Five Thousand Years From Home
Chapter 1: Fucked and Dumped
Oh, Christ, I hurt. Breathing is agonizing and I don't even want to think about moving but I've got to piss. Oh, shit, that hurt. I can feel my knees and elbows grinding inside my skin. The feelings in my hips and shoulders make me wish for death. Oh, god, Oh, god. Kill me now.
It's the next morning. I was shivering in the morning dew. I hurt but it was bearable. I was somewhere deep inside a hardwood forest. I had no idea how the hell I got here.
The last thing I knew I was on my leased hunting area consisting of a forested pine reach in Minnesota. I'd been checking up on the salt blocks and baits for the fall deer season. Suddenly I was lying on my side wondering why the hell the entire vegetation profile changed and why the ground's suddenly damp. I was wearing my Carhartt barn coat and canvas pants for rough country work. I had a canteen on my hip, a GPS in my pocket and a big fucking wart-hog field knife on my belt for slashing scrub.
That night I stood in a glade and breathed in the air. It was like drinking cold spring water. The stars stood above me in their glory like I'd never seen before. There were rewards to this gig.
I'm Ishmael Jones. (Blame my parents, not me dammit.) I'm a re-enactor and practiacal history buff. I began by treating this as a little vacation as I acclimated. In other words I screwed around a couple of days until I figured out that something was really wrong. Nobody was around but me. There were NO jet contrails. My GPS was gibbering, unable to give me any data. I didn't know where I was but sitting around on my dumb ass wasn't going to get me anywhere. I headed towards some hills I saw to the south-west. (I figured out the natural directions from where the sun set.) I came upon a low series of limestone outcroppings. Hmm. Let's look for caves. I found a couple but they were occupied--and the residents were belligerent. Right indignant, they were. I found two fucking CAVE BEARS! now this put a whole new perspective on things. Shit. The only thing between fish bait and me was my brain. I had to come up with something to level the playing field. I decided to re-create the hedge-hog--a medieval war device designed to fuck up any attacker depending on raw offense such as a horse charge. With the benefit of a LOT of work I started a fire, then cut many 2 inch thick saplings, cut them to a point, burned their tips hard and bound them against a log using vines. I threw several burning faggots (vine bundled fistfuls of squaw wood) into the cave and ran as fast as I could behind my surprise, where I jumped up and down and screamed like a monkey on speed to attract the attention of the fucking bears. It worked! They came at me like god striking down Gomorrah and impaled themselves on the stakes. Two hours later I had a new home. I peeled the skins off their carcasses and carved out their tenderloins. I barbecued myself a truly satisfying meal. I saved some of the charcoal and charred leaves for the next fire I'd have to make, hopefully without a damned fire plow. (you scrape a stick against a flat board so fast and so many times that you make a coal, then go on from there. It's damned hard work.)
The next day I started in on scraping down the hides. they were HUGE. It took me over a week per hide. Between cleaning the crap and rotten game out of the cave that the bears had left as a welcome-to-the-neighborhod gift, drying bear meat over wooden frames as well as scraping down and tanning the hides I was pretty well burnt.
I moved the hedge-hog just outside the cave entrance to face out of the cave and kept a small fire burning just inside the entrance each night. I didn't know what was out there and really didn't want to know, up close and personal-like. The ancestors of bobcats were probably saber-toothed tigers. I realized that I was NOT at the top of the food chain and tried to take appropriate measures. The cave was pretty smoky with a fire burning inside but a little draft was present. If I hunkered down on the hides or lay down the air was breathable.
