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Quicklinks

Farming, Foraging, Hunting & Fishing

Country Skills and Native Arts:
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Native Arts

Crafts & Indigenous Skills Nativeweb

Earth Caretaker

NatureSkills.com

Pioneer Living

Native Tech
Native American technology and art.

Tillers International
Rural skills school in Scotts, Michigan.

Country Skills

Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills, by Abigail R. Gehring

Storey's Basic Country Skills: A Practical Guide to Self-Reliance by John Storey and Martha Storey

Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery

Traditional Skills

Country Living

Mechanics, Material Science & Chemistry

The Way Things Work by David Macaulay

507 Mechanical Movements: Embracing All Those Which Are Most Important in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines by Henry T. Brown.

Understanding Materials Science: History, Properties and Applications by Rolf Hummel

Real Alchemy: A Primer of Practical Alchemy by Robert Allen Bartlett

The Alchemists Handbook: Manual for Practical Laboratory Alchemy by Frater Albus

Creations of Fire by Cathy Cobb and Harold Goldwhite

Experimenting with Chemistry by John Farndon

Chemistry (Eyewitness) by Ann Newmark

Usborne Illustrated Dictionary of Chemistry

Levers and Pulleys
Pacific Science Center

Understanding Simple Machines
Craig Tillman

Understanding Materials Science
Google copy of book listed above.

Heron of Alexandria

The Pneumatics of Heron

Handbook of engineering and technology in the Classical world By John Peter Oleson

A Greek city of the fourth century B.C. By S. C. Bakhuizen, Gorítsa Team

Alchemy and chemistry terms

What is a Solvent?

Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments
online beginner's guide
(pdf)

Fenners Complete Formulary (pdf)

(Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6)

Acids, Bases and Salts
ProspectorsParadise.com

Online Biofuels Library
Journey to Forever

1881 Household Cyclopedia

A Dictionary of Chemistry By Andrew Ure and William Nicholson (1821)

Intro to Chemistry
Chemforkids.com

Redox Reactions

Intro to Physics
Physics4forkids.com

Facts about Fossil Fuels
American Petroleum Institute

Geometry basics and Measurement
MathisFun.com

Specific Skills

Basic Knots Guide
Instructables.com

Various primitive skills
Compiled by Mike Beckett

More primitive living skills
Articles and links from Thomas J. Elpel

How to make a beeswax candle

How to dye material naturally
ehow.com

Natural Mineral Pigments (from How to Paint a Mammoth) PrimitiveWays. com

Homemade Vegetable Oil Lamp
JudyoftheWoods.net

Country Skills, Primitive Tech & Native Arts

If modern civilization collapsed tomorrow, can you build a cart for hauling firewood from the forest? If it's wintertime, will you be able to stitch together some gloves and shoes out of animal hide? How about designing a simple hoist to draw water out of a well?

The answer to all these questions is probably not. Even an Ivy League education won't get you far if technological society starts to unravel and collapse. Ironic, isn't it, that the Age of Progress we live in has produced a bumper crop of boobies, at least insofar as day-to-day survival is concerned.

That's why any long term disaster plan requires relearning the everyday skills our ancestors took for granted. This includes the native arts of indigenous people, like boat building, ceramics, basketweaving, flintknapping, textiles, and tool-making, and country skills -- homesteading, farming, animal husbandry, quilting, canning preserves and drying herbs. Such expertise will prove indispensable in the next generation.

This section of the Mega-Disaster Planner offers a quick study and links for both of these umbrella categories. There's also an overview of natural sciences like chemistry and mechanics. Undoubtedly, the ability to collect, extract and process raw materials from nature will smooth the way for all other endeavors in a long-term emergency. You'll learn about that, too, as you'll scroll down this page.

