5 of the most crucial skills for surviving the Stone Age

Channel 5 have taken reality TV quite literally back to basics. Their new show 10,000 BC (starting this Monday) sends 20 average Brits back to the Stone Age.

Participants in this palaeolithic Big Brother will get two days “survival training” from former US Marine and US Army Special Forces medic Klint Janulis. After that the group are left alone for two months to survive in the cold, wet Bulgarian wilderness. It’s hardly a spoiler to say not all of them stay the course…

To get a feel for what these intrepid (foolhardy?) contestants need to learn to survive, we caught up with Klint and his team to get their tips on the most essential skills palaeolithic human needed to survive.

1. Making cordage

“Cordage is king!” Or so Klint tells us.

But what is cordage? It’s basically rope – one of the most useful technologies humans ever devised. You can use cordage for everything from catching fish and making animal traps, to weaving baskets and footwear.

Apparently containers (for storing water and carrying stuff) are also “king”, but that sounds less catchy. And you can make them out of cordage anyway.

All sorts of natural things can be used to make cordage. Cedar bark is good, and willow can be really strong (good for trapping those big animals). Rawhide – that horrible rubbery skin you buy as dog chews – is also good.

First you need to prepare your materials. Scrapers were used to strip bark. “Retting” tree bark, by sitting it in water to ferment, strengthens the fibres. Willow can be strengthened by boiling it with a bit of ash.

Now it’s time to make some cordage! Here are the basic steps.

1. Take a handful of fibres and twist them until they coil into a tight eye in the middle. Pinch the eye so you’ve got two groups of threads.

2. Twist the “top” group of threads away from you until they’re tight.

3. Use your fingers to grab the other group of threads as well. Twist both towards you once to lock the threads in.

4. Repeat. A lot.

You can do this with any suitable material – for example plastic bags.

2. Starting a fire

Ah, fire – the quintessential caveman technology! Some modern humans struggle to get a fire going with matches, so imagine how hard it is with just the wood and stones around you.

One nifty technique Klint and his team taught us was using a “bow drill”. This requires a few basic wooden tools – a bow (complete with strong cordage bowstring), a spindle, a fire board, and a bearing block.

You’re also going to need a tinder bundle (nothing to do with online dating) to get that fire started. To make that you’ll need to get your bark scrapers out again.

Your dead boar is starting to go off – a sure sign it’s about time you made some fire! These steps take you through producing smouldering embers and ultimately lighting your fire.

1. Use tools or a hard surface to abrade (wear down) your spindle ends (one pointy, one stubby and thumb-width) and make a hole in your fire board.

2. Twist the spindle up in your bowstring.

3. Place the stubby end of the spindle in the fire board’s hole. Hold it in place with downwards pressure, using the bearing block slotted into the pointy end. Stabilise the board with your foot.

4. Steadily pull the bow back and forth, creating friction between the spindle and fire board. This will produce dry dust.

5. As smoke appears – and gets increasingly darker – speed up the process with a few quick strokes of the bow. You now have embers.

6. Deposit the collected embers (which you’ve sensibly caught on some scrap wood) into the tinder bundle.

7. Long, strong breaths should soon see the tinder ignite. You’ve made fire!

We found this technique needs huge amounts of practice. But making your own fire is just about the most primevally satisfying thing a human can do.

“Once we figured out fire it changed everything,” said Klint. “It cooks our food, keeps us warm, makes our tools.”

Of course, once a fire is made it’s essential to maintain it. This requires a surprisingly large stockpile of wood. Participants in the Channel 5 show pretty much kept a fire going throughout their experience.

 3. Eat a balanced diet

Anyone who keeps up with the latest diet fads will have heard the term “palaeo”. The idea is to stick to a Stone Age diet – because they ate more naturally and got less fat, right? This generally translates to meat and berries.

Here’s an idea of some of the stuff our palaeolithic ancestors snacked on – and not all of it’s perfectly suited for a modern lifestyle.

1. Meat – the stereotypical caveman food. European hunters would have enjoyed deer, boar, fish, smaller mammals like hare, wildfowl (though not this pheasant since they’re from Asia), and extinct beasts such as mammoth and aurochs.

2. Jerky – strips of dried and salted meat that keep for a long time.

3. Nuts – found naturally and a good source of energy. Since Stone Age peoples didn’t farm crops, ground nuts were the closest they got to flour. They used it for thickening stews and the like.

4. Sloes – berries high in sugar (used in sloe gin today). Gave a quick burst of energy during hunting trips. Participants in the TV show started jokingly referring to them as “crack”.

5. Burdock – a Stone Age root equivalent to potatoes, though without the high energy potential.

6. Pemmican – also referred to as “fat cake”. Consists of ground-up jerky and berries, all packed together with dry animal fat. Some Native American peoples still produce and eat pemmican today.

“We have so much copious food that fat’s our enemy,” said Klint. “But for these guys it’s everything.”

 4. Using candles

We imagine you’re questioning whether this is really a “crucial skill” for the Stone Age. Well if you think that very little work can be done in the dark, and all that cordage making is very time consuming, having some light in your cave is a very important thing.

Here are some quick steps for making a Stone Age candle.

1. Hollow out a bowl, using wood, a rock, or just use something natural like a coconut (if you live near some coconuts that is).

2. Get some of that cordage (endlessly useful, see?) and coil it up like a cobra inside the bowl to make a wick.

3. Boil animal fat until it becomes clear oil. Pour this into the bowl so only the top of the wick is not submerged.

4. Light your wick. The heat draws the oil up the wick and should keep your candle-cum-oil-lamp burning for a good few hours.

5. Train a dog

Evidence for the relationship between man and dog goes back to the very start of our history. The tips for training our canine pals haven’t really changed over the years (basically, food = loyalty). But there were at least three good reasons to keep a dog in the Stone Age.

1. They help with the hunting (tracking, flushing things out, helping to bring animals down).

2. They’re great babysitters, keeping wild animals away from children while their parents are away from camp.

3. And finally, as a last resort in the depths of winter, faithful Rover can become the meal that sees you through to warmer months. (We didn’t say these were all nice reasons…)

10,000 BC starts on Channel 5 on Monday 2 February at 10pm and on MTV on Tuesday 3 February at 11pm.


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