Whether you find yourself stranded in a hostile environment, or you’re facing a long-term collapse of the grid, you’ve got to learn how to put everything to good use. You have to carefully consider every little thing that you would have normally tossed in the trash. Everything we’ve been taught in our throwaway culture will have to “thrown out”, for lack of a better term. Disregarding our consumerist culture is probably one of the greatest attributes of the Prepper movement, and there is no shortage of survival literature and videos, that reveal some way to improvise mundane objects into useful tools. There’s one thing I rarely hear about though, and perhaps it’s due to its rather macabre nature.
Animal bones have been used for thousands of years by our ancient ancestors, who were, of course, the greatest survival experts in human history. They didn’t have the option to be squeamish or wasteful, and neither should we. While it’s unlikely we’d have resort to using animal remains in most situations, it shouldn’t be ruled out. The longer any given survival scenario lasts, the more resourceful we’ll have to become. Below are a few examples of animal bones being put to great use, with links added for detailed instructions.
The procedure for making a bone knife is pretty simple. After collecting a discarded animal bone, you can shape it into a blade by grinding it up against a coarse stone. The lengthy bones from a large animal like a deer are usually used. The long femur and shin bones are probably the best and will give you plenty of space to make the blade while still leaving enough bone for a handle. This short video will give the rundown on how these knives are made. It really looks like anybody could do it. Be careful though and respect the material you’re working with because a bone knife can be just as sharp as a steel blade.
The source for sewing needles wasn’t where I would have expected. It seems that ancient people usually didn’t look for small thin bones to shaped into needles. Instead, they would usually chip splinters from a larger bone (which you might have in abundance of after making a bone knife) and file down the sharp edges with stone and wet sand until the tip was the only sharp part of the splinter. Afterward, they would drill a tiny hole at the other end with a piece of stone or sharp rock. Of course, depending on your situation you can use anything you can get your hands on to drill it out.
Unlike sewing needles, which can be chipped out of most bones, it seems like fishing hooks are easier to make out of very specific parts of the animal. Certain bones are already very close to the shape of a hook, and if you examine the remains of an animal you’ll probably find several good contenders to work with. While I’ve never made a bone hook, after doing some research I’ve found instruction to make them out of jaw bones, nose bones, or the tarsal bone of a deer foot. Just like the knife and sewing needle, it’s merely a process of whittling down the existing bone into the proper shape.
It turns out that bones aren’t just good for making tools. A study from Finland found that ancient people living above the arctic circle often had a scarce supply of firewood to work with. To supplement their fires, they would often add animal bones to the mix. While bones typically don’t burn very well by themselves, once a fire gets going they can easily catch with the rest of the wood. After extensive experimentation, the researchers found that the fire would burn at a slightly lower temperature. However, with the addition of bones, the flame would burn brighter and longer.
It’s crucial to get just the right bone to firewood ratio though. Several experiments were done with different ratios, to see what exactly works best. They found that a 50/50 mix would burn brighter and longer while adding more bones than wood wouldn’t combust properly. Much like wood, the smaller bones like ribs and phalanges would burn faster, and large femur bones would burn slowly, but with more consistency.
While I haven’t found any evidence of this being used by ancient people (correct me if I’m wrong in the comments), it’s certainly worth knowing from a self-reliance context. Known as bone meal, ground up animal bones make a fantastic fertilizer due to their abundance of phosphorous. While dry bones would work best, if you’re stuck with fresh bones it’s fairly simple to boil and bake them before preparing them for your garden. Once you have some dry bones free of any organic material, you need to hammer them to pieces with a mallet (safety glasses please), and then grind them into a powder with a stone or mortar and pestle. Then stir the powder into warm water, and wait for it to cool. Now your liquid bone meal is ready to be added to the soil.
In our society, bones a very underrated source of food. We tend to think of it as a kind of scrap that we throw to our dogs. But, hidden within bones is the bone marrow, which is an incredibly nutritious source of fats, proteins, and vitamins. The massive amounts of collagen are great for helping your body heal cuts and bruises as well. The bone is often grilled in foil to trap the grease or is boiled in a stew to make a broth. Fortunately, since bone cuts are typically regarded as scrap, you can usually buy them on the cheap.
Overall, bones are a fantastic survival resource. They are cheap, plentiful, and easy to work with. They’ll make a great addition to your fire pit, garden, or even your dinner plate. And if you need to make any tools, you might not even have to kill an animal to find them. They’re usually just lying around in the forest, along with the rocks and stones that are needed to shape them. While the skills involved to make them into tools are time-consuming, they’re very accessible to the layman. Anyone can do it with a little bit of practice.