EDC History: Bronze Age EDC


EDC History: Bronze Age EDC

As a species, human beings are both in love with and quick to forget history. This EDC thing isn’t new. In fact, its only the acronym (or technically an initialism, as it doesn’t spell a word) that is new.

I wrote about Henry David Thoreau’s EDC from yesteryear. That historical pocket dump displayed a great deal of creativity and quite a few things that we still carry today, but let’s look at a pocket dump even older. Turning back the clock, we see that one of the first civilized humans that is well preserved had an EDC set up and, funny enough, a lot of the trends we see in gear today were present way back then.

In 1991 two hikers high in the Alps, skirting along the border between Switzerland and Italy, came upon an unnerving sight–a human body partially buried in the snow pack. Given its state of decay, or lack thereof, the hikers assumed that it was recently deceased fellow hiker. They notified the authorities and after a few different attempts to retrieve the remains, the body was removed. Over time, the body was named Otzi in honor of the location where he was found.

That discovery was a treasure trove of information–a perfectly preserved slice of life from an age long gone. It turned out that this was not a hiker of recent vintage. It was, instead, a body more than 5,000 years old–the remains of a human now known as Otzi. Thanks to the ice and snow, Otzi has been remarkably preserved, a so-called natural mummy. Also with him and also well preserved were the tools he carried with him–his EDC.

The list is worthy of any modern pocket dump:

  • A bow with a quiver of 12 arrows
  • An antler tool for sharpening the arrows
  • An unidentified tool (probably a rusted out Leatherman Wave, right?)
  • Leather pouch with berries
  • Leather pouch with birch fungus
  • Leather pouch with flint and pyrite
  • A pair of snow shoes with foot covers
  • A small flint fixed blade with sheath
  • A copper axe

Breaking down what Otzi had with him, we can readily see the equivalents in modern-day carry. The bow and arrows are, of course, BC’s version of a firearm. The leather pouches are almost direct equivalents of the small pouches attached via MOLLE to bug out bags. Interestingly enough, it turns out that the birch fungus had medicinal properties, so at least one of the pouches was pretty clearly a FAK (first aid kid). Another of the leather pouches on the list is Otzi’s fire kit, as the combination of flint and pyrite throws up a shower of sparks. The snow shoes were quite advanced for the time and they are simply rustic versions of snow shoes today. The small fixed blade is also an exact equivalent to today’s gear–many people still EDC a small fixed blade. The only difference between Otzi’s knife and modern one is the materials–the size and purpose are identical.

Finally, there is the copper axe (seen here as a recreation)


This is, perhaps, the most interesting piece of gear. Analysis has shown that the copper used in the axe head was especially pure, more than 95% pure copper. At the time, this would have been a huge upgrade over a stone headed axe–much less likely to chip and much easier to sharpen and shape. Copper’s not an ideal material for cutlery today, but in 3300 BC, this must have been like ZDP-189.

It’s also interesting because analysis has shown that it was a very, very uncommon item. In fact, searching around about Otzi, it seems clear that his copper axe was so nice it is one of the finest tools to have survived from that era. It might be unique. The purity of the copper and the rarity of the tool lead scientists to conclude that Otzi might have been some kind of metal smith.  Scientists also believe, given the purity of the copper, that the axe was something of a status symbol, especially in a time when stone tools were still very common.

The gear itself is pretty amazing, but this is about EDC, and here we have a history lesson that shows us that in 5,000 years, not a lot has changed. Otzi’s gear is not only familiar to us, its organization echoes what we still do today. Look on any one of the dozen or so forums or pocket dump sites and you will see Otzi’s pattern again and again: a weapon, a FAK, a fire starting kit, a knife, and some bling.

I’d lay good odds that the identified tool, while probably not a Leatherman delivered via DeLorean, was some kind of catch-all multitool. There is no way around it, and if the scientists working on Otzi were aware of the trends in EDC gear, they would have noticed it–the copper axe is Otzi’s bling piece. Its his RJ Martin Q36 with mokuti inlays. Its that piece of gear that not only has a purpose but also has a soul. Its uniqueness sets off the rest of the gear and even now, 5,000 years later, has folks ooohing and aaahing over what Otzi carried. If he was like the modern EDCer, that would make him very happy. Given his array of stuff, it seems clear to me that Otzi was very much like modern EDCers and more than slightly in love with tools.

So the next time to set out for a hike and gather your gear, pause for a second and think about why you carry what you do and think about just how little what we carry has changed over the years. Sure, we have carbon fiber, QuickClot, and 3V steel, but its all in service to the same basic needs. That’s why what we carry hasn’t really changed that much.

And also think about this–even 5,000 years ago there was an impulse to carry something super rare and super cool. In Otzi’s day it was a hand forged copper axe. Today it could be a custom folder or ridiculously expensive custom flashlight.


Or, it could be a Winkler hand forged axe, sans copper head.

This obsession with gear is a long standing thing. Being prepared is common sense, but frosting your pockets with the coolest stuff is an instinct from the Bronze Age.

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A devoted Dad and Husband, daily defender of the Constitution, and passionate Gear Geek. You can find Tony's reviews at his site: www.everydaycommetary.com, on Twitter at EverydayComment, on Instagram at EverydayCommentary, and once every two weeks a on a podcast, Gear Geeks Live, with Andrew from Edge Observer.

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