I salvaged the stomachs, bladders and intestines of the bears, rinsed and boiled them out. I used bear kidney fat to make them supple and hopefully keep them that way. Without them I had nothing to cook in. I couldn't make soup, stew or tea without them so I took the native american way out. I cut open the top of the stomach and perforated it around the opening, then hung it by a tripod. I cooked in it by dropping in rocks I'd heated in the fire. I carefully examined the area for streams and rivers. I wanted to find a clay deposit and flint nodules. (big honkin' chunks of chert that would fracture into sharp edges). It's real edgy to move around as a defenseles little human when the neighborhood sports cave bears, something like hyenas and whatever the hell was out there that wanted an easy meal. I found chert. I found clay. It took two weeks to carve a shovel out of dry wood. I dug a four foot deep pit kiln with a flat bottom, formed clay into cups, lamps, straws and bowls and placed them along the edges of the pit bottom, built a big fire in the center of the pit then fired the hell out of them and let them sit for a week with a lid of branches and dirt over the pit. I had black-glazed cups, lamps, straws and bowls How do you make stone-age straws? dip a reed in clay slip three or four times and let it thoroughly dry, then burn the reed out of it while firing. A lamp is a broad cup with a pulled-away lip used to support the wick. That ate up over a month. With more clay and dried grasses I made big flat bricks. After drying them in the sun I built a wall to cover the entrance to my cave with a passage-way that I could just squeeze through without turning sideways, about four feet tall. Behind the outer layer of bricks I stacked river rocks and bound them together with clay. The whole wall ended up about four feet thick. Building the whole thing out of brick would have been a waste of time and resources. Then I stacked dry firewood around the whole shebang, inside, outside and filled the passageway. After firing it that mess wasn't going anywhere without a lot of concerted effort. I felt a lot safer after that.
Next on my list of wants was thread and rope. I tried a lot of different vines and weeds until I hit on a tall ragweed-like plant. I cut them down by the hundreds with (thank god I carried) my knife and soaked them in a shallow pond until they mostly rotted, leaving the tough structural strands. I built a plains indian mat loom and began weaving fiber mats. Winter would come very soon and I needed insulation. All the time I could spare from hunting I spent weaving those damned mats.
I realized that I had to have baskets to keep food stores in. Many grass-like plants grew near the cave. Several proved tough enough to weave with and not splinter away to flinders. I taught myself how to weave baskets God, the first attempts were horrible travesties. Soon I had decent baskets. Some of my best proved 'almost' water-tight. I learned to split peeled green saplings the hard way and bind the edges of the baskets between the halved saplings. I used a digging stick to gather root vegetables. I gathered anything resembling nuts and grain. I knew that if I lived through the winter I'd have to gather seed crops and sow fields. I had to kick-start agriculture somehow. I remembered that the american indians used the three sisters; corn, beans and squash grown together to support each other, but I had to find analogs of all three to succeed. It was a wet, messy fall. When the ground was wet I used drawn-tight ropes between a small tree and a large one, then jumped on the rope to gradually pull the smaller one out of the ground. I was trying to clear a small field for planting the next year. Out came the bushes and trees, in went rows of the small tubers I'd found elsewhere. It got me some firewood for the winter as well. I gathered lots of 'wands' three feet long as thick as my finger. Tying them together in a long continuous mat gives you some insulation. A loop tied at one end propped up by a small tripod gives you an indian 'recliner'. Lay it flat and put a pole under each end and you'll have a sprung bed up off the cold rock of the cave floor. It still needs hides over it to keep you off the sticks but it's quite an improvement.
That winter I used the butt of my wart-hog as a hammer to chip out many decent flint blades and knives. These I fastened to long shafts with sinew and boiled hoof glue then fletched them with pieces of boiled skin that were later oiled. I shaped an alatl thrower fashioned of osage orange--the toughest goddamned wood I could find. I considered myself one dangerous damned son of a bitch for the times. Another winter occupation was felting. Did you know that felt was a stone-age invention? You cut or pull the hair off of the hides of the animals you killed for food. Collect them in a depression in the floor. Add a little water and 'muddle' the hairs together with a tough, smooth piece of wood. Once they cohere into a layer add a little hide glue and keep muddling until it's almost dry. Longer hair works best, obviously. The yurts of the russian plains were made of felt. I used the hides to make booties over felt to keep my feet warm. I also cut long strips of hide for cord Some I kept as rawhide, some tanned and oiled to stay supple after getting wet.
In my travels hunting for game I came upon a small village. They were the first people I'd seen since coming to this period. Their compound was near the shore of a broad river, their shelters made of woven reed shelters.
I came upon them from up-river. As they became aware of my they panicked, then clustered and came forward to confront me. I dipped my hands into the water and poured it over my head and face, then made the 'praying hands' before me. I bowed to them and they replied in kind. A little girl squealed and ran to me, much to the panic of her parents. I caught her up and hugged her to me, making her squirm and giggle. I hugged her to me and gently let her down. I guess that I done good as I was accepted into the tribe. I was two heads taller than the best of them.
