To be clear, the title of this book by Alexander Langlands is Cræft, not “craft.” When we think of craft, we tend to think of expensive handmade objects, often considered anachronisms in a world of mass production and mass consumption. Cræft (pronounced “creft”) is the Anglo-Saxon root for the modern word “craft,” and it includes both the product and the process of crafting. But cræft has a more profound meaning: It is the wisdom, handed down from previous generations, that enables the crafter to create a perfectly useful object.
Langlands is an experimental archaeologist; he replicates ancient artifacts and processes to gain greater insights into the cultures that produced them. In Cræft, he explains how ancient craftsmen used their skill, available natural resources and especially cræft to solve the problems that life threw at them. Need temporary sheep pens? Use your weaving skills to create portable wicker fencing. Want a permanent solution for keeping sheep out of your grain fields? Forge tools that help you prune and manipulate trees to form hedgerows. No trees around? Use rocks to create dry stone walls of such cunning manufacture that they last for generations—without mortar.
Langlands is not merely describing the past; cræft has shaped our present and can enhance our future. Anyone who has walked in the English countryside can see how cræft molded the natural environment: Ancient burial mounds, weirs and dikes, even the barren moorlands that inspired the Brontë sisters testify to the human knack for devising ingenious solutions to difficult problems. The importance of cræft is demonstrated by the devastating effects its absence can have: The modern tendency to favor mechanization over cræft, Langlands posits, has resulted in flooding, soil degradation and global warming. In a world with diminishing resources, it might be wise to tap into cræft to ensure a sustainable future. Langlands has written an excellent introduction to guide us.