Basic Mechanics

Without electricity, motors, power tools, petroleum, or any considerable brawn, you're sure to find moving heavy objects in the future will require a more creative approach. Luckily, Leonardo daVinci and other inventors have given us many ingenious ways to work smart, rather than hard. Among the useful mechanisms handed down to us through history are these:

Making and using these tools is pretty simple, since the principles of mechanics are not the brainchild of modern industry. Heron of Alexandria and Archimedes of Greece built many amazing gadgets that use magnetism, pneumatics, hydraulics and thermodynamics to get the job done. For example, while Jesus was fast asleep in his manger, Heron was developing the first moving stagecraft and coin-operated vending machines for local temples. (For more on him, be sure to watch the two History Channel programs, Stone Age Tech, and Machines of the Gods, both from the Ancient Discoveries series.) Heron also wrote the first user manuals, including his barnstorming bestseller Pneumatica, now available online!

In other words, you don't need modern machines to enjoy the benefits of friction, inertia, gravity, pressure (air and liquid), convection, conduction, suction, centrifugal force, etc.. Very simple labor-saving devices can be constructed and put to good use with a rudimentary knowledge of how each of these processes works and basic construction techniques.

A good place to start is in the kids' section of your public library. There, you're sure to find illustrated books on basic inventions, like David Macaulay's The Way Things Work. At home, take a closer look at equipment you normally take for granted -- a wheelbarrow, scissors, bicycle, pump, hand-twist can opener, etc. One day you may have to fabricate one of these items on the fly. Learning how they work now will shorten your learning curve down the road.

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Depending on the materials available, fabricators employ a variety of methods for fastening together the different parts of a tool or contraption. These include:

Raw Materials Extraction

It goes without saying tha in the absence of hardware stores, you'll be limited to the materials available in nature for making clothes, cooking pots and dishes, candles, fuel oil, toilet paper and other necessities of everyday existence. In order to become a better scavenger and prospector, you can bone up on the various uses of natural plant fibers, metal ores, rock minerals, clay and silicates, bones and other animal parts. Here are a few of the essentials:

Rock and Sea Salt This essential element is found in sedimentary minerals at the bottom of dried up lakes, beaches and seas. It's also routinely made along the shore of bays and other seawater locations. Rock salt (aka halite) is typically mined, especially from the vast underground deposits near the Great Lakes. (Petroleum reserves are commonly found beneath the halite.) The best way to produce table salt, however, is to evaporate it from seawater or brine (i.e. salt mixed with water). Brine itself has many uses, such as aging cheese, pickling preserves, for electrolysis and batteries, and as part of the process for transforming animal hide into leather.

Lye When mixed with tallow or another source of fat, lye water produces soap. Lye water is made by pouring distilled or soft water (e.g. rainwater) over white hardwood ashes in order to leach out the lye, also known as caustic potash. To get the white ashes, you need to burn a hard wood like oak (not pine) or use dried palm branches, banana peels or cocoa pods. Pouring the same water over the ashes repeatedly produces a thick brown, brackish liquid. This highly corrosive brew is then boiled and evaporated down to a powder. The recipe for soap is simple: Mix the powder with vegetable oils or animal fat (i.e. tallow), and added fragrances, aloe or other beneficial ingredients, as demonstrated in the video below.

Saltpeter An ingredient in gunpowder, it's more scientifically known as potassium nitrate. Saltpeter is produced by combining dried urine, maneuer, plant compost and ashes (or charcoal). The mixture is left sitting in a heap for a few months, with a cloth or tarp underneath it to prevent seepage into the ground.

Sulfur A yellowish, pungent-smelling crystal found around volcanic rock and hydrothermal springs, sulfur serves as a pesticide, fertilizer (that is, once soil bacteria breaks it down enough to be soluble in water), food preservation and medicinal purposes. It's non-toxic, but may lower the pH of the soil if applied too liberally. Sulfur is flammable, and once it transforms into a gas known as sulfur dioxide, it does become toxic, so avoid inhaling it. (The situation becomes that much worse if the sulfur dioxide gets mixed with water.)

