March 2013

In the last couple of weeks, some of the things we’ve learned are: blacksmithing, how to make cheese,and flint knapping, I actually enjoyed blacksmithing, with fire and sticks of iron as raw material. I actually expected the forging to take place within a small hovel or stone igloo of sorts, which is usually how t.v has depicted it fro what I’ve seen. It was interesting to know people added their own details by adding twists and/or engrave, especially the the loop at the end of something like a spoon or fork, which they would use to   tie something through it and have hang from their neck or somewhere it wouldn’t get lost. Flint knapping was probably a little more dangerous than forging because of the specks or chunks of rock that broke off as people created their tools for hunting or cutting. I actually tried to create an arrowhead but it’s so difficult to get the details just right, like the curved bottom and the narrowing tip and having the sides narrow and sharp because I didn’t know how and where to hit it to do so. It was fairly simple and easy to create tool by scraping one stone into the other if you didn’t mind creating a rugged tool, but something more defined was difficult. The more recent activity was brewing, which I didn’t think was simple, but actually it was, so long as you knew what to do. There things like hops, grain, water, malt, and keeping everything clean and untainted. Interesting fact, I did not realize that beer was all about the sugars and that the carbonation came from cooling it down and keeping it cool. The best part about it all is that most of the activities could be done at  home (with the exception of blacksmithing) and people could “gather” the materials (buying grain, milk, or go looking for two stones to flint) and make things out of scratch. Only difference between now and a couple of years ago, people don’t have to make or grow the “scratch” materials so it is a such quicker process than before.


-Jerardo Perez

Over the past five weeks, we have covered a wide array of survival techniques.  Overall, I found that creating different types of foods from simple ingredients to be the most astounding.  It is amazing to think how today, we just go to the grocery store and are able to choose from thirty different cheeses while back in the olden times, it would take a huge amount of effort, skill, and labor to produced one lump of mozzarella (which would only cost us about $2 today).  It makes me wonder how they even discovered the recipe to make milk into cheese, a completely different food product.

Another amazing human survival technique that we have learned about is blacksmithing.  The amount of equipment necessary to create such simple, small tools such as spoons and forks is ridiculous!  The process is so tedious and tasking.  It makes me so thankful to be able to have at least 20 different forks available at my home without ever having to use a fire and steel to manufacture them myself.

Every single class makes me so appreciative of the people who came before me that were able to develop the technology available today to make life so much easier.  Now, human civilization doesn’t need to spend days on end creating menial tools use everyday; we have the privilege of using our time to do something more profound with our lives. If the technology was never developed to make simple tasks such as preparing food or making metal pieces more readily available, the world we live in today would still be undeveloped and primitive.


-Elizabeth Lee

The theme over the past four weeks was food preparation. What the four classes culminated to was a meal consisting of bread, cheese, squash and goat meat. Other than using a stovetop to expedite the cooking process, each food item was prepared without modern technology to mirror the process that civilizations before us practiced every day. We hand pulled cheese and formed it into mozzarella balls; crushed grain with heavy stones for bread; and prepared cuts of meat and squash using shards of obsidian.

The most striking aspect of the whole process was the investment of time it took to prepare a single food item. Nearly every item took at least an hour in a half. Given that it was many of our first times preparing food from scratch, we expectedly took longer than it would’ve taken older civilizations. Yet, we didn’t have to collect our ingredients for the meal. We didn’t have to raise cattle for milk and goats for meat or grow grains and squash. The meal process begins months in advance before the meal itself is actually served. The amount of calories spent to attain a meal is infinitely larger than the ones it takes for us to walk to a refrigerator or dining hall. As I was eating after class one day, it struck me that something as simple as a sandwich would be very difficult to make in the past. I gained a greater appreciation for the bread, cheese, meat and vegetables that made up my sandwich. Countless hours were put into the ingredients of a sandwich that took me minutes to prepare and eat.    

I gained an even greater appreciation for my food when I learned how easily it could disappear. A competition was set up between both groups to see who could prepare more food in the class period. Looting food from the other groups was allowed to replicate the realities of food scarcity in the past. What resulted was a frenzy amongst friends, but in a real world situation full out war would have ensued over the theft of limited food supply. We’ve become so accustomed to a modern livelihood that we often forget the difficulties that have now become taken for granted.  

-Braulio Fernandez 

As should be apparent from the multitude of recent blog posts, our freshman seminar course FSEM 180 Human Survival: Learning from the Past is going strong for the second semester in a row. We’ve been lucky enough to learn from local experts in ancient fabric arts (spinning, dyeing, and weaving). We’re grateful to Theresa, Ercil, Debbie, and Bjo for these informative and interesting lessons!