I couldn't understand them and they couldn't understand me. I shrugged my shoulders sat down and got busy making things. I started out breaking a flint nodule into usable pieces and pressure flaking scrapers and knives. I talked to myself as I worked and soon had an audience. The kids showed up first, then the younger adults. Soon just about everyone stopped by once in a while to watch the strange white-skinned tall guy do strange things that seemed to work. I'd point to something and say what I thought it was. They replied 'no, dammit, that's xxxx'.
They had no fucking idea as to how to work with flint. I taught them how to make thread and rope. I taught them how to weave cloth and an easier way to make reed mats. That mat loom was a hit. I taught them by demonstration how to pressure-flake arrow heads as well as make and throw an Atl-Atl. In the process I somehow found myself the husband of two young women after trading flint scrapers and spearheads.
Oh, yes, I had my problems. One young buck tried to kill me for my wives. As he tried to stab me in the back I spun about and smacked him in the temple with a stone axe. Exit one dead hoodlum. Nobody said a word as I pissed on the face of his corpse. Some villagers ignored me and others were actively hostile; notably their old shaman. We came to blows one day when I caught him sniffing around my cave. I contemplated skinning out what was left of him but gave it a pass in the name of harmony with my wives. As far as everyone except his cronies were concerned he wandered off and dissappeared one day. I ended up adopting the old bastard's wives to keep them fed.
I gained enough fluency in the local language to get along. However, I didn't want to give up English. I gradually taught my wives English, or rather a pidgin version of it, and later my children.
I asked around from enough people to find where a salt sea was. We needed lots of salt to preserve meat and it was a hell of a trading resource. That spring I led a train of people that trusted me enough to follow my lead to the South. We found the Atlantic or Mediterranean. I'd guessed that I'd been left in the south of France, sometime back in pre-history. We used the sun to evaporate salt water in black basaltic stone pans to leave a skin of salt, then scraped and packed them away in animal bladders for future use. We harvested over two hundred pounds of salt before calling it quits.
I introduced the travois to haul loads. One person could haul the amount that four people could before with a fraction of the effort. I knew that I was someone's hero after that--every woman in the crew took their time to treat me like a king for a couple of weeks.
When I returned to the tribe I was treated as a medicine man. I had gone into the wild for months and came back successful in my quest--and alive. I taught several young men AND WOMEN how to pressure flake flint into knives, scrapers and arrow heads. We built a successful trading combine in short order.
Food was the driving animal. We needed food for the tribe. The Atl-Atl dramatically improved our hunting ability by extending the range of a hunter's throw. The leather vanes at the rear of the dart stabilized the thing in the air much better than a spear ever did. One elk could feed quite a few people for a couple of days.
Using the hedge-hog device we cleared out several caves near my initial homestead. The native predators had little or no defense against the field of spears. We had those cave bears cut down to handy pieces before you could say holy shit! The new chert scrapers were a hit working on the huge, tough bear hides. Soon we had over forty people under our mantle. Food again became a problem. Since the river was within a half-day's walk we made permanent fish traps/weirs in the river with rocks and stakes. That helped quite a bit.
I recalled that fish nets were made by the most primitive people. I figured out how they worked. Weaving fish nets was almost mindless. We spun thread to make cloth, to make nets and to make traps. We spun the thread and wove it into cloth. I have to repeat this-- we made cloth.
We built a smoke-house. It's a bitch cutting down trees with stone-age tools. We burned the damned things down! A controlled fire at the base of each tree would eventually take it down. It just demands patience to keep the fire to coals and not burn the bastard to flinders. We were then able to smoke and dry fish and game for the winter. Once they saw the volume of preserved meat and fish that came out of that thing compared to using drying racks they all got busy making baskets. Again, we made many, many goddamned baskets to hold the preserved meats. I won the local popularity contest again. We didn't limit ourselves to one smoke-house, either.
It took a couple of years to get enough seed together of a grass something like wheat to plant a respectable field. Each year I'd carefully winnow the heads and save the kernels for the next year.