Sulfur is a common-enough material to find, not only close to volcanoes but in rocks like pyrite and as a byproduct of many chemical processes. To extract it from ore, sulphur deposits were historically piled high in a brick kiln on a hilltop, where there was plenty of ventilation. Then a little sulfur powder was ignited on top, eventually causing the sulfur in the rock to become molten and drip out like lava. When the molten heap cooled, it was ground into powder.

Soda Ash This key ingredient in the making of glass is derived from the ashes of marine plants, especially seaweed, found along beaches and dry lakebeds. Soda ash is also used to make soap, paper pulp and iodine. Glass is thought to have been discovered by the Egyptians around 1000 B.C. and is made from a combination of soda ash, silica and sand. It can be poured into molds, used as a waterproofing glaze in ceramics (which is liquid glass), or shaped into various forms via the traditional practice of glass blowing.

Tannin Essential to leather tanning and wine-making, tannin (aka tannic acid) is found in oak bark and acorns, as well as the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes. Typically it looks like a yellowish powder, but its hallmark characteristic is its astringency, which is evidenced in the dry, puckery taste associated with red wine. Native Americans used the tannic acid found in animal brains for tanning leather.

Tallow A traditional oil used for fuel, candles and soapmaking, tallow comes from animal fat cooked down in a process called rendering, then stored in air-tight containers.

Gypsum An ancient word that's Greek for plaster, gypsum is the key ingredient of plaster of Paris, which is used for making molds. Modern interior walls (aka Sheetrock) are made from gypsum. It's also part of the construction recipe for Portland cement, as well as the mortar used in building the Great Pyramids. Gypsum is widely found in sedimentary rock, and in lagoons high in calcium and sulfate content. Although soluble in water, when high heat is applied, it loses that solubility, resulting in a hard, durable, long-lasting material.

Lime An important construction material since the time of the Great Pyramids, lime is derived by either burning a pile of sea shells or extracting it from limestone, chalk or marble. One variation is known as quicklime (or burnt lime), which is produced by simply heating the lime above 800 degrees celsius. Slaked lime is a hydrated form of lime made by combining the white, caustic, alkaline powder Quicklimewith water. The two materials react to generate considerable heat, emitting a glow called limelight. The infamous "Greek fire" was a powerful ancient weapon that combined petroleum with slaked lime, causing ignition. Note: Lime burns the skin so avoid direct contact. If you do get exposed, don't simply wash it off with water, as that will only activate the chemical that causes it to heat. First brush off as much of it as possible and remove any affected clothing.

Ammonia Best known as an odor-removing cleaner, ammonia may also be used as a refrigerant in place of frion. In agriculture, when mixed with water, ammonia serves as one of the industry's most common fertilizers. Two good sources of ammonia are human urine and bird excrement (especially bat guano). It's also found around volcanoes, taking the form of ammonium sulphate.

Glycerin A by-product of soapmaking, glycerin provides the base for most skin lotions. It's also a key ingredient of nitroglycerin and a preservative in fruit canning. In food recipes, glycerin is a sweetner, a filler and a thickener. Other uses are as a lubricant, an antiseptic, and to preserve biological specimens. For people who don't like substituted grain alcohol used in herbal tinctures, glycerin is a common, although less effective substitue. To retrieve it from your soap mixture, add salt to the heated lye water and fats, which causes the soap to curdle and rise to the top. The remaining liquid is distilled, then filtered through charcoal, which captures the glycerin, minus impurities and any color. (You can also, by the way, just leave the glycerin in the soap, which makes it gentler to tender skin.)

Linseed Oil Pressed from the meal of ground up flax seeds, linseed oil is the universal binder found in oil paints and varnishes. You can mix it with mineral pigments (e.g. iron oxide and cinnabar), charcoal, lime (to get white), nut paste (for brown) or other available sources of portable color in your environment. Linseed oil by itself is an ideal preservative for wood, concrete and even hemp rope. (Keep in mind that it can takes weeks or longer to dry.) Nutrtionally, it's better known as flaxseed oil, which is high in Omega-3 fats. However, this isn't the best choice for a cooking oil, so look to other sources -- like olives, sesame, walnut, soy, peanut, sunflower and palm -- for that purpose.

