Survival, Thirteenth Century Style- Part 2, by Snow Wolf

After I happened to watch the first episode of a 1975 British TV series called Survivors, I began to think differently about survival. Two conversations rearranged everything I’d assumed about survival and the continuation of civilization after a catastrophic disaster. I began to think from a perspective of thirteen century style survival.

I watched as the character in the show named Abby interacted with others and concluded that no one person had the knowledge to make much of anything in our modern society and she needed to learn how to master the old crafts. You might know some part of the process, but we struggled to make anything all by ourselves through the entire process. We depended upon a tool made of metal from ore that was mined or wood that was cut with an axe that is made from metal that is mined. We might depend upon glass. What happens when our tools and supplies are gone? Do we have the knowledge and skill to replace them?

Some think they’ll be able to read a book and know what to do. Let’s continue on with this thought.

Download Book After Book

Preppers who blissfully download book after book on an electronic device with the conviction that it’s now preserved forever are making another dangerous mistake. The further we get from the tangible, paper preservation of knowledge, the more precarious our knowledge base becomes and the more likely it is to be destroyed beyond recovery.

Knowledge Passed From Generation to Generation

In the past, knowledge passed from generation to generation through words and observation. (Chimps manage to do it with observation alone.) We then advanced to writing our knowledge so it could be preserved and passed on. Thanks to Gutenberg, we began to print what we learned. (Who knows how to make or use a printing press?) But the complexity of our modern world has now reached the point where even reading a description of the process is probably not sufficient to instruct the complete novice in how to accomplish most tasks that keep our world going.

You may be able to use your electronic data collection for some time, but eventually the battery will run out. How will your grandchild learn the information essential to rebuilding the world? If we store everything on devices that require electricity or batteries to access, we have taken yet another step in making essential information inaccessible to ourselves and future generations. The disappearance of written information will be a major hurdle in our ability to restore civilization.

Speed of Technological Change

This problem is exacerbated by the incredible speed of our technological change. If you doubt this, go through the convolutions necessary to access a Betamax tape, undeveloped film from a 1960s Instamatic camera, or a floppy disk from a TRS-80. Technology is moving too fast. Any form of electronic storage is obsolete by the time it is sold, and after a disaster it will probably be impossible to locate a person with the knowledge and working equipment to help. Even solar power cannot be relied on (Does anyone have all the necessary tools to make a new solar panel? Make the glass? The metal? Put it all together?) We will desperately need information and, unless it has been printed out on paper, it will be lost to us.

Can You Make/Grow/Process/Prepare/Forge It?

Many preppers wisely master such skills as tying knots, but when all the paracord has been used, could you make a rope? Can you grow the hemp and prepare it? We make lists of tools that are essential, but when a metal tool breaks beyond repair, can you make a new one? Where will you dig for the iron ore? How will you process and forge it?


Another example, familiar to readers of prepper fiction, is the fate of diabetics. Almost every novel has a diabetic (Alas, Babylon, Lucifer’s Hammer who dies when the insulin supply runs out. Everyone scurries around trying to find more insulin. It never occurs to anyone that finding another bottle doesn’t solve the problem; they must learn to make the items that allow diabetics to survive, which means making not only insulin but also a metal needle, a syringe, and a refrigeration system to insure the drug’s potency. They ignore this reality, because the process is simply too complex for non-experts to master.

In fact, it takes dozens of professionals to keep diabetics alive, each one doing and knowing only one step in the process. The fact that most items are made by machines only makes the situation more difficult. To make the things a diabetic needs, we must first make the machines that make the things.


There are articles about making your own penicillin at home, but I doubt this is a viable alternative. (Is there a high-powered microscope in your bugout bag? Who can identify the Penicillium notatum mold? Who knows how to isolate it or in what cultures to grow it?) Once found, the mold doesn’t instantly become a medicine; it took years for Oxford scientists to purify and utilize it as a drug. Although the mold was discovered in 1928, it was 1941 before it was first used on a patient.

Value of Paper-Stored Knowledge

Alas, Babylon depicts an incident that shows the value of paper-stored knowledge. When the settlement runs out of salt, the people have no idea what to do. Finally someone remembers reading an old handwritten journal from the 1800s that talks about finding a salt deposit in the area. The journal is found, read, and contains enough information to lead the survivors to the salt they need.

Useful Bunker Filled With People Who Know How To Do Things

A truly useful nuke-pandemic-asteroid bunker won’t contain politicians; it will be filled with people who actually know how to do the things that will help the world continue living and begin progressing again. They will know how to build a cart; how to plant, tend, harvest, and preserve crops; make and run a printing press; how to make metal tools; how to mine ore and coal;  farm using animals for power.

