick until it became a thicker workable consistency; I needed to reheat the mixture a few time to add more resin.

Once I had the mixture I applied it to the gap in the point of the shaft for the arrow tip using a stick. It dries really quickly so I needed to hold it over the fire to soften it to then push in the flint tip. When I had pushed in the flint I again heated it over the fire so I could mold the resin to secure it. I then wet some sinew fibres and secured the tip further by wrapping it around the corners and shaft.

Once I had attached the tip I then used the same resin technique to attach the blades on the sides.


The Finished Arrow Head



Additional Work




Once I had attached the blades I noticed how the shaft had started to bend as it dried, as I cut it green, and so using cane created a splint to keep it straight whilst drying. I secured the cane using nettle cordage.

Monday, 10 October 2016

My blog hiatus


Until next summer you wont see an awful lot from me on the BushcraftEducation blog, I will still update the new ForagersDiary and GeoffBushcrafts blogs as regularly as I can, but these demand a little less attention due to their format. 

The simple reason is that I'm really busy; 
I'm in the process of writing my Masters dissertation, putting the finishing touches on a couple of new books which I was hoping to release last month and are now considerably behind schedule, getting up to date with my writing for Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine and Countrymans Weekly, teaching game management, conservation and the new archaeology students at Reaseheath College, and working at Riddy Wood

I am due to finish my Masters Dissertation next Summer and after that will be back to blogging here with a vengeance hopefully with a lot of new material to post and share with you. 

You will still see posts on here from the other contributors to the blog, updates from BushcraftEducation Ltd. and from the Riddy Wood Project,  details of courses, posts from guests, and a couple of posts I have had in the works for a while and which are scheduled to appear in the next month or so. 

So see you next year

Friday, 23 September 2016

Adapt and Improvise; The Combat Jacket.

Simple Survival Aids (although perhaps not those as bulky as a firesteel) can be secreted in clothing ready for an emergency

Thinking back over thirty years, I can recall spending hours making my clothes into a very basic survival kit. The reason will be obvious, it was all camouflaged clothing and my intention was to survive after being separated from my heavier kit. We called it E&E (escape and evasion) and some of us were good at it and others less so. For some it would be a miserable time, for some it was more about being a nuisance to the 'opposition', for me it was slipping away in to the woods and disappearing until I could get back to somewhere I could be useful, reunite myself with something more deadly than a rock in a sock or a club with some barbed wire wrapped around it and neutralise the enemy without getting up too close and personal.

I believed (and still do) in the 6 Ps, Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Pathetic Performance, there were 7 but these 6 publish better! Never go under-dressed, under-gunned or under-informed, never give a sucker an even break and do unto others before they do unto you, quite contrary to my Christian beliefs but back then I believed it and was ready to put it in to action if necessary.

So let's see if you've got the idea;

"what does a smart guy take to a knife fight?" 
"No, not a big knife, a 9mm pistol, an Uzi would be better! Now you get it? Good!"

Surviving for long periods in the most basic of circumstances will never be easy, POWs in a number of past conflicts have demonstrated the human body's resilience to abuse, neglect and deprivation but starvation is a poor companion, one to be avoided at all costs and my 'little kit' was designed to aid me in that goal. All my kit was very light and selected and secreted in such a manner as to be very hard to find even if searched. Below is a list of the things I had, the list is not exhaustive and should be modified based on likely local conditions in the area you are to survive in or transit through, most of this kit remained in place for years remember.


  • Something to cut and skin which is basic. I had a 'key ring size' knife but also a scalpel blade carefully wrapped in foil so that it neither blunted in storage or burst through its containment and stuck in me, a short piece of scalpel handle is also useful and easily concealed in the heel of a boot for instance. 
  • Fishing line, fairly light, with a couple of hooks and a few weights, 
  • needle, 
  • thread, 
  • a couple of waterproof matches, 
  • a couple of puritabs, 
  • a miniature compass,
  • para chord 
  • snare wire. 
Many of these items were wrapped or sealed in tiny zip lock bags, the wire of course was designed to live unprotected. All of these items were then sewn into the jacket or trousers in a place where the material was double or treble, seams, buttons or zips, so their bulk was concealed by that particular feature in the garment.

I had rehearsed the likely scenarios and they were these.

1. If I was taken prisoner on my own or in a small group, I would take additional measures to prevent a thorough search, these included urinating on the garment or vomiting on it to discourage a thorough search of the portion containing something useful. I could also fein injury in that area again attempting to prevent a thorough search.
2. If we were taken en mass, I anticipated the processing being more cursory and it being unlikely to discover my stash, as the many hours of work had been successful in making these items near undetectable.

In addition to these few items, I had the lightest of all survival kit, knowledge, experience and the right attitude. I WAS going to survive and fight again, I WAS NOT going to starve in the wilderness and when I got fully kitted up again, I WAS going to be a real nuisance!

I strongly suggest that you put some really useful stuff into a favourite coat, a ruck sack or anything you have with you nearly all the time and forget it's there until you are in trouble. I carried a lifeboat ration pack for years at the bottom of my ruck sack, I only ate anything from it once as I recall, when I was really in need. It had a 5 year shelf life so I didn't have to swap or rotate it, it was just always there, just in case.

Now go and give some thought to what you may need sometime and put it somewhere that it will always be when you need it. Maybe the glovebox in your car, a credit card survival tool in your wallet (caution, airport metal,detectors will find it but the search won't,) just think through likely scenarios and mitigate the risk by stashing something somewhere you can find it when you need it most.

Plan ahead, live long and prosper

MG

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Adapt and improvise; Kydex belt loop

I hate having to take my belt off to hang or remove my knife from it, and if you've seen my previous post about knives and the law you will know why I think it's important that you are able to easily remove your knife from your belt and store it when you are not using it.  And while some knives come in sheaths that allow them to be easily clipped on and off of a belt not all do, so I made something that solves the issue. 

A sheet of 3mm thick kydex was easy enough to cut to shape and after a bit of heating in the oven was pliable enough to fold into the shape below. One 'roll' to the left now houses my firesteel with it's home made laburnam wood handle, the whole thing then wraps around a belt and is secured at the bottom with a carabiner. It will fix securely to a belt without the carabiner but it's that that allows me to then hang my knife from it. The knife can then be easily removed and stowed in a rucksac and re-attached whenever necessary. The clip it'sef can be left on the belt once the knife is removed without causing offence or alarm to anybody or equally it can be removed as well without the need to take your belt off.  

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