I often find myself peeling the inner bark from fallen basswood branches as my children play at the playground near our home. Working the fibers into two-ply reverse wrap twine has become second nature. I do it without even looking. This is a remarkably easy skill to learn, literally taking minutes, which could possibly make the difference between living or dying if put in a survival situation. But it shouldn’t need to come to that to appreciate this primitive technology.
Think of a world in which bow strings didn’t exist. Would we still be chucking spears?What if rope to hoist sails was never manufactured? would Columbus’s “New World” still be pristine? Would bridges and sky scrapers, the pyramids cease to exist? This simple advancement changed the world in immeasurable ways.
The earliest remnants of rope date back 15,000-20,000 years. In 2016 German scientists found tools believed to make rope in a cave dating back 40,000 years. Some scientists believe rope could have predated fire. Yet there is little record of it over that time. Techniques of how to make rope stronger and longer and produced quicker have progressed but the basics remain unchanged. Rope is a perfectly simple tool.
One display of how rope made life easier for early humans can be seen in a comparison of the simple figure four deadfall trap versus the Paiute deadfall. The addition of a short piece of twine, a few minutes worth of work, makes a good trap a great trap. To see both of these traps in action visit Shawn Woods youtube page by clicking here Paiute deadfall video
Only a few years ago did I finally make a sinew bow-string to hunt with. For decades it seemed impossible to me to be able to make a string from natural materials that would put up with the tensions of a well made bow. I am embarrassed to reveal it took only two tries to make a serviceable string, still in use today. I suppose some of the credit belongs to the remarkable strength of sinew, but that is a deserved discussion for another day. But to have been able to build the string for the bow in only a small fraction of the time to make the bow itself makes me sad to have not tried it earlier.
Next time you put tension on your bow-string, wet a line in the local pond or simply tie your shoes take a second to ponder what else may be missing from existence without this ingenious innovation.