BRDC recently hosted a Primitive Technology course as part of Galax Middle School Enrichment Week. The students were engaged with a variety of hands-on activities that connected them to skills used by early American Indians and materials found in their backyards.
They learned flint-knapping with chert and obsidian; basketmaking with willow branches and oriental bittersweet, survival shelter building; making cordage with dog bane, milkweed and deer sinew; making glue from white pine resin, charcoal and dried grass; tanning with an elk hide; lashing with inner bark; hafting a spear; and building a fire with flint and steel.
The students enjoyed Flint-knapping the most, where they attempted to shape blanks of chert into arrowheads. Using deer antler, sandstone and leather, they chipped each piece down to size.
In groups they built survivor shelters including a lean-to, a wiki-up and a wedge-shaped lean-to. During the construction two of the groups got creative with the invasive oriental bittersweet, one building a swing and the other a hammock from the vines.
In a semi-circle the kids patiently processed Dog Bane (Also called Indian Hemp). They conducted a "silly rap off" while their hands went to work. They started by quartering the stem, removing the core and cleaning off the outer bark to reveal the strong fibers. They then hand twisted the fine strands into cordage to be used for basketmaking.
At the end of the week they learned fire building, collecting dry grass, tinder, kindling and pitch wood. After building a tiny "nest" of grass they placed a small piece of pocket lint in the middle and lit it with sparks from the flint and steel striker.
By the end of the course they had learned about the physical qualities of basic materials and how to go from found, raw materials to finished product.