Ideal Survival Groups

When most people plan their ideal survival groups, they pick members who can shoot looters, skin an animal, build a fire, et cetera. All of these are invaluable skills, but so much more is needed. They need someone who can work with metal; someone who can make soap, candles, create wheels (if you can’t get rubber, what kind of wheel will you make?), care for animals, make bullets, and make cloth. (Can you grow cotton? Sow it, tend it, pick it, card it, spin it, and weave it into material? Do you have the tools needed to do any of these things?) We need to seriously reconsider what skills will be critical after a major disaster and readjust our ideas of the people who will be essential in a survival group.


By now any reader will be saying, “All that’s impossible.” It may well be. If our world has a massive disaster, we might never be able to recover because we don’t know how to do the essential processes that make up modern civilization. But if we are to have any chance at all, it will be through education. As Abby Grant said, we must relearn all the skills we’ve forgotten, from metallurgy to tending and shearing sheep.

Not Looking Back to 1800s with Pa and Laura Ingalls but Medieval Life

Most people assume that a catastrophic event will hurl us back to the 1800s, where we’ll land on the banks of Plum Creek with Pa and Laura Ingalls and make a fish trap. In actuality, a truly apocalyptic event will plunge us back to the 1200s with none of the skills a thirteenth century peasant possessed. It isn’t American pioneer life we should be studying; it’s Medieval life.

Education of the Young

The importance of knowledge also means that one of the most critical functions of a successful survival group will be education of the young. The adults must understand the importance of passing on what they know. If humanity is to survive, our children must learn. They must be able to read, do math without a calculator, know the facts and significance of history, the masterpieces of Western literature, music, and art, and the ideals of America’s Founding Fathers. In their spare time, they must learn to make plows, sow grain, knit socks, make fences, tend pigs, and plant crops. What they must not do is depend on scavenging from a constantly diminishing supply.

What Most Preppers Believe, I Believed…Once

Most preppers believe they can survive anything with freeze-dried food, a safe full of guns, heirloom seeds, and a few bottles of antibiotics. I believed that once, until I met the teacher and Abby Grant. Hearing what these characters said was, for me, like sitting under a bodhi tree and reaching enlightenment. I’m not sure what to do next, but I’m sure they’re right.

The stockpile of things won’t last forever. We must relearn.

[All quotes taken from Survivors, Episode 1, “The Fourth Horseman”.]

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 75 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  6. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  7. Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of (a $180 value), and
  8. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
  4. A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
  5. A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
  6. A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by,
  7. RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
  3. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
  4. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
  5. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
  6. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from (a $240 value).

Round 75 ends on March 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. Another excellent article!
    Snow Wolf has nailed it – one person/family CANNOT have every skill required.
    I feel that the lesson to learn from this is for your family to work out for themselves what is possible in their area (no point trying to build a wind-powered grain mill if there is little wind!).
    Try to find a skill others will need, and trade for what YOU need.
    Not easy. Not quick. VERY necessary…

    Thought-provoking articles like this are the sort that deserve the award.

    God bless!

  2. Just one point, as far as mining ore and smelting iron, after a collapse there will be enough scrap metal, (steel, iron, copper etc.) lying around to be forged with coal or charcoal for a long, long time. A skilled blacksmith will be welcome anywhere. Get a good anvil and some smith tools now. Modern medicine will of course be a thing of the past.

    1. JML Not to insult you, but after 10-20 years of mother earth working her part there is not going to be as much laying around as you think. That is what the author is saying one or two generations (20 to 40 years) until extinction. If The first one did not get you then everything becoming harder and harder to find will. From ground to finished product is going to take its toll on those that are left.

      1. Simple man, I disagree. I think JML is right, there is literally TONS of metal lying around everywhere. By metal, I mean scrap, garbage, dead cars, broken files, old broken/bent tools, etc. Where the layman sees useless junk, a skilled blacksmith sees raw material.

        Sure, the stuff doesn’t grow on trees, but there is already tons of it to be had. The thinking will change from “discard and buy a new one” to “fix or repurpose it”.

  3. Somewhere out there is a 5 minute video of Milton Freeman making much the same point and he uses a pencil, claiming no one knows how to make one from scratch. These is much virtue to your article. There needs be a written source of much information for that day when it is needed, but it is to no avail with the short term preps. Only the short term preps make possible the long term preps. Both should be done. God bless!

      1. It’s easy to replace pencils and paper. You just use a sharp stick and a clay tablet. It would be very difficult to write a book though.

        I think what the point the author is making is that society has been evolving and a reset will cause a catastrophic de-evolution.

        I sent a year as an apprentice machinist. The first thing that was impressed on us was that the machinists produce everything. EVERYTHING we use is made by a machine. The machines have just been getting more complex since the first tool was made. That first tool made the second tool and on an on.