Oil from seeds is pressed with an expeller, which pushes the meal through a long fat screw that creates sufficient pressure to squeeze the oil out and through a screen at the bottom, where it can then collect into a container. The leftover meal (which still retains some of its oil) exits through the nozzle and can then be used in muffin or bread mixes, or in non-culinary applications.

Practical Chemistry

Dating back to ancient alchemy, chemistry is used to extract and combine liquids, solids and gases in order to create food, medicine, construction materials and other things that make our lives survivable. Commodities like vinegar, salt, soap, paint, porcelain and gunpowder can be produced by anyone who knows the recipe and has the ingredients. Whether you're cooking a meal or mixing cement, the tasks involved all boil down to chemistry.

It's too bad that modern day high school and college chemistry classes are geared more toward careers at Monsanto and Dow, rather than learning everyday applications. You really have to go back to elementary school to find any useful information. Do you remember that question, "Animal, mineral or vegetable?" It's a good one to ask, but most of us have by now forgotten why. We look at chemistry as a profession appealing only to "squints and nerds", when in fact, the most popular book on the subject ever written, The Joy of Çooking, has probably never been read by anyone matching that description.

Practical chemistry requires an understanding of "properties", like acidity, hardness, a bitter taste, plasticity or heat conductivity. It also requires an ability to design simple tests that reveal (or quantify) those things. A mineral kit, for instance, shows you how to distinguish rocks and minerals with a scratch test to determine hardness, a bottle of dilute hydrochloric acid to check for fizzing (which reveals limestone or another carbonate), a streak test (to see what color is produced), and other easy-to-perform exercises that determine various properties of the rock. If you were to use these tests in combination with a rock and mineral guide, you'd be well on your way to starting a general store in a post doomsday world.

Of course, the readers of The Joy of Çooking are not really chemists. That title should be reserved for someone who knows how to create recipes by experimenting to find the ingredients, proportions, and activities (sifting, diluting, heating, etc.) that will render the desired substance or outcome.

As already noted, producing commodities for everyday life begins by collecting raw materials. Next, you must process them into a usable, uncontaminated form with a long shelf life (or as long as possible). Here are some of the common tasks:

Solid Material Processing

crushing - to extract raw materials (e.g. minerals removed from rock)

grinding - by hand with with a mortar/pestle, or using a crank-powered mill (e.g. to make coffee, corn meal, flour, etc.)

screening and sifting - using a screen, cloth or mesh of metal, wood, reeds, etc. to separate out different sized particles and chunks (e.g. for clay prospecting)

melting - to turn a solid into a liquid temporarily, so ingredients can be added, or so it can be converted into a workable format (e.g. for metallurgy)

smelting - a metal ore (normally extracted from the earth as an oxide) is heated with charcoal to drive out the oxygen. While the metal is still in a molten form, you can cast it into the shape of an ingot or extrude it to make long bars. (Steel requires a blast furnace and is only practical in an industrial setting.)

freezing, salting, drying and tanning - to preserve perishable foods and organic material (animal hide) that might otherwise decay or decompose.

Processing with Liquids

dissolving - placing a substance into water or another solvent where it breaks down. If the substance doesn't break down, you have a suspension instead.

solvent extraction - This is a method for separating out impurities from a substance. You'll start by dissolving the material in water or another liquid/solvent, like alcohol. Then a second solvent is added because it's known to attract the substance you want. It's important to use two solvents with different densities, which makes them immiscible liquids (like oil and water); otherwise they won't separate into distinct layers. Layering is key to making a successful extraction.

