If you went back in time, what could you teach this civilization?

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True or False: Charcoal is a principle component of gun powder?

True.  Gunpowder also known as black powder is a mixture of charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate (saltpeter).  The charcoal and sulfur act as fuels and the saltpeter acts as an oxidizer. Sugar could also be used as the fuel instead of charcoal. A traditional ratio of the ingredients would be about 15:3:2 potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur by weight.

A word on how it's made:

True or False: You make charcoal by heating organic matter such as wood in an oxygen poor environment?

Charcoal pit. Image credit: sarahemcc
Charcoal Pit

True. Charcoal can be made from anything containing carbon. Traditionally wood has been the raw material used to make charcoal. Wood consists of three main components: cellulose, lignin and water.  These compounds are composed almost entirely from atoms of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon.  Charcoal is made by removing the hydrogen and oxygen in the wood while leaving just the carbon.

What secret don’t survival books teach you about making fire with friction?

Example of fire by friction image by Steve Sanford for Field and Stream. 
Hand Fire Drill

Answer: The type of wood used for the spindle and hearth board is crucial to making an ember. This is an often overlooked fact in many descriptions of making fire by friction.

What you are trying to do is create a very fine wood dust and then heat it to between 371-426°C (700-800°F). When that occurs, the wood dust starts to glow and it forms an ember much like the tip of a lit cigarette. That glowing ember can then be coaxed into a flame by adding it to a bundle of very dry tinder and blowing.


What secret would have allowed the ancient Egyptians to create hydraulic cement (like Portland cement)?

The Egyptians could have been building structures out of concrete if they had only known the secret to making hydraulic cement.  In the early 19th century, a bricklayer named Joseph Aspdin in Leeds, England first made Portland cement by burning powdered limestone and clay in his kitchen stove. He named it Portland cement because of its similarity to Portland stone, a type of building stone that was quarried on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England.

Where do you find flint or obsidian to make stone tools?

For the sake of simplicity, we have lumped the preferred materials for making stone tools into two broad categories; flint-like and obsidian. The flint-like materials (such as chert) are mainly made from Silicon dioxide (SiO2) which is also known as silica.


What two secrets do you need to know about knapping in order to create stone tools?

Knapping can be an incredibly complex art that can require years of experience to create beautiful and functional tools. But knapping, in its simplest form, is banging two stones together causing one to fracture and create a sharp edge. That edge could be used as a crude tool as it is. Probably 80% of the tasks you would need to tackle could be done with that edge. The next 15% of refinement would probably take weeks or a few months to learn and the last 5% of refinement may take years.


You want to make a stone tool. What type of stone should you look for?

Chert formations, Pindus mountains Greece(source: candiru)
Examples of Chert

Our ancestors discovered that certain stones were very hard and, when broken, they formed very sharp edges.   These were logically used to produce cutting tools such as knife blades, arrowheads, axe heads and scrapers.  Geologists have refined classification of these various stones into categories such as flints, cherts, jaspers, chalcedonies, agates, quartz, obsidian, etc.  For the purposes of simplicity it is easy to lump them into two broad categories: Flint-like and obsidian. 

What is the most effective way to kill pathogens in drinking water?

Boiling: Handy to know the answer if you are out backpacking or taking a trip to the less civilized parts of the world. Common options are to use chlorine, a ceramic filter, iodine tablets or to boil the water to treat it. Boiling water is the only known method that is 100% effective in destroying pathogens known to cause sickness. The Centers for Disease Control have a very handy chart comparing the effectiveness of various water treatments.


True or False: Bees and flies can help you find surface water?

True. Bees don’t usually fly more than 3 miles from their nests and must have a constant water source. So watching the direction they fly when leaving the nest can be a valuable tool for locating water. Flies stay even closer to water – about 100m or so.


How hot can you get a coal fired forge?

According to "Marks' Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers", 10th, coal gas burns at about 3,590°F (1,977°C) under 100% air conditions. More or less air will decrease the temperature. This means that the maximum temperature of a coal fire in a forge is about 3,500°F (1,927°C).



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