Because ancient gear was so consequential and difficult to come by, it must have been just as exhilarating to use as anything we use today.
Because ancient gear was so consequential and difficult to come by, it must have been just as exhilarating to use as anything we use today. (Photo: Jon Schubert)

The World’s Oldest Gear

Ten ancient tools that gave rise to the equipment we still use today

Because ancient gear was so consequential and difficult to come by, it must have been just as exhilarating to use as anything we use today.
Jeff Foss

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These days, the perfect piece of gear is rarely more than a few clicks away. Of course, that wasn’t always the case. For thousands of years, even the most basic gear and apparel was painstakingly handmade, meticulously maintained, and passed down from generation to generation.

But that doesn’t mean our ancestors were any less gear-obsessed than we are today. In fact, because it was so consequential and difficult to come by, ancient gear must have been just as exhilarating to use as modern pow boards and mountain bikes, right? Here, we’ve compiled some of oldest pieces of stoke-worthy gear ever unearthed.

Ax (46,000 B.C.)

(Jon Schubert)

Primitive stone tools go back millions of years, but who wants to hit something with a boring old stone? It wasn’t until somebody thought to sharpen the thing and attach a handle that swinging stones became fun—and exponentially more effective. As it turns out, that somebody may have been an aborigine in Western Australia. This 48,000-year-old ax was crafted from fine-grained basalt, but the sculptor used softer rocks to hone the edge. Cultures all over the world used similar axes, but this one predates the next-closest find by almost 40,000 years.

Fishing Rig (40,000 B.C.)

(Jon Schubert)

Recovered from a cave off the coast of East Timor, these primitive hooks are among the earliest examples of fishing technology. They may help explain how early mariners subsisted while traveling long distances by boat—there were only a handful of terrestrial species in the area to hunt. A cache of tuna bones was also discovered at the site, so the hooks appear to have proven effective.

Fire Kit (6,000 B.C.)

(Jon Schubert)

Originally dismissed as a collection of phallic pegs, these cylindrical artifacts from Israel are now believed to be a primitive set of matches. The conical tips appear to have been spun into fireboards to produce friction and heat. To turn the pegs fast enough, the user probably would have needed a bow, a theory supported by the tiny scratches on the pegs’ sides.

Snowshoe (3800 B.C.)

(Jon Schubert)

Stone Age Italians in the Alps were masters of their wintry domain, and this primitive snowshoe may predate Swedish skis by as many as 600 years. It was created by bending birch into an oval shape and interlacing the frame with twine. Indeed, the only thing more remarkable than the item itself is the fact that it sat on a military cartographer’s desk for more than a decade before finding its way to Italian authorities. The guy figured it was maybe 100 years old.

Wooden Ski (3200 B.C.)

(Jon Schubert)

In 1924, Swedish construction workers discovered two wooden boards and a shovel-like pole while digging a ditch outside the village of Kalvträsk. These decaying planks, each about 204 centimeters long, turned out to be the oldest skis ever recovered. Originally estimated to be 4,000 years old, newer dating techniques pushed that figure back to 5,200 years—older than the pyramids of Egypt. Made from pine, the skis had upturned tips and four small holes near the center that were presumably intended to hold some kind of string binding.

Messenger Bag (2200 B.C.)

(Jon Schubert)

Sure, archeologists have labeled it a purse, but this Stone Age satchel from Germany has messenger bag written all over it. For one, it’s decorated with 100 dog teeth—how punk is that? (Early people in this region kept dogs as livestock and relied on them for food.) Meanwhile, though the fabric has long since deteriorated, the large front flap appears to be an early attempt at weatherproofing. It’s the prehistoric definition of form meets function.

Technical Outerwear (1000 B.C.)

(Jon Schubert)

Discovered in the Yanghai Tombs, an ancient Chinese cemetery, these weathered trousers are some of the oldest-known garments designed for a specific outdoor activity. Horseback riding had recently been introduced to the region, and local herders needed something to protect their legs since traditional robes weren’t cutting it. The design was simple: one fabric loop for each leg and another loop for the crotch. In the same cache of artifacts, archeologists also discovered a whip, a wooden horse bit, a bow, and a battle ax.

GPS Device (205 B.C.)

(Jon Schubert)

While it couldn’t pinpoint your precise physical whereabouts, this ancient analog computer, known as the Antikythera mechanism, could reveal a lot about your place in the universe, including the position of the sun and the moon, upcoming eclipses, and possibly the location of planets. The user turned a tiny crank on the front face, setting into motion more than 30 bronze gears of varying sizes.

Multitool (300 A.D.)

(Jon Schubert)

Made of silver with an iron blade, this Snickers-size Roman instrument included a knife, fork, toothpick, spike, spatula, and spoon. The spike may have been used to extract snail meat, a favorite delicacy of the day, and the spatula indicates that the tool was indeed intended for eating. In a pinch, the tool could also be used as a weapon. Historians think it belonged to a wealthy traveler, but judging by the pristine condition, we say it probably belonged to the Roman version of your buddy who always has to have the latest and greatest.

Sunglasses (1200 A.D.)

(Jon Schubert)

The whole point of sunglasses is to shield your eyes from the elements, and the oldest shades ever found—made from walrus ivory and dating back to 1200 A.D.—were probably more effective than many of today’s versions. By narrowing the field of vision along two small slits, they drastically reduced the amount of snow and sun exposure. Discovered on Baffin Island in northern Canada, these glasses were worn by a pre-Inuit culture known as the Thule. Worth noting: they look decidedly chill.

Lead Photo: Jon Schubert