Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"Primitive Technology" book by Errett Callahan


“Primitive Technology: Practical Guidelines for Making Stone Tools, Pottery, Basketry, etc., the Aboriginal Way,” by Errett Callahan, PhD.

Errett Callahan has been around a long time, teaching how people produced their everyday goods in the past, using the technologies then available.  He is perhaps best known for his works on flint-knapping, the art of taking various rocks and fracturing them to make arrowheads or spear points.  Besides over 30 years of teaching many of the teachers today, he’s authored “A Manual for Flintknappers and Lithic Analysts,” wherein he describes and defines the stages of the process to make proper stone points.

His “Primitive Technology” book is backed up by his 40 years of personal experience.  According to his count, he’s made at least 8000 stone tools, 200 earthenware pots (as well as cooking in them), and at least 50 aboriginal dwellings.  Additionally, he’s lost count of the bows, arrows, baskets, fire-gear, and other items. His books is based on what works.

“Primitive Technology” consists of mostly line drawings, summarizing flint-knapping, projectiles, bows, pottery, baskets, mats, fire, and shelter.  According to Callahan, the pages of this 8 ½ x 11 book were originally charts used in the teaching process, so they are reduced from a larger size. 

Callahan was a founding member of the Society of Primitive Technology, now somewhat in hiatus, and though retired, apparently still does some teaching in his Virginia workshop.

“Primitive Technology” is available for $17  (price includes postage), to School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.  You can also get your copy by sending the payment to Paypal, using the e-mail

Friday, November 23, 2018

Is Having a "post Disaster" Survival Group a Viable Idea


Is having a “survival group” a good idea?
[For on-going classes by Christopher Nyerges and the School of Self-Reliance, see Schedule at]

We were finishing a day-long field trip of practicing outdoor survival and self-reliance skills, and the remainder of our small group was now sitting around the table talking.  The subject moved to emergency action plans, and what contingencies any of us had in the aftermath of a major disaster. 

“How would any of us ever get together after a major disaster?” one woman asked me.  She was well-aware that our small group comprised a broad spectrum of skills, people who worked to be  ethical, socially-conscious, and doers, not just talkers.  I could tell she was wondering about how our group might actually come together in such a scenario.

“We probably would have no way to get together,” I offered.  “Of course, there is no predicting the future, but if we couldn’t use a car, and couldn’t get gas, and there was chaos on the streets, in the first few weeks, we’d almost certainly have to stay put wherever we’re living.”  My response pre-supposed a serious disaster where all social services would be disrupted.

I’ve long recommended that people get to know their neighbors, because they are your “family” in the aftermath of a major disaster, like it or not. Think global, as the saying goes, but act local.  Enroll in local CERT training, and be active in Neighborhood Watch.

The woman then asked me, sort of a question and comment combined, “Well, don’t you have a tight survival group of people who would all come together in an emergency?”  She really wanted to know.  I knew she was thinking of how she might organize such a group where she lived, and I knew that she believed I have organized, or been a part of, such a “group.”

I live in the northern section of Los Angeles County, near the mountains.  In our class that day, the woman had driven about a hundred miles, from San Bernardino County from the east.  Three had come over a hundred miles, from the high desert. One other person was local, and the rest lived between 30 and 45 minutes by car from me.  We were all spread out.  There was no way that this diverse group would ever come together in the sort of disaster (and end of the functioning of normal society) that she was envisioning.

“Don’t you have a survival group?” she again implored.

I began by sharing stories in novels I’d read, about a group of highly-trained people who came together after an end-of-the-world scenario, and how they worked together to form a new society. For example, such a group is depicted in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”

“But here’s the reality,” I told her.  I explained that I have worked with many “groups” over the years, often with the focus of working together to survive a disaster.

“Your best bet is to work with your own family to make each person strong, healthy, and self-reliant,” I told her, “and to work with your local community to improve things.”’

How, for example, would a far-flung diverse group of people communicate with each other?  If they were ham operators, it might be possible, but there would still be the problem of traveling a long distance under unsettled conditions.

I could see that this was not what the woman wanted to hear, so I shared more with her and the rest of our small group.

In the planning sessions of which I’ve been a part, there are always “great ideas” from everyone, and countless scenarios are discussed about what might occur.  However, in the real life, things never go that way.  Any “group” might have one natural leader, even though there is an appointed or elected leader.  That’s a problem. There are also lots of lazy people, people who want to be a part of something but who are more talk than walk.  Lazy and idealistic people have spelled the doom of many an alternative community.

