A modern person whisked back over the centuries into the Middle Ages would sooner or later realize that medieval society was profoundly different from that of the modern world, but the physical differences between the medieval and modern worlds would be evident at once. The simplest daily routines would become significant chores, readily available commodities would become valuable rarities, and commonplace interactions with one's own body and the physical environment would take on enormous significance. In this chapter, we will look at various material factors that shaped medieval life.
In today's industrialized world, it is hard to envision how much effort it takes to produce even the simplest of goods when each piece must be transformed by hand from raw materials to finished product. Medieval craftsmen made use of a wide range of tools, from the smith's simple hammer to the weaver's intricate loom, but in all cases the amount of human labor involved was enormous. There were only a few fully mechanized processes in the medieval economy; aside from the wind- or water-powered mills used for grinding flour, virtually every form of work was based primarily on human, or in some cases, animal, labor.
The production of ironwork illustrates the effort involved in medieval industry. Iron was a staple component in medieval material culture, and its use known in Europe since the first millennium B.C., yet its production remained a laborious task. The iron ore had to be extracted from the ground by miners. It then had to be heated to over two thousand degrees Fahrenheit (although there was