In this era of mechanization and mass-production, we tend to take a lot of things for granted. We’re not just referring to modern technology like personal computers and automobiles — even items which would be considered primitive today were once incredibly laborious to produce. Our ancestors would no doubt be dumbfounded by how plentiful our resources are these days.

paracord

Take rope, for example. If you need some cordage right now, you can open a new tab on your web browser, tap a few keys and click a few buttons, and have 100 feet of mil-spec paracord delivered to your house by this time tomorrow. Its synthetic fibers are woven flawlessly by a machine, and it’s no thicker than a pencil, yet has been tested to withstand 500 pounds of weight. No big deal.

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Production of lime bast rope starts by peeling strips of bark from a lime (linden) tree.

A thousand years ago, there was no Amazon.com with overnight shipping. In most cases, there wasn’t even any pre-made rope to buy. Want some cordage? You’d be harvesting the materials and making it yourself. And you’d better have a good teacher to literally show you the ropes, because there’d be no internet to Google it on. Even if there was, it’d be useless because you’d almost certainly be illiterate.

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Bast fiber layers are separated from outer bark by soaking in seawater for several months.

Archaeological records show that ancient ropes were often constructed from bast. This material is a tough fiber found in the inner bark layer of certain plants. Jute, hemp, and flax are examples of bast fiber which are still used for rope-making today. Since at least AD 800, vikings in Norway were known to use bast from the lime tree to make rope. We know what you’re thinking — this tree is unrelated to the green citrus fruit, and is also known as linden or basswood.

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Lime bast rope is still made today in Norway using the same traditional methods: stripping bark from lime (linden) trees, soaking the strips in seawater to separate the layers, twisting the bast fibers into strands, and braiding the strands into a three-ply rope. The following 5-minute short film by Silje Ensby documents the process in an artistic manner:

Obviously, the vikings didn’t have chainsaws or pressurized hoses, but other than these time-saving measures, the 1,000-year-old technique remains the same. If it still took us 4 months of waiting and countless hours of finger-numbing weaving to craft a rope, we’d be a whole lot more careful about cutting it.

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