I shared the experiences of a friend of mine who was part of an intentional eco-living community of under 20 people. It was all run very democratically and members would vote for “great ideas” but my friend found that the work required to do certain things was not being done.  The group voted for having a dog, and chicken, and rabbits, all of which require daily regular care, and then some.  My friend learned that  “the group” never does anything – only individuals do work.  My friend found that he was the one cleaning up after the dog, emptying the compost, taking care of the chickens, and eventually he left because he got tired of doing everyone else’s work in the supposedly idealistic ecological community.

Then there is the reverse situation, such as occurred in the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia, where everyone was forced to be “equal.”  There was no incentive to do better and do more, because you’d be knocked down, and be “re-educated” to alter your capitalistic and imperialistic thinking.  And then there was Mao, who – perhaps with “good intentions” – wanted to take the wealth of the country out of the hands of a few and give it back to the people by “nationalizing” companies.  Isn’t that that goal of the various idealistic communes and communities – making everyone equal?  Well, it doesn’t usually work, and the result of Mao’s “good intentions” cost the lives of 100 million people, more or less.

Getting back to the woman’s question about the practical aspects of a small tight group getting together after a disaster, what else can go wrong with the “group” that plans to get together?  For one thing, the ability to spring into action after an emergency requires the maintenance of physical fitness, and requires at least some level of economic autonomy, and knowing how to live one’s life so that you are, in fact, able to rise to the occasion of a severe emergency.  The concept of such a survival group is not a passive concept.  In order to be viable, it must be alive, dynamic, and involve regular training of some sort.

So, as a practical matter that I have observed in smaller groups, there is the fact that people like to pick-off the leader, and endlessly criticize.  I have watched countless “leaders” whose job ended up being fending off and defending the countless criticisms  Then the members of the presumed “survival group” form groups and clash among themselves, akin to “The Lord of the Flies.”  Then some get girlfriends or boyfriends, and they go off into their own world, fending for themselves in the society at large, just trying to seek whatever goal it is that anyone seeks in life.

These are just a few of the reasons why “groups” don’t stay together, and it’s especially pertinent with a group that is expecting an end-of-the-world event in a way that may never actually happen. 

The constant challenges that everyone faces in life requires a never-ending series of choices and changes.  Our lives never remain static, and the things that happen in society can always leave us guessing.  The idea that we should spend a major, or a large, portion of our time and resources on how we’re going to “start over” in the event of a world-changing cataclysm is some thing that should be put into perspective. 

We can’t predict the future, but learning new self-reliance skills will always serve you well, and those of your friends and associates who are of like-mind.  But assuming you survive an event like a comet hitting the earth, or a major tidal wave, there’s no way that you can depend on any “group” that you might have developed.  Don’t get me wrong—organizing and working with such a group, whether a private family group, or a more public group such as CERT training – is a great idea.  But just remember that life is a very dynamic thing, and as long as you’re willing to continually learn, and adapt to changing situations, you’re likely to do well regardless who you happen to be stuck with.    

Monday, November 12, 2018

Commentary on the "Caravan"


Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and other books.  He leads survival skills and ethnobotany field trips. He can be reached at]

In October of  2018, news reports tell us that a large group of people from Guatemala are fleeing from their country worried about the violence that may befall them if they stay there. They have moved north and passed through the border of Mexico, their large numbers overwhelming the border authorities between Guatemala and Mexico.  They have reached Mexico City and are moving north.  Their purpose is to flee the violence of their homeland.  They are attempting to mostly walk a few thousand miles to get to what is perceived to be the Promised Land of the United States. 

Now, just think about this for a minute.  Think of what it really takes for you to walk a mile to the local grocery store, buy a few things, and walk back home.  If your grocery store was more than 5 miles away, your shopping trip would be nearly an all-day event for most of you.  Why?  No one walks anymore.  Though bicycling has been slowly increasing in the urban areas, even bicycling is not commonly used for everyday transportation.  Urban Americans drive! 

