The Amazing Lost Survival Skills Of Past Generations

If disaster struck today and you no longer had access to electricity or other modern comforts, would you be able to survive? In days of old, our ancestors relied mostly on themselves to get through day-to-day life. They possessed a lot of useful skills that helped them build shelters, feed themselves, and protect them from adversaries.

Many of their survival skills were rather basic, but they are things that not many people are able to do today. From preparing animals for supper to building furniture for the home, check out some amazing abilities people had back in the day.

Starting A Fire For Warmth And Cooking

Starting A Fire
XAVIER GALIANA/AFP via Getty Images
XAVIER GALIANA/AFP via Getty Images

This is a basic survival skill that everyone should know. Our ancestors did not have access to lighters or matches, so they needed to learn how to start a fire the old-fashioned way. Fire is and was an essential element for cooking purposes and to keep homes warm.

Unless you were a boy scout, girl scout, or have learned the skills of a survivalist, you probably don’t know the primitive methods for getting a fire going and keeping it hot throughout the night.

Tanning Hides For Clothing And Shelter

sheepskin, goatskin, leather and felt products
Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images
Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images

It’s not too difficult to tan a hide, but it’s a skill that the majority of people living in the 21st century do not know how to do (unless they’re hunters). Those who have practiced this skill are able to scrape off the fat from a hide without tearing it. Our ancestors used these hides for clothing as well as shelter and as blankets and floor coverings.

Today, many people avoid animal byproducts for ethical reasons, but during the frontier days and prior, hiding tans was essential for survival purposes.

Sewing Clothing

Sewing Clothing
John Milner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
John Milner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It wasn’t too long ago that most girls (and a lot of boys) learned how to sew as part of their formal education. These days we have a disposable society, so if something tears, people wind up buying a new article of clothing (or set of drapes) instead of repairing the ones that were torn.

Sewing is a lost art that not a lot of people can do today. But something as simple as sewing a button or patching a hole is very useful.

Gunsmithing For Hunting And Protection

GettyImages-453190942
Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images
Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images

Today, many people support the abolition of firearms, but there was a time not too long ago when most households owned one or more and needed them for protection as well as survival.

Gunsmiths repair, design, modify, and build weapons. They used to be essential members of society who made sure a person’s firearms were in proper working order. This was crucial during times of war and for those who fed their families meat from game.

Knitting Socks And Hats For Warmth

A child sits quietly as his mother knits Shetland wool into jumpers
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

While knitting these days is often relegated to elderly people in senior centers, it used to be a very important skill that was practiced by women of all ages. Before there were clothing stores, women young and old knitted a variety of things, including socks, hats, and sweaters.

This skill was particularly important for those who lived in colder climates. If people didn’t know how to knit warm clothing, then the consequences would have been perilous.

Making Soap For Good Health

A woman makes cakes of lye soap
© Ted Streshinsky/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
© Ted Streshinsky/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

It’s true that people didn’t bathe as frequently a couple centuries ago as they do today, but soap making was a very important skill to master. In addition to keeping your body and clothing nice and clean, a good bar of soap keeps dirt and grime off of your hands, which is necessary if you want to be sanitary.

The dirtier you are, the more susceptible you are to spreading and contracting illnesses and diseases. Our ancestors knew how to make soap to keep themselves and their families cleaner and healthier.

Butchering Animals To Put Food On The Table

Keystone Features/Getty Images
Keystone Features/Getty Images
Keystone Features/Getty Images

If you make chicken marsala for your family tonight, there’s a fairly good chance that you bought the chicken at the supermarket. But back in the day people first had to butcher the chicken before preparing a meal.

Before butcher shops came into vogue, settlers and our ancestors had to slaughter animals themselves before they ate them. They possessed the skills to properly cut and prepare an animal in a way that prevented contamination. While not the most pleasant job, it was a necessary one.

Candle Making To Illuminate The Home

Candle Making
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

These days all people need to do to light up a room is flip a switch or pull a cord. Electric light bulbs weren’t invented until the 1800s, so people had to illuminate their spaces with candles. That’s all well and good, but somebody had to make the candles first.

Candle making requires beeswax and animal fats. Candles also don’t last very long, particularly in comparison to today’s incandescent light bulb. While firelight provided some illumination, our ancestors needed candles in order to do many things in the dark.

Horseback Riding And Maintenance For Transportation

Blacksmiths shoeing work horses at the stables
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Before cars become an accessible and affordable mode of transportation, people relied on horses for both travel and for work around the home. Not many people ride horses today, and if they do it’s for relaxation or competition.

But over 100 years ago, most people knew how to ride a horse efficiently, and they also knew how to properly care for the animals so that they lived long and productive lives. Our ancestors relied on the animals, which made their lives much more convenient.

Shoe Making

shoemaking and cordwainery college
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Practically no one makes their own shoes today. It’s much easier, cheaper, and less time-consuming to buy a pair of shoes at the mall or online. But there was a time when people made their own shoes. When they wore out, they had to make a new pair.

