What skills and knowledge humanity lost along the way?

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by Plazma Inferno!, Feb 11, 2016.

  1. Plazma Inferno! Ding Ding Ding Ding Administrator

    As title says. I was wondering about the skills and knowledge we lost through the centuries. What skills became unnecessary or obsolete? Also, will we ever need some of them again?
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  3. Edont Knoff Registered Senior Member

    I'm sure if I spent some time, I could name a few, but at the moment none come to my mind. All seem to be still in use, even if only in rare occasions. Making pottery has become a hobby, so it's lost as a real-life skill, but still present enough to be employed again, once ther is a need. Rangers can still read trails and other traces of the animal population, even that we don't need to hunt our food anymore. I'd say, these skills have been marginalized, or moved to hobbies or rituals, but are not completely lost yet.

    Also since there are still "primitive" cultures in several habitats, it's unlikely that the skills are completely lost to humanity. Just reduced to small groups of people, that still need them. But it can be very difficult to return those skills to a wider base of users, or at least preserve the knowledge about them.

    In case of a major crisis of whatever sort, these skills will become important again. Hunt game and know how to deal with the carcass, make food out of it? Can be a life-saver. Make pottery? If the crisis lasts long, it will become a handy skill again. Know useful herbs from bad plants? Very useful, both for food and medicine, if supplies of those are scarse.

    Telling the weather from watching the sky and animal behaviour? Important if you nmeed to grow your own crops and there is no TV and weather forecast anymore.

    Treating leather/pelts without chemicals? Handy, if you must survive a winter or just need protective clothing and you can hunt. Same for sewing/ knitting, and how to make threads from raw wool. I'm sure there are a few people left who know how to use a spinning wheel. And some who know how to build one.

    Make a fire without matches or lighters? Very important in times of a crisis - knowing how to make fire is widely lost, but a few people still know it.
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  5. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    There aren't many people in North America who can track with skill. Or make cordage out of tree bark. I doubt more than a half dozen people on this planet really know how to snare - as opposed to hunt, etc - a whitetail deer. Apparently even the indigenous Amazon peoples no longer know how to make the "dark soil" their ancestors created by the hectare in their rainforest arboriculture. And afaik no modern North American has been able to develop enough skill to manufacture a Folsom point throwing spear and atlatl, even though the process has been worked out in reasonable detail from the site research - apparently, high quality stone tools are not easy to make even if one knows how (one of my relatives spent a few years in a pathology lab flaking microtome blades from obsidian, and the workstation used featured a small shrine with a clay fetish one made ritual offerings to in hopes of benevolent intervention in the blade-flaking process).

    But the actual lost skills are more likely to have been in areas of superseded technology. I recall a few years ago when some terrorists bomb-crippled a US navy ship in the Mediterranean, a commentator pointed out that the necessary expertise for repairing one of the larger damaged guns might not exist any more. Similar considerations turn up when repairing large cast bells and other accoutrements - including the stonework - of medieval cathedrals. And there are some data records on magnetic tape from early space exploration that apparently cannot be read. Stuff like that is always being lost.
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  7. Edont Knoff Registered Senior Member

    The large steel wheels of steam engines for trains are apparently also very hard to repair, because the tools (and probably the knowledge) have become very scarse.

    There are a few specialists for cast bells left though. Wikipedia has a list:


    Most are in Europe and Russia, and listed as "historic" (no longer existing) but a good number is still listed as "active".

    Stonecutters should be fairly easy to find. I Don't know though, how many of them are able to reproduce the historic works.

    This chutch, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dresden_Frauenkirche , had been destryoed in WWII, left in ruins for 50 years, and just recently been reconstructed from historic material left, and new stones created. I take this as an indication, that stonecutters and masosn are still able to produce very good copies of historic stonework. The original building was not medieaval though, but finished 1743.
    Robert Schunk likes this.
  8. River Ape Valued Senior Member

    Is there anyone in the world now who could turn out a late period Francesco Guardi?
    If so, why haven't they? Guardi forgeries never look right; some might pass as early works.
    I am in awe of his work, as were the French impressionists.
    It represents a peak that has never been surpassed.
    He makes Canaletto look so ordinary.
    I daresay there are a few people around who could still knock out Canalettos.
    But why don't we train young artists to at least be able to turn out a reasonable 17th Century Dutch?

    The invention of the camera has been one of the most baleful influences on civilisation.
    Does it make the skill of representational art "obsolete and unnecessary"?
    How wonderful when the world could only be viewed through the eyes and imagination of the artist!
    (They could never get elephants right if they'd painted too many horses.)
  9. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Well in science the skills I was taught to use log tables, and then a slide rule, are obsolete now. (I still have my slide rule, though: too important to my upbringing for me to throw it away, I suppose.)

    There will be thousands of technology-related skills that have similarly been rendered redundant as technology has changed and as skills in society have become more specialised. How many people can repair their own cars today? I changed the big end bearings on an old Morris Minor, just after leaving university. I can't imagine anyone can dismantle a modern car engine, due to the safety and environmental controls on it. How many people can manage a horse-drawn plough today? How many people can start a fire with a tinderbox? How many people can ride a horse? And so on.
  10. origin In a democracy you deserve the leaders you elect. Valued Senior Member

    We think of photographs as a perfect representation of the reality we see but they are not. It is easy to tell if an artist paints a picture from a photograph, it even has a name it is called photo-realism. It is easy to tell it is from a photograph because it is not an accurate picture of we see in real life it, looks like a photograph. An artist that paints a portrait from a live model looks more like what we see. I was lucky enough to see some Rembrant portraits in a gallery and I was transfixed, they didn't look like a photographs they looked like real people looking out of the frames.
    River Ape likes this.
  11. origin In a democracy you deserve the leaders you elect. Valued Senior Member

    I read that they just reintroduced courses on navigation by the stars in the Naval Academy. Somebody realized that in a war if the GPS satellites were jamed or destroyed all the ships would be unable to figure out where they were!
  12. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    ft's not that nobody knows how to do practical things the 'old' or primitive way: lots of people have one or more skills. Some hunt and fish, some can grow potatoes, identify mushrooms, brew beer, preserve berries; some can build adequate shelter, can make clothing, shoes, baskets or jugs. Some of each can even do it from original material they find in nature.

    The real problems are: too many people to do it for and not enough nature to supply raw materials, and the skills are not organized into labour-sharing communities, but scattered among large populations of suspicious, hostile, competing urban consumers.

    The really important skills we have lost are co-operation and efficient resource allocation.

    The most likely to survive 2050 are outlying native villages, Mennonite (and similar) farming societies and a few crafty anarchist communes.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2016
  13. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    I used to have a slide-rule program on my desktop.
  14. birch Valued Senior Member

    I want to live like this, off the grid but too hard today. Having everything done for you and just buying makes you feel inept in a fundamental way. Its like an undercurrent panic/helpless feeling and disempowering like you know you couldnt take care of even basic needs as you dont have the skills or know-how if not for modern conveniences.
  15. birch Valued Senior Member

    I wouldnt go so far as to say i want to spin my own cloth but at least sew and not have to rely on electricity so much but some manual power where you are interacting with what you are making. Its rewarding to be involved in the full process. Its like cause and effect has largely been taken away from our lives which gives it meaning in even little things.

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