I found cattails! With them we had a virtually unending supply of tubers (Okay, they're rhizomes.) to eat and (once we started saving the tallow from our kills to soak them) a virtually unending supply of torches. The fluff from mature cattail heads was called kapok in the 1940s and was used to stuff life preservers. I figured that it would make a great insulation material between layers of cloth. The reeds made great mats once woven together, as well. They didn't last long but they kept the mud under control in wet weather and several stacked together make sleeping a much nicer affair. The pollen makes a piss-poor flour but it will thicken a stew.
I adored my wives. We numbered seven all together--it made me a respected man to support so many. We slept in a big puppy-pile and were happier than we had any right to be under the circumstances.
Forty people make a lot of shit. It took a lot of convincing but finally everyone agreed that pissing and crapping in one place made life in the village a lot nicer.
We developed a paste-like soap out of wood ash and rendered animal fat. I kept busy making pottery--cups, plates, bowls and lamps. A simple lamp is nothing more than a dish with a pulled-out lip to support a wick. Fill it full of rendered animal fat, soak a wick in the fat while it's hot then light it. You've got a lamp that the Egyptians would be proud of. As a matter of fact many early American settlers used them as well. It developed into the Betty lamp.
Rendering animal fat is done by simmering chunks of raw lard in water and skimming the oils off the top. Simple, yes? Intuitive, no!
They thought I was fucking nuts when I started building our first beehive oven. It's made by first building a solid plinth--a footing that stands waist high. Then you pile up a bunch of firewood that represents the size of the interior of the oven you want to build. You fill in all the chinks you can with little wood, then cover the whole thing with cloth (!) to make a smooth surface. Next you start covering the thing with heavy clay, leaving a tunnel open at the front and a couple one-inch sticks standing up in the back. These make draft holes. Smooth out all the exterior. Build a little shed around it to protect it from the weather (rain) and let it dry for a month or two. Get it as dry as you can or the next step will make it go off like a grenade from trapped water. You need a hollowed-out piece of wood or a hollow reed for this. Shovel some hot coals into the opening and blow on them until the wood inside catches fire. Keep blowing air into it until the whole thing is glowing red. Let it burn out. When it's cool clean it out. Carve out a door for the front and there you go--you've got a communal oven that you fire once in the morning to last all day! The back-top vents really make the firing hot and fast. You plug them with wooden plugs once the fire is burned out to aid in keeping the oven hot or to control the fire when warming it up.
Pecking stone takes damned near forever but it's the only way I had to make stone change shape. I think that I made the world's first metate to grind grain and baked some flatbread. The salt helped. We had tortillas. They caught on as a new way to eat stews and such.
Our fields grew to exceed what one person could harvest and store. I/We instituted the concept of division of labor. Granted, the idea that one person could flake arrowheads and knives for all the others in the tribe gave the principal some legitimacy. A man weaving nets and fishing for the tribe reinforced the idea. Now separating people into different job classes was forced down their throats. We had a half dozen people that did nothing but care for the crops. I managed to broaden their harvest with some herbs and a dinky little progenitor of the tomato plant, as well as native onions and garlic. We had soft beds, clean living spaces, soap to clean our bodies and a varied diet to keep us healthy. I was happy as a pig in shit. When we found willow I showed the healers how to collect and administer something like asprin. Using trees, bushes and moss I lectured on smaller growing things--germs and bacteria. I gave the sanitation model a head start. Once we started seeing a difference in the number of babies and children that survived it took off. The scientific method got introduced and religion slowly got relegated to succoring the weak and dying.
I introduced the dragon kiln which was much more efficient than the pit kiln. You (hopefully have someone else) dig a narrow, deep (about 2 feet) trench up the side of a hill all the way to the top. That's your chimney. You lay firewood in that trench and fire it off to drive off the moisture in the ground. Next you build a long, low stone, brick and clay hut built like a tunnel up the side of that hill, smack dab over the trench, about three feet wide and just tall enough to crawl in. Fill the trench with dry firewood again. Cap off the trench with dried bricks then pack the tunnel with greenware (dried clay goods, unfired). Cap both ends of that tunnel with anything not burnable. Now fire off that wood-filled chimney and go away for a couple weeks. When it's cool enough to work with take out the pottery, remove the bricks topping the chimney, clear out the ashes and start over. This technique doesn't give you smoke-blackened pottery and allows you to develop designs to decorate your work. The trouble with this method is that a lot of the pottery has to be fired twice as the edges and ends of the kiln often don't get hot enough to glaze the clay. If you use a pit kiln to make charcoal then pack the dragon kiln with that you get a better yield. I figured that a bellows would help heat the thing up but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to make one with my current materials.