People had special skills that enabled them to cut and sew the soles and leather in a way that efficiently covered their feet. Proper foot protection was essential, especially in colder climates.

Preparing Food from Scratch for Nourishment

preparing bread
Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images
Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images

Some people stockpile non-perishable foods in their homes in case disaster strikes, but not many people would be able to prepare dry foods or make bread from scratch. Our ancestors, on the other hand, had no problem turning flour into bread.

They had much simpler and healthier diets that didn’t involve processed foods. Plus, they didn’t have supermarkets where they could pick and choose microwave dinners. They cooked wholesome meals that didn’t have too many ingredients but were relatively nutritious instead.

Home Building For Well-Being

Group of barn raising participants posed in front of the structure in progress
Wisconsin Historical Society/Getty Images
Wisconsin Historical Society/Getty Images

You probably couldn’t build a house by hand if you tried. But our ancestors had great knowledge of construction practices because they typically didn’t have the wherewithal to hire someone else to build a log cabin or frame a house. These days, only select individuals know how to construct a solid and durable home.

Back in the day, many men had the skills to make trusses as well as foundations made of stone and rock. They also knew which type of wood to use in their building endeavors.

Gardening In Bulk For Sustenance

Gardening In Bulk For Sustenance
Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

There are many people today who enjoy gardening, but they typically do so because it’s a hobby or to supplement some of their meals. Only the truly knowledgeable know how to till fields, how to ward off unwanted pests and diseases, and know the perfect time for harvesting.

Not many people these days sustain themselves entirely on the food they grow themselves. Our ancestors knew how to grow crops in bulk, including food such as pinto beans, wheat, and oats.

Food Preservation For Stockpiling

A fisherman hanging his catch on racks in preparation for salting
Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s not hard to preserve food today because we have electricity, refrigerators, and freezers. We can store some meals for months in the freezer and simply defrost them before cooking. But our ancestors didn’t have that luxury. It was much harder to preserve food, and some items simply spoiled if they weren’t consumed.

In the past, people used smoking, drying, salting and other methods for food preservation. Most people these days have no idea how to carry out these processes to make food last longer.

Raising Animals For Cooking

one woman sits milking the cow with a second woman standing, holding the animal by a chain around its neck
FPG/Getty Images
FPG/Getty Images

Professional farmers know how to raise and take care of animals, but most people don’t. Certain skills are involved when it comes to milking cows and feeding livestock. Part of raising animals involves diagnosing any diseases they may have and treating them properly.

Also, our ancestors needed to keep animals contained, so they had to have the ability to build proper fences in order to keep the animals from wandering away. These skills were necessary to keep food on the table.

Making Furniture

Man making a cane chair
© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

If you’re a hobbyist, you may enjoy creating some woodworking projects, but most people do not possess the skills needed to create practical wood projects, such as beds, shelves, cabinets, and other types of furniture.

Our ancestors needed to have some woodworking skills if they wanted to make their homes comfortable for themselves and their families. While they could employ someone else to do the work, many didn’t have the financial means to hire someone else to make a table for family meals or a chair to sit in.

Herbal Medicine For Illnesses

herbal medicine
VCG/VCG via Getty Images
VCG/VCG via Getty Images

When someone gets sick today, he or she seeks help from a doctor or goes to the ER. They are then treated with medicine supplied by a pharmacy. Our ancestors didn’t have the drug stores we know today. Instead, many relied on herbal remedies that helped treat their various ailments.

There are certain plants with medicinal qualities that are helpful in treating a variety of sicknesses and injuries. While they may not be as strong as the pills people take today, they were better than nothing.

Blacksmithing To Forge Iron And Steel

Blacksmithing
Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images
Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images

You won’t find many blacksmiths around these days. That’s because they were long ago replaced by giant manufacturing companies that do all the hard work, much of which is automated by machines.

In the past, people needed blacksmiths to forge iron and steel. Certain men specialized in the craft, which forced them to work with and around extremely hot temperatures. Welding would later replace a lot of blacksmith-type work, but it was a skill that was crucial for centuries.

Hunting For Sustenance

hunter
Denver Post / Contributor
Denver Post / Contributor

While a few people still hunt today to provide for their families, most do so for sport or to supplement their diets. Plus, there are laws that strictly govern when and where people can hunt. Back in the day, it was the only way in which people were able to feed their families.

If you didn’t know how to hunt, you could die. People also needed to know how to track down animals and the best time of year to find them.

Knife Making

Cutler in Bouchet near Vollore
Boyer/Roger Viollet via Getty Images
Boyer/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

Another useful skill that past generations possessed was knife making. We use knives every day for a variety of tasks, including cutting our food. People used to create knives out of bronze, copper, brass, iron, etc. and used them to cut meat, tan hides, etc.

Today, anyone can get a decent pair of steak knives at Walmart. In the past, people either made knives themselves or traded something of value to get one for hunting purposes and other activities. Knives were very important to day-to-day living.