To move the solid material from one solvent to another, you'll first have to combine them. To do this, you agitate the mixture (i.e. shake it up). Then you must wait awhile for your substance to migrate over to the second liquid. When the beaker or container has settled, and the two solvents divide into layers. This allows you to pour off (or lift out with a dropper) the upper layer and place it in a second container. This step may require a few passes to achieve a full separation and is known as decanting. Eventually, you'll end up with your substance in the one solvent, and the impurities (i.e. stuff you don't want) in the second solvent. Now you can dry out your pure substance (i.e. make the solvent dissipate). Then you can store it for future use.

filtrating - pressure application of a solvent to separate a non-dissolved solid from liquid. Usually not much pressure is needed, and you can simply four the liquid tthrough a filter or screen in order to catch the solid (aka filtrate).

steeping, boiling, leaching or percolating - soaking and/or heating a solid in a liquid to extract a substance from it (e.g. the lye from potash recipe described earlier). The end result is a concentrated solution. Knowing when you've achieved the right amount of concentration is extremely important. Too much or too little may not render the commodity you're trying to produce. The easiest way to deduce the concentration is by looking at the color and thickness of the solution. If the water or other liquid was initially transparent or had a light hue, then the darker the color, the stronger the solution. Thickness of a liquid is a property known as viscosity. In the lye water recipe described earlier, the right viscosity (and thus concentration) is achieved when an egg set in the caldron sinks halfway down into the solution.

distilling - boiling, evaporating and condensing a substance (i.e. from liquid to gas, then back to liquid), in order to concentrate a substances or mixture (e.g. making alcohol), or to remove a substance that won't vaporize (e.g. harmful bacteria), or to separate two or more liquids that are mixed together. An example of distilling in wilderness survival is the solar water still, which transforms salt water or dirty water into a clean, safe, saltless form you can drink. Distillation also takes advantage of the fact that different liquids or substances boil and evaporate at different temperatures. To speed up condensation (i.e. returning a vapor to liquid), you'll need to create some type of coil to give the vapor lots of cool solid material to transform it back to liquid. The coil is called a condenser.

pasteurizing - heating a liquid or substance to a certain temperature threshold to destroy bacteria or fungi, while not destroying the essence of the substance itself.

fermenting - adding yeast or bacteria to break a substance down or alter its acidity (e.g. making vinegar from wine, or yoghurt from cream).

pickling - soaking in brine (salt water) to preserve a substance.

preserving in alcohol - canning or bottling dried medicinal herbs in a 90-100 proof alcohol is how herbalists make tinctures. See our section on Herb Medicine.

Measuring Materials and Recording Data

Of course, in order to accurately quantify or combine your substances in the right proportions, you'll also need to create and calibrate measuring cups, a scale, thermometer and other test instruments. Besides that, if you don't have ink or paper, you'll need to fabricate a reliable method for recording and preserving data about your experiments, recipes, stockpiles and activities. If our ancestors 5,000 years ago were able to do all this without manufacturing plants, electricity or microscopes, we should be able to do it as well.

Acids, Bases and the pH Scale

Historically, the human tongue and nose have served as the most trusted testing devices for identifying acids, bases and salts -- the three basic categories of elements in the periodic table. That's because most plant and animal materials (and some minerals) have a particular odor or taste (bitter, sweet, astringent, sour, etc.). Acids taste sour, while bases taste bitter. (Not that you should be having a lick of something like sulfuric acid or lye water. Always be smart about what you put in your mouth.) As a general rule, metals are bases. Fruits are acids. Most vegetables are weak acids. And most grains are neither acids or bases, but are considered neutral substances. A base in liquid is called an alkali. Since citrus fruits and vinegar are strong acids, they may in some cases be added to alkali foods in order to preserve them.