I'd been here over ten years by my reckoning. We were bringing along healers, warriors and leaders. We had brought the culture along to pre-Sumerian levels. All we lacked was a written language and accounting. This was one of the big ones--from there we would start building city-states and a monolithic culture. How the hell did I want to proceed? I rather liked the druid model rather than the water-culture daddy/god-knows-best model that ancient Egypt adopted. I guided matters to a Luna-oriented female ruled culture that focused on nurturing the land as the native Celts did. The greeks had mystery cults for women and medicine men/women. The native americans had fighting societies to give the men focus as well as dignity, keeping each tribe safe from two or four legged predators. I promoted a land-based as well as an ocean-based trading culture to disseminate ideas and distribute information. I demonstrated how to make paper. I started making notes on ideas and inventions on our paper with oak gall ink. It can last over a thousand years if protected in a capped jar.
I asked all the roving traders to keep an eye out for copper and iron. I described the heavy brown or green stones and what native copper nodules looked like as well as the dusty or muddy red ore Iron was found in. Bog iron was found damned near everywhere in the middle ages. We just had to keep an educated eye out for it.
We had a small herd of somewhat-domesticated goats. I began trying to domesticate pigs and cattle. They were huge and wild, yet would come to feed close to a human if enough patience was shown. Dogs the same way. I had no fucking idea how to proceed with chickens, much less sheep or horses. Future generations would discover the principles necessary to domesticate them. I considered myself lucky to benefit from what I had without borrowing trouble.
I think that I gave the future a bit of a twist--I rescued and raised several families of raccoon kits. I had six generations going for a while. Their little black paws and their chittering calls kept me company for many years. They were smarter than dogs and friendlier than cats. Their curiosity was a delight and their faithfulness was heart-warming. The kids took to them like gangbusters. The little suckers had teeth, though. You didn't want to pull any tails.
My poor wart-hog knife finally breathed its last. The blade had been sharpened so many times that it finally separated near the hilt. I had a hammer and a spear head. The pieces were still better than anything else the world had at the time.
We were trading for copper regularly and found calamine far to the North and East (Later, Germany/Belgium). We had leather and could split wood into flat slabs. I made a double-chamber bellows as big as me. Do you know how to fasten leather to wood without nails or tacks? You bind another strip of wood along the edge with the leather between the layers, carefully bore little holes and use thorns for tree-nails. What a pain in the ass! Generous use of hide glue kept the whole thing from turning into a nightmare. We found enough bog iron to make hammers (sledges, really) and painfully, carefully formed iron ladles that fit over a clay blast oven which we powered by the bellows. Mixing calamine and copper gave us brass. We poured liquid brass into clay molds formed on the ground. Soon we had axes, knives and other tools. I fashioned a pair of tongs out of brass and used a hammered-flat thick piece of bog iron as an anvil. Our casting got good enough to make brass fire pistons. I always carried a couple. My primitive iron work was damned dismal at first.
I was slowing down. I was over fifty years old, dammit. I was allowed. I was probably the oldest man in the world. I had so much yet to give, though I couldn't stop. I was worried about conflict i.e. warfare. I pieced together a medieval device called a mule or onager--it's the smallest of the siege weapons and can be used to throw spears as well as rocks. It uses a windlass to wind a haulk of rope very tight to drive the center bar against a padded stop. Spears may be loaded into the padded stop and fired in a group.
I described the importance of and the making of coke, charcoal and steel. I made a crossbow with brass arms. I showed the men the benefits of fighting in lock-step with 10-foot spears, leather shields and a falchion compared to every man simply running into battle to whack the nearest guy with whatever came to hand. I described encirclement and the horns of the bull maneuver that the Zulu specialized in. They finally understood why fighting on a controlled front rather than in all directions in a general melee allowed someone in charge to watch the fight and call in reserves to help where breakthroughs occured. We polished mirrors and made whistles to communicate over distances.
