Driven by by the dual forces of my Dad being able to turn his hand to any sort of manual skill, and my paranoia about the world being thumped back to the dark ages, I’m very interested in how to survive in primitive contexts. Seems I’m not the only one to have
wasted invested hours thinking about what would be the useful skills to have at your finger tips if you were time jumped back to 1,000AD. Jason Kottke, with Survival tips for the Middle Ages, picked up from Marginal Revolution’s Time travel back to 1000 A.D.: Survival tips.
First, a quick snapshot of 1000 AD. China and the Muslim worlds look like they’ve got it going on. England is waiting for William the Conquerer, the Pope is on the throne in Europe, and the rest of the place looks like the set of Jabberwocky. Actually, for the most part, commentary on the Kottke/Marginal Revolution sites bear startling resemblance to Jabberwocky, perhaps the film was a documentary.
I think survival skills are a topic worthy of consideration – I believe it is very possible we might well be headed there given our ongoing addiction to oil. The original question was – ‘How would you survive if suddenly transported back to 1000 AD? Leave your suggestions for survival in the comments.’ I intend to refine the question somewhat to include what skill sets would you be able to bring to today if you were suddenly transported to an economy that money was of extremely limited value?
I have lived in places where money was of very limited value. Most island communities are like this even today – money only has value if there is somewhere to spend it, borrow it, lend it. The old adage that it’s made round to go round is absolutely core to its value. In a barter based economy, skill sets and personal social contracts are the order of the day.
So, what would I bring to the table? Some of this stuff I did years ago, so my skills are a bit rusty, but I could pick them up again fairly quickly. If I could bring a few things with me, a good knife, a ball of nylon cord, and some vegetable and kefir seeds would be the items I’d start with. It’s a bit like building a CV for the dark ages.
- Rotational cropping with nitrogen fixing plants (clover), coupled with composting and earthworm husbandry.
- Plant propagation skills which include harvest, storage, preservation, and seed storage.
- Bee-keeping, honey processing.
- Hide preparation, preservation, and tanning for leather
- Clay processing, building, wood firing, and salt glazing pottery
- Brewing alcohol, including distilling spirits that can be safely consumed
- Growing sour dough yeasts and making bread
And I’d probably be a dab hand at catching fish, and not too bad at aquaculture, given the right temperatures and species. I can read and write, albeit not in latin, and my maths is sort of ok-ish, so I think my best bet in Europe would be to head for a monastery if I wanted to preserve the ‘good life’. I can draw out labyrinths, so perhaps I’d find a gap somewhere in some monastic order. I think realistically, I’d do better heading towards the warmer climes, and finding a nice fishing village looking for someone who can take raw agricultural, horticultural, and aquacultural materials and create some added value. The trick in barter cultures is to be able to add value – everyone can catch a fish or raid a nest – the creator of a good gin is a valuable person to have around.
But Europe? Europe? Honestly, why would anyone want to go to such verminous and pestilential place, filled with oppressive regimes and bizarre religious activities? And it was no better in 1000 AD. My venue of choice for a flashback to 1000 AD would be the Cook Islands. Frankly, my dark ages CV would be of limited value – reading and writing and to an extent, maths – irrelevant; the plant propagation/fish farming would be of value; I don’t know that there’s viable clay for pottery – if so, great; tanning would be pretty much limited to dog or perhaps shark hide, bread depends on grain/flour, I’m unsure about the presence of honey bees (doubt it somehow); alcohol might be an option. What I could bring to bear is art and craft skills, and once I’d refined my limited Maori into Cook Island Maori language, story telling could be a good thing along with helping out with hunting and fishing. At least it would be clean, warm, healthy, and ok, so it wouldn’t have achieved the levels of ‘civilisation’ of Europe, but really, who cares? The end result is a planet that has a severely compromised immune system and a diminished resale value. I’ll take fresh fish and tropical fruit, washed down with clean water, on a tropical island surrounded by friendly, smiling people any day. That’s what I call civilisation. You can keep the horrors of the cathedral/plague ridden/crusade driven insanity.
How would you survive if suddenly transported back to 1000 AD? Leave your suggestions for survival in the comments.