Chemists refine the acid/base identification process further with the pH scale. This system was developed a century ago and focusses on hydrogen in a material. Hence, "pH" stands for the potential (or power) of hydrogen, (although the actual elements being measured are hydroxide and hydronium). Like the Richter scale, each step up or down the scale represents a tenfold difference in the amount of acidity or alkalinity. Zero to six on the scale represents the acids, while numbers between eight and fourteen represent a base. The closer to the middle on the scale, which is the number seven, the less potent (or dangerous to handle) a material is when handling. So a pH between 6 and 8 is neutral. Water, for instance, has a pH of 7, making it a neutral substance. Click here to peruse a list of food items and their pH levels.

To tell if a material is a base or acid, chemists use color as a litmus test. An acid will turn a blue pigment to red, while a base or alkali material turns a red pigment blue. (One way to remember this: blue and base both begin with the letter "B".) Using color indicators to discover a pH is more difficult than it sounds, as the indicator itself has a pH level that has to be accounted for.

Of course, laboratory chemists have a microscope and a stack of litmus paper at their disposal to find out the pH of the substances they work with. In the backcountry or other post-doomsday location, you won't have that luxury. Plant pigments like hibiscus, hydrangea and red cabbage (or even red wine) can be used to measure for pH. For example, when a material is exposed to cabbage water, you can roughly determine a pH number based on how much the color changes. Rather than an exact determination of a pH number, our more primitive acid-base measurements will be comparative. This means you'll have to memorize about a dozen or so pH values for common substances, and create a hierarchy similar to the Moh's Hardness Scale described in Rock and Mineral Prospecting.


Working with acids and bases.

At the center of the pH scale are salts and soaps. Whenever you mix the right proportion of an acid with an base, you "neutralize" the substance. That's why milk of magnesia gets prescribed for an acid stomach, and why baking soda is spread on an acid spill to eliminate the danger of skin contact. Poison from a wasp sting is extremely alkali, so to counteract it, you can apply vinegar to the wound.

This article continues in the next column...

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Next: Rock and Mineral Prospecting

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Measuring and Controlling Heat

Besides pH, another critical measurement for chemists is temperature. This is the case, for instance, when working with clay, glass or metal. Each of these materials will melt or calcinate with a different amount of heat. Iron melts at 2800 degrees farenheit, copper at 2000 degrees. A clay pot fires at around 1400 degrees, and is glazed beginning at 1800 degrees, the melting point of glass.

In order to apply heat to any material, you'll need to construct some sort of thermometer or gauge. Traditional potters, for instance, use pyrometric cones, which are a mix of common materials known to melt at specific temperatures. By watching a series of differently mixed cones melt inside a kiln, you can track the kiln's temperature as it rises.

Speaking of heat, you can add a material like limestone to interact with a metal ore to reduce its melting temperature. In this type of operation, the limestone is referred to as a flux. Neither do you have to worry about the limestone getting mixed in with your base material, since it inevitably turns into a slag a sort of scum that can be skimmed off the top of the mixture before it hardens.

Borax is commonly used as a flux in brazing and even with some ceramics glazes. Rosin (pine resin) is used in soldering. A soldering flux also helps dissolve lead solder into the seam; otherwise the lead will bead up into globs and not result in a solid weld.

Oxidation - Reduction

While not the easiest concept to understand, redox reactions amount to some of the most powerful chemistry you will ever perform on an practical level. Suppose a common copper ore, which is highly oxidized (i.e. contains lots of O2), is cooked with a lot of charcoal, which contains a ton of carbon, in a chamber where air is kept to a minimum. The O2 will move out of the ore and into the charcoal. The result is the shiny metal we use for plumbing, wire and pennies. This is an example of a redox reaction, and without it, there would not be many useful metal products.

The word redox, short for oxidation-reduction, indicates that a transfer of O2 from one material to another takes place, changing the chemistry of both. When you add bleach to a stain on your sweatshirt, a redox reaction causes the stain to change into a colorless compound. Combustion is an example of a redox reaction that happens fast, while rusting is an example of it taking place slowly. Firing pottery in a kiln makes use of redox reactions, as does welding.