        As far as our kids needing to know how to do math, know the classics, read and so forth the majority won’t. They will spend most of there lives as serfs. Grubbing in a field, living in a hut with a the pigs and chickens and dying at the average age of 30.

        Some of them with more brains than average will go into apprentice programs. They’ll become the bakers, butchers and candle makers. The tradespeople.

        The sons and possibly daughters of the nobility will be the ones to get a higher education.

        As the author points out our best hope as a society is the preservation of knowledge. Doing so will make the transition to a higher level of living faster on the second go around.

        Prep on.

        1. Paper and ink are fairly simple to make. Western (and Eastern) civilization progressed very nicely without printing. If you have to hand copy everything, you don’t copy junk.

          Carved wooden printing plates will do for a while until lead casting can be re-invented.

          Medieval technology was fairly advanced. Go look at a medieval cathedral. Can you do that?

          Read one page of Thomas Aquinas. Did you understand it?

          Medieval technology combined with American fluidity of social class will not lead to a stratified serf based society. The serfs were kept serfs by law, not necessity.

          Those statistics about a 30 year life expectancy include infant mortality, which was very high. If you lived to adulthood, your life expectancy would be in the 60’s to 70’s. Look at all the elderly people in medieval paintings.

          Read anything by Rodney Stark about how Christianity created western civilization, from science to universities to technology to agricultural advancements to you name it.

          You will not rebuild civilization without it. The virtues of traditional paganism were incorporated into Christian national cultures. Modern pagans are morally incapable of re-creating civilization. Not only do they not keep their word, which is the most basic essential of any stable society, they do not even know what a word is.

  4. AFAIK crafts, trades in medieval europe where often very specialiced.
    The spinner wasn´t necessary the waever, the Smith wasn´t the smelter or the miner …

  5. We have some lasting knowledge which was not available in medieval Europe—handwashing to prevent childbed fever, sterilization of surgical instruments for example.

  6. JML makes a good point. Should the Grid go down hard, there will be plenty of physical implements lying around for the short term, likely enough for the survivors lifetimes. But their children will need to develop skills that very few still possess.

  7. Some of my Native American friends are able to complete a process and make something from start to finish. I learned from a Navajo lady how to collect, card, and spin wool then build a loom and weave. I just realized after reading this article that that specialized skill is rare and probably more valuable than my masters degrees in the event of any societal collapse. Wow! Now I want to learn other skills.

  8. Because there are so many variables we really can’t know what the future holds. But humanity has continued on and most of the time without all our modern conviences. If a huge distaster happens, sadly many simply won’t survive. But i feel our chances are greatly improved if we learn skills that we can do and share. Teaching ourselves and our children a can do attitude anb continuing to learn will go a long way.

  9. Like our ancestors, we will need to use our knowledge, experience, and imagination to solve problems and develop solutions to the challenges that lay before us. We need to continue to learn and solve problems everyday so that we can hone these skills for when they are needed. Having a knowledge and skill set to use these medieval technologies are great, but having skills to innovate new solutions to new problems will be just as valuable.

  10. I totally agree with this article. Sadly though, even downloading and printing won’t be enough for a lot of people, as many people I meet today, can’t read beyond a third grade level.

    Just yesterday I had a government civilian employee, grade GS-13, assist me setting the valves on his air cooled VW. He asked me how I knew how to set them, and since I was underneath the vehicle, I said “Its all in the Chiltons manual, right there on the bench, read it out, and I’ll know if I’m doing it right” In all actuality, I’ve been doing this routinely on my motor for 35 years, and didn’t really need him to read it.

    But when he started reading it to me, I was absolutely amazed at how bad he could read, much less comprehend what he was reading. Every word with more than 2 syllables was a struggle, and he would slowly pronounce them phonetically, and usually wrong. “Ro-tat the moto, motor co, co-unter-cl, co-unter”

    “Counter, you knucklehead, can’t you read, the word is counterclockwise”

    “What does that mean?”

    Our government is in sad shape. This guy supposedly graduated from some online college.

    1. From the article: “Using a closed-loop cycle involving hydroflouric acid and a large amount of electricity, it is possible to extract raw aluminum directly from clay deposits.” HF and “large amounts” of electricity are not likely to be readily available after a general collapse.

  11. Always good to think about lost knowledge and how to preserve it; I’m a little optimistic. Once groups survive a few years by using gardening, hunting, fishing, self defense, and basic medical skills it will be necessary to come out of hiding and re-establish communities. Communities will utilize labor specialization that makes possible a surge of knowledge and technology that will, with time, increase in complexity just as it did in the past. The difference will be that it can progress much faster than it did in the past. It might be difficult to learn skills with “How To” books but it can be done, and much better and quicker than done in the past using miltigenerational trial and error methods. So I guess all I am suggesting is that storing “how to” knowledge any way we can is a good thing. As with all preparations prioritizing what we can store and how we can store it is necessary, we can’t do everything! So, maybe we should try to imagine what early transitional skills our group can most likely use best and concentrate on saving those. It will not necessarily be a medieval or eighteenth century skill. It wouldn’t surprise me if the most valuable members of society will be a few adept kids who figure out how to restore the technology to run electric motors, radios, or those old laptops with their CD’s and thumb drives!