The ability to walk from place to place as a normal part of daily life has long become a lost skill, along with cooking one’s own meals.  Just like most people don’t cook from scratch anymore, nearly no one walks.  So from the American urban point of view, it’s simply unbelievable that a large group of people – which though mostly men, does include women, children, and elderly – is attempting to walk several thousands of miles.  Consider if you had the prospect of walking from Los Angeles to San Diego.  You’ve probably driven the two-plus hours drive to San Diego.  But walking?  What path would you take?  Could you carry enough water? Where would you go to the bathroom?  Would you be able to find a safe place to sleep at night? Would there be safety in numbers?  What if your feet start to hurt?  What if your shoes literally wear out?

There are several lessons that can be derived from this so-called caravan from the south. 

For one, the average American is completely clueless about the harsh conditions that beset so many people every hour of every day in so many countries.  If your money was worthless, and it was challenging to earn an income, and your life was constantly on the line due to changing political situations, you would live in fear and without hope for the future.  These are just the tip of the iceberg of reasons why mass numbers of people have chosen to pick up and move.  But let’s face it – the average American rushes from job to job to school to home, completely preoccupied with getting ahead and the various pleasures that make life seem worthwhile.

Students of Southwest history should take some practical lessons from the fact that people can and do walk hundreds, if not thousands, of miles when drought and political fighting have compelled them to move. 

Of the many “mysteries” of history, one is the movement, and fate, of the Anasazi who lived in the American Southwest, and built thousands of extant structures throughout the sprawling landscape of New Mexico and Arizona.  It was a society which travelled long distances on foot.  We know they built long straight roads, and we know that chocolate was found at Chaco canyon, evidence of a trade connection way to the south in Meso America. 

The Anasazi knew how to build from the local materials, and they mastered pottery, making fabrics with the loom, agriculture, and even canals to bring the water to the crops.  They were only peripatetic when they had to be, when situations compelled them to move.  Skeletal evidence suggests there were at least two distinct peoples living in the Anasazi landscape, and the various long-distance moving probably was a result of lack of water, as well as civil conflict of the population.  There was brutality in the end, as the last of the people apparently moved south again, back to Mexico, to Pacquime, and beyond.  The record is open to interpretation.   But people moved everywhere, on foot, with whole families, carrying what they could. When they settled again, they set to work employing their technologies to create the things that were once again needed.  Craig Childs does a masterful job of re-tracing the hundreds of miles of foot traffic of the Anasazi in his “House of Rain” book.

Others in history have travelled long distances on foot.  Of the many mysteries of the Americas includes what happened to the Maya? When the cities were emptied, many are unaccounted for in the skeletal record or other records of migration.  Look at a map.  They walked north, or sailed north.

What happened to Cahokia, the site of the second largest pyramid in North America, in Illionois?  Archaeologists believed that, for some reason, the city emptied and they all departed.  There are many bits of evidence to suggest this, detailed by Timothy Pauketat in his book, “Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi.” 

We know that people of the past walked, and eventually walked great distances.  With them, they could only carry the most basic essentials, living off the land as they walked, using their skills and knowledge to create a new life when they arrived somewhere better.  “Iceman” is evidence of this tradition – he was the traveler found in Northern Italy, having been buried in the ice for 5000 or so years.  His gear provided modern archaeologists with an insight into how people of the past made such distant treks.

There are many ways to interpret a large group of people coming into the country where you are living.  One interpretation is to view it as an “invasion,” and to respond with fear. Ancient Rome had a few such invasions that spelled the end of the Empire. 

 As of this writing, we have no idea how far the current “caravan” will get, since it would be hard for even the hardiest to live off the land of the desert to their north, not to mention the difficulty of a thousand-plus people doing so.  Still, if you live in a country where—despite its weakness and pitfalls – everyone in the world wants to get there, you should be thankful that you live in such a place.  Such a place as the U.S. is not perfect, but people want to come here because it has a somewhat stable economy, and their work can mean something and their money will not all be taken away.  It has  somewhat fair and ethical legal system, where the equal implementation of laws is not strictly about who you know.  In this place,  it’s still possible to create a business for yourself, and to provide a service that others want and need. 

Those who come to the Promised Land to just get something for free will be less satisfied and fulfilled than those who come with the burning desire to create a life that they simply could not do so in their homeland.  We don’t yet know who will be rebuffed, or welcomed. 

Nevertheless, we should view this as a page of living history.  Simultaneously, as the Thanksgiving season approaches, Americans should take the time to learn more about the uniquenesses of our system, so that we do not “lose it” through our ignorance and complacency.