It will take some study on the side to learn different things you can do with oxidation and reduction (and how to do it). Here's an introduction provided by ScienceClarified.com.

Essential Chemical Brews

However unappetizing it may sound, fermentation is a key concept to learn in chemistry. Its most well-known application is converting sugar into ethanol to produce alcoholic beverages and cider. But there's a lot more to fermentation than that. Fermented foods are extremely important in the diet because of the "good bacteria" they deliver to the intestines for digestion.

In addition to producing a greater variety of foods and introducing probiotics into your diet, the process of fermentation guarantees some perishables a longer shelf life. However, fermenting is not always a good thing, as anyone who drinks bad wine or juice knows.

Here are two products created through fermentation that are particularly indispensible to human survival:

Vinegar It may seem like a mundane cooking ingredient, but throughout history it has proved a powerful elixer for treating everything from sunburn to diabetes. It's also a disinfectant, an herbicide and a versatile cleaning solution when mixed with water. To produce it, you allow stale wine, apple cider or grain alcohol to sit in a barrel (or cistern) for a month, with a cloth covering the top. A long fermentation period allows acetic acid bacteria and soluble cellulose (known as the mother of vinegar) to breed and prosper.

Alcohol An essential medicine, fuel and preservative (among other uses), alcohol is produced by adding yeast to a fermentable mash of water and grain. The fermenting takes a little time, eventually inducing a chemical reaction that turns grain starches into sugars. The mixture is then evaporated up through a pipe (called the still), passing through a long coil or hose, where the vapor condenses back to its liquid state. A clear, odorless liquid, alcohol takes on its more familiar features while its aged in sealed wood (or terra cotta) casks Both beer (using barley and hops) and wine (using grapes) were staples of the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians, while the Chinese have distilled rice wine since at least 1000 B.C.

Ancient stills were built from terra cotta (i.e. common red clay). Like wood, this building material allows air to travel in and out, which is essential to the process. The still itself can also be constructed from a metal like copper.

Because tap water in antiquity often contained harmful bacteria and other contaminants, adding a alcohol to a primitive water supply can help prevent illness. Alcohol is also an ideal solvent that extracts oils and other substances from plants, hence the widespread use of it in the production of tinctures. Long ago, herbalists deduced that they could deposit a few handfuls of dried medicinal leaves or roots into a grain spirit, then conveniently store the concoction in a cool, dark cellar. So began the era of patent medicines.

The yeast used in the brewing process, by the way, also generates the commodity we know as ethanol. In a post-technological society, this fuel can power lamps, stoves and any other makeshift heating devices.

Alchemy - A Common Sense Approach

Without doubt, the field of chemistry is vast, its secrets requiring much time to absorb. In the workplace, chemists are tasked with inventing products with specific properties. However, much of what's called chemistry today has no bearing on traditional survival. That's why it may be better to study alchemy. This subject got a bad name during the late Middle Ages, but up to that time it had been regarded as the cornerstone of science. Every major culture used alchemy to advance its civilization. And books written about various discoveries (whether by the Arabs, Chinese, Greeks or Romans) were reprinted in multiple languages and read by every scientist of the time.

In alchemy, the basic process for transforming raw materials into serviceable items can be broken down into seven categories that should look familiar:

What's interesting about this list is that the alchemist applies it to his or her own ongoing personal transformation as well. It turns out the development of the spiritual and psychological self hinges on exactly the same procedures. For example, the hero's journey that is the basis for so many myths and legends (not to mention most Hollywood movies) begins with some devastating event in which the hero is burned or humiliated (calcination). This prompts a period of spiritual disillusionment or disintegration (i.e. dissolution and separation).

Eventually, the hero pieces himself back together in a better way (conjunction). This is followed by a period of development, allowing him to become more "refined" in his skills as everything starts to "coagulate" and finally harden into something more permanent.

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For more on alchemy, see Page 2 of the spirituality section of The Mega-Disaster Planner.

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Optional Index:

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