Primitive wilderness skills, those that are buried deep in our human past, may not seem to have any application to the modern wilderness experience. Why knap flint when we can buy knives and arrowheads at the sporting goods store? Why should we throw darts with an atlatl when modern firearms are available for hunting? Reconnecting our minds and bodies with these ancestral skills is an important part of building knowledge and confidence which can carry over into other settings.

Breaking rocks at a primitive skills gathering.

Primitive ancestral human skills were more than simply survival skills. Usually it was just an accepted part of everyday life. The knowledge necessary to forage edible plants daily, to turn an animal hide into clothing, or to navigate through true wilderness without a map & compass are rarely found in the modern outdoorsperson. Yet those skills may still be buried in our brains, ready to be engaged and used if we would just relearn and practice. And there is certainly application for those skills in our modern world.

Photo with permission of Dan Theus.

Dan Theus is a flintknapper from a small town near San Antonio, TX. He travels the country collecting rocks to knap into functional art and the sells his creations. The styles that he makes would be in common use 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. In fact, his points only differ from those found in archeological points in that the points are complete and clean. But these points could be hafted on a handle to use as a knife or on a long shaft to use as a spear. Beautiful and functional.

Making and throwing and atlatl dart.

Bob Berg owns Thunderbird Atlatl in Candor, NY where he crafts ancient style useable atlatls and darts. These historic tools have been found in archeological digs on every continent except Antarctica. Bob has also hunted with his atlatl & darts to harvest several deer, many wild boar, and innumerable fish. When I asked why he used this ancient weapon to hunt, his reply went right to the heart of the application of these ancestral skills in the modern world. Bob said, “There’s something especially satisfying about making your own atlatl and darts, then hafting the darts with a stone point you made to use to harvest and eat an animal you couldn’t reach without the tool.” Personal satisfaction and confidence become a key part of heading out into the wild beyond.

Developing and practicing these types of ancient skills promotes confidence and enhances satisfaction in the overall wilderness experience. Owning the skills necessary to bring yourself through a mishap makes one more careful and aware, not less. And it brings your experience into sharper focus. Additionally, working on these skills is just plain fun.


Bob Berg – Thunderbird Atlatl –