I demonstrated using wedges to shift weights, the idea of a fulcrum and how a block and tackle worked. I made the world's first wheel barrow and wheeled cart. I described stonecutting using steel chisels and water-soaked wedges pounded into the holes with a maul, then wait for them to freeze to break the stone along a line.
I documented cheese-making and how to preserve meat in sausage skins then how to preserve the sausages in containers of rendered lard. I showed the women close to our family how to use several plants as spices to vary meals and make them more savory. I described two forms of concrete and how, with cut stone and concrete, you could keep almost anyone at bay. I described the processes involved in road building and ship-lap construction, and the benefits gained by such devices. I drew out the three or four sail and line configurations I remembered and stressed the importance of a keel, be it centerboard or side-swingboard, and showed with a little model how a sailboat could tack into the wind. I made a compass and showed them what it did, and tried to tell them why.
I finally ran out of words. I didn't know what to tell them. I was certain that they were glad that the garrolous old fart finally shut up. They'd gotten out of the habit of listening to me. They couldn't concieve of a use for what I was saying.
I spent my time making fine goods out of brass and iron to increase my personal stash--needles, cold chisels, wood chisels, scissors, combs, thimbles, pins and such. I made several sets of pulleys for block and tackle and poured six wheels about a foot in diameter for some projects I had in mind. I had given them the written word in English, even though it was a pidgin. I gave them numbers and the beginnings of mathematics. I gave them the beginning of the table of the elements. I didn't go into gunpowder, electricity or explosives. I tried to steer them away from virtual value and the banking industry.
I saw my great grandchildren. I taught my children and grandchildren. I had outlived my wives. I had outlived my friends. I had outlived my usefulness to the village. I packed baskets of salt, spices and smoked meat, a big pitch-lined canteen of water, a brass bucket with a bail, a couple cattail mats, an oiled tent-cloth, a big honkin' lot of flint spearheads, a miscellany of brass and iron trade goods as well as my personal weapons and medical tools on a travois with a wheel on the back and headed East along the Med shorline. Maybe I could see Naples and die. If I lived that long I could always fuck with the Assyrians. The eastern coast of the Med was poplulated long before I came on the scene. Hell, a little sulfur, fine charcoal and a little bat shit and poof! instant magician. The idea of doing a merlin gig was insidious.
I decided to harvest good-looking lumber as I made my way to the shore of the Med then knock together a little sailing ketch or a little bireme for stability. Whoever stuck me back in time must have screwed with my biology--I wasn't really slowing down even though I looked like father time.
Slowly I made my way east following the seashore. I had tens of pounds of bronze and iron trade goods as well as enough flint-headed atl-atl flights to make me welcome almost anywhere.
Whenever I spotted a small tree branch that looked like it would make a good rib for my dory I hacked it off and added it to my load. I used one good one as a model for the rest. I wasn't about to try tongue and groove work but I thought ship-lap was well within my level of competence. I had made and was carrying twenty iron spade bits and had a tee-handle brace to drive them. I figured that I could use tree-nails to keep the thing together and use a side board and an outrigger to keep me sunny-side up.
Riving the boards would be tricky as well as constructing the frame.
I'm not a sailor. I never have been but I know most of the principles. I wanted to design and build a pivoting side-board keel and a rudder that I could pull up so that I could beach the thing. Fourteen to sixteen feet long would tax my resources but that's the smallest I wanted to go on the Med. It would also give me enough cubic to haul supplies. Deep water (pelagic) scared the hell out of me with the resources I had. I wanted to stay within sight of shore to sail yet far enough out not to be troubled by shoreline effects or reefs.
I still had to find a mast and boom, figure out how to weave and reinforce a sail as well as pour travelling rings to raise and lower the sail. Then there was the question of the lines--would my home-grown ropes be strong enough? I really hadn't thought this out. This wasn't a one-man project with stone-age supplies. This would have to be a team project. I'd just have to keep plodding along until I came across people that I could influence enough to either take up shipbuilding or were already in the business. Sigh. I fell asleep wondering how I was going to cope with all the shit that I needed to do to survive.