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An ancient mode of transportation that could work on other planets

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The people in Landes, in the pre-1900s, had a problem. Their land was swampy and uneven, and they were too poor and too remote for anyone to bother putting in roads. They had to get around someway, and they way they figured out their situation gives me hope for whimsy on other planets.

When we think of terraforming as the process of making other planets ideal for human life, we forget that many parts of the Earth aren't ideal for human life either. Human life managed pretty well, despite all that, and I like to think that if humans ever encounter a land like that of Landes, France, we might have brave terraformers deal with it as well as the people there did. The people in Landes lived in a country of uneven, wet ground with large spaces between houses and few roads. Horses were impractical, wheeled vehicles nearly impossible, and shoes were kept soaking until they rotted.


The practical workaround for this problem started with shepherds, but gradually spread to anyone, including postal carriers and law enforcers, who needed to move vast distances quickly. They wore stilts. And not small ones, either. Any stiltwalker perched about three and a half feet up, and some had stilts that were much higher. They carried a long cane that reached to the ground which they would lean on whenever they were still, or even sit on to rest. With practice they became agile - dancing, running, and even lowering themselves so close to the ground that they could pick flowers.

They also got fast. One stiltwalker, Sylvain Dornon, walked all the way from Paris to Moscow in fifty-eight days. He also climbed the Eiffel Tower in stilts. Stilt-walkers were once sent as part of the retinue that accompanied the Empress Josephine, and the stilt-walkers easily kept up with the trotting horses. Today, as less people have needed stilts to get around, the practice has fallen out of favor. Only a few street performers still get around in stilts. It's unlikely to spring up again on this planet.


I like to think, though, that as we jet about the solar system and beyond, there might be other chances. I like to think that someday, on some planet, where resources are tight, the ground is too wet (or corrosive) to be useful (yet), and massive amounts of distance need to be covered in order to gather supplies, humans might go back to tottering around a world like human tripods. If we were resourceful once, and it lead to us be fast and far-ranging with dry feet, there may be chances to do it again. Someday there could be stiltstronauts.

Via Popular Science and Illustrated Past.