Griffin Dyeworks & Fabric Arts has published a blog post about these lessons. You can check it out here:

Keep checking back for updates from the students. It’s been an exciting semester so far, and we haven’t even gotten to mudbricks, oil lamps, and rock art yet!

In the last few weeks of class we continued our exploration of how life was in the early days of mankind.  One such exploration involved learning to work with pottery by hand. This task revealed to us the dexterity of the women of the past who could craft perfect jars with just their hands and some of the right kind of mud. Personally I would not have been a very successful potter I would probably have to stick to a different job around the village because even creating something as simple as a tray did not come easy for my apparently inept hands. Another class centered around making our own bread and then cooking the bread. This proved fairly straight forward until we reached the point of actually cooking the bread. Cooking the bread evenly throughout was more difficult than it initially appeared. Several of the first attempts my group had at cooking the bread led to either uncooked pieces or bread that was a little too toasty on one side and perfect on the opposite side. One of the more dangerous classes was flint knapping. Flint knapping is in caveman speech hitting glass or obsidian with a different kind of rock until the glass or obsidian is sharp. The danger in the activity stemmed from the fact that the glass we used could easily cut through skin if an individual was even slightly careless for one chip of the rock. However, it was very interesting to see how much work it used to take to just get a suitable knife back before there were grocery stores to go pick up a knife at. All of the activities we take for granted in a given day used to take people a significant amount of time to do by themselves. If we lived in ancient days of humanity, we would not be able to survive a day without creating something, whether it be making a spear to hunt, a pot to store something, or bread to eat. Nowadays the only thing people create in a day is dinner and some do not even create that much.

Eddie Krukowski

Throughout weeks 5-9, we have not only made pottery and tools from clay and flint knapping, but we have also learned how to make food from scratch, such as bread and cheese. While I have taken a pottery class before, we used more artificial clay then what we used in this class. I think the job of making pots and other materials out of clay would have been a fun one back then. It is not a very tedious process, but rather more artistic since people used to paint on intricate designs and symbols that represented their cultures. Personally I would have hated to make tools from flint knapping, since it is a somewhat dangerous process. I got several cuts on my hands from the small shards of glass that broke off. This process is also unpredictable; it is almost impossible to get each tool the exact way you want it since you do not have that much control over which flakes fall off and from where. On the contrary, I did enjoy making bread and cheese since it was straightforward in that if you follow the directions, you should achieve your desired results. I’m sure back then if one were to gather every ingredient it would take much longer, but since our materials were readily available to us, it basically felt like cooking. The highlight was when we got to taste our finished products at the end; our bread and cheese turned out great! Last but not least, my favorite activity was the day we had to prepare food: grind grain, cut up squash, and skin meat off of the bone. I mostly worked in the grain department, since I’m not really a meat person and I wasn’t too keen on touching the bloody meat with my bare hands (so I made the boys do that). Little did I know, grinding grain was an extremely aggravating process. First of all, it took such a long time for me to figure out how to smash up the grains before I could begin rolling them with a rock. Additionally, I had difficulty containing the grain in one spot; every time I hit it, it would go all over the place. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this activity since it brought on the element of competition and mimicked what real life scenarios would have been like back then. 


Rachel Latterich

What I was most interested in for the past couple of weeks was flintknapping. Honestly, performing it was not so much fun- I still have little cuts from it! But it just reminded me of how no matter how technologically unimpressive things may seem, such as a knife, we are still so incredibly advanced compared out or ancestors. I would have thought that knifes existed, or that they made some sort of tool for cutting, but really would have never thought that they cut most things with glass! Cutting that carcass with the piece of glass was very interesting and I remember Meagan asking me “On a scale of 1 to caveman, how caveman do you feel right now?” Because that is exactly how I felt! Because we think knives are something so standard nowadays when really in the past it was not. So when we are put in a situation like that, we really feel like caveman!

Something else that sparked thought to me was when we did the “squash, grain, and meat challenge” with the two “tribes.” What I believed was the most interesting thing about this exercise was not the task themselves, but the competitiveness. If we are going back to times where there was no such thing as violence, I thought, so was this desire to steal other things for your won good the root of our modern day violence? This could be far-fetched, but we saw how competitive we got over chocolate… Imagine how competitive they could get when their life is in risk!


Gabriel Rocha

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