  12. I’m currently reading “The Organic Artist” by Nick Neddo. The author has instructions for making your own charcoal sticks, quill pens, clay vessels (from local mud), and bone inkwells. He has a chapter on making writing/art inks from locally sourced ingredients such as acorns, black walnut, and soot. He also covers, paints, paintbrushes, binders, crayons, paper, and book making.

    in the back of the book are samples of his work using his home-made products. Gorgeous depictions of animals and the outdoors.

  13. There is no reason we would plunge back to Medieval Times. While I may not be able to make everything from scratch. I will not be tortured by the Church for trying.

    Resources may be more plentiful than we think, as the population would decline as the weak would not survive.

    The Renaissance and age of enlightenment followed the Black Plague. Some would argue it made it possible!

      1. ThoDan:
        The Church was the “Font of Knowledge” for information they approved of.
        They killed or terrorised people who wanted to exceed/avoid the Church’s control…

          1. ThoDan,
            Galileo was punished by the Catholic church for advocating the then-heretical concept of heliocentrism, i.e., that the earth revolves around the sun. Before this time, the prevailing belief was that the earth was the center of the “universe”, that the sun revolved around the earth (which made for some VERY complex astronomy)

            For Galileo’s punishment, he was tried for, and convicted of, heresy (a serious charge then. He could have been burned for witchcraft). Galileo was put under indefinite house arrest and imprisonment until his death.

          2. @Deplorable Silver Stacker

            Sorry, but this is Fake History.
            Heliocentrism was commonly known since ancient times at least in educated circles, IIRC since ancient greece.
            Galileo developed a mathematic method to better prove it AFAIK, but he was tried and punished for lese majeste against the Pope.

  14. Personally, I doubt there will be a reset that allows this knowledge to be put to use. I believe we are living at the end of the age, watching the signs of the times and Prophecy fall in place as they are. I’m most concerned with what’s coming, and granted some of those old skills may be life savers in the immediate future. Other than that, I’d think there would be ample literature to be found in the host of libraries that have hard copies and digital copies through out the world, let alone this nation and of course, Survival Blogs Archives. I hope all here has bought one in the last few years. This years has an extremely nice carrying case. I saw they were about sold out, get one. You will be glad you did. It’s the knowledge here that will most likely be put to use. When you get a new one, pass an older one along, or save it to pass on at another time.

    Nothing personal, just as a Christian, knowing what is foretold, I doubt many get to harvest a garden let alone restart a civil society. It’s about to get real, bad, dominoes about to fall.. As if the last ten years hav’nt been………… get on the right team, and then think teamwork as eluded to. God bless one and all with the knowledge and understanding of the death and ressurection of Jesus. We have lots to be happy about. Happy Easter ya’ll.

    1. Mark:
      It is more likely that, rather like a plague, there will be pockets that are lucky enough to avoid the worst of any disaster.
      These lucky few (and no-one knows which will survive) will be the seeds of recovery.
      To hope for the worst is not helpful.
      EVERY generation has foretold “The End” and God has not chosen to do so.

      God is in control – not religions!

  15. Just a thought…The one resource only a few mention is us old folks (I’m 70 plus). Those who do mention what they have learned from their grandparents has been invaluable. Think about all those old folks who are still around and can relate what they have learned from their grandparents, who learned from their grandparents…etc. etc. Just remember that if the die off comes it’s us old and not so healthy who will go first and all that knowledge will be gone. Don’t shun the old folks. Talk to them. Listen and learn. Before it’s to late.
    SB as a resource is invaluable! As Mark said in his reply, GET THE SB FLASHDRIVE!!! It will be one of the best prepping items you can possess.
    A massive thank you to all who take the time to reply to all the articles. I have learned so much from your viewpoints and knowledge. And an additional thank you to Jim and Hugh for starting to post the replies. Smart move on their part. Just my opinion but I believe SB is THE BEST prepping blog out here. Keep it going everyone!

  16. I am a Christian and a Pastor. As anyone who has grown up in the last half of the 20th century American evangelical church, I, too, heard the sermons on the imminent return of Christ. BUT, what if we are all wrong? What if the Second coming is delayed (from our perspective)? I’m not sure that I believe that we will go back to the 13th century, but valuable knowledge can be lost. Michael Bunker explores this same theme in his book, “Surviving Off Off-Grid.”

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