Transport yourself to a place out of time. A shelter made from round wood, birch bark and reeds. Reindeer skins snuggled around you, protecting you from the biting cold outside. As you drift off to sleep, the sound of whispers from those nestled around you, the crackle of the fire, the gentle noises of a child and the song of the ice gently lulls you to sleep. As the moon of February waxed, we gathered together as a village of nine adults and one child to eat, sleep, play and dream at Kierikki Stone Age Centre in Northern Finland, lying about 100km south of the Arctic circle and from Sapmí, the land of the indigenous Sami people.
Last year, we received an invitation from Kierikki Stone Age Centre to undertake a week long Stone Age Project as a means of promoting their centre and to experience and share what winter might have looked and felt like for Neolithic peoples there. The Kierikki Centre is located along the Iijoki River on a Stone Age dwelling site that has been studied since the 1960s. The living museum is open from May-September and welcomes the public to experience the lives of our ancestors through crafts, games, exhibition and an on site archaeological excavation in the summer months.
For this time, however, we were mostly alone, except for the odd Finnish news station which showed up to take pictures of us and ask questions. This was not a problem. We were happy to promote this amazing centre, and the people who work so hard to keep it alive, and also to dispel some commonly held beliefs about how our ancestors lived.
My preparation began many months ago in the form of hide tanning, clothes-making, wild food gathering and preparation and, of course, catching new songs to share with my clan. Through these writings, I’ll be sharing what I can about this experience and hopefully giving you an insight into this beautiful week spent in the frozen North.
It may be good to begin with WHY I might want to do something like this. I know well enough that it’s not everyones cup of tea and the idea of sleeping outside, eating reindeer and wearing skins conjures up a range of images and opinions in people’s minds. For me, the reasons are both simple and deep-rooted.
This is not my first experience of living close to the land and in nature-based community. In 2018, I spent 4 months living this way, albeit wearing less skins and in warmer climes. This trip has been a culmination of many years of experience, both in ancestral skills and in community building experiences. For me, living directly in relation to the land brings me closer not only to my own true nature, but also to sharing more authentic relationships with other humans, with the land, with the more-than-human community and with all of our shared ancestors.
So, what does that mean to live directly in relationship with the land?
This is what Ancestral skills and living is all about for me. It’s not about looking to the past and trying to ‘re-create’ exactly what we think our ancestors did. In this way, we are not like experimental archaeologists. It is about having a deep respect for how lightly our long past ancestors lived on the earth. Learning how they lived on the earth for so long without disrupting the natural cycles, whilst also living well and abundantly from and with nature is something that can be of enormous benefit to us in this time of the Anthropocene.
We can deepen this respect simply by going to the source and playing with the landscape. There’s a simplicity and a beauty to these skills. Each one connected to the other. Like a spiders web, you cannot pull one thread without feeling the effects ripple throughout.
I need to catch a fish to feed myself? Well, I will need to know how to make string from plants, I will need to play with the qualities of the plants around me and figure out what holds well, is strong and pliable enough to hold a fish. I’ll need a hook. What materials offer this? A thorn from hawthorn? A bone? I’ll need some tools to make this. What rocks live here? How were they formed? What qualities do they hold and can they be shaped into a cutting blade? What will serve as my float? My lure? Imagine all the work and play that goes into a line, hook, float, lure and sinker. Imagine the joy and gratitude you must feel when a fish finally does take your worm. Your hook holds. The line pulls in dinner, fabric, nutrition.
Now, imagine doing this alone.
Not much fun, huh? All that work. You’ll still need to gather fire wood, make fire, cook, repair your gear, clothe yourself, entertain yourself… And start all over again in the morning.
It was a very early understanding of mine on this journey that these skills mean nothing in isolation. It really does take a village. Without community, and strong, non-hierarchical community, we would not have survived. And it is the same truth today. This was a very clear learning for all of us after this week in the snow-covered North. We simply would not survive were it not for the dependance we all had on one another. Someone had to chop wood, another to light fire in the morning, others to process the meat, prepare the dinner, skin, stretch, smoke.
We were still technically on a holiday so of course there was time to take walks, enjoy the silence, the changing and breath-taking light and work on our own craft projects. If you were alone, there just simply wouldn’t be time for fun, play, laughter, song, exploration and deep connection. And you’d definitely be colder at night!
I’ll be adding more to my story pot soon.
Stay tuned for articles about the food we ate, the clothes we wore, the crafts we made and the magic we shared.