In a previous question I asked what the impact of lack of above-ground fauna would be on an industrialized society, such as with a tech level of 1940s-1950s. While it largely wouldn't impact such a society, it might cause significant issues for pre-industrial societies.

In order to determine just what the "Starting Tech" level for this world is, I want to explore some of the issues with a lack of fauna. The first of these issues is Lack of work animals and how it affects city size.

Some basic information:

  • The humans on this planet arrived via space but were unable to take any significant technology with them.
  • They have food covered via food processing, farming of some Earth crops they managed to save, and farming of genetically modified rabbits and mice that are capable of providing nutritious meat but also able to eat the local flora.
  • There are also fish and large ocean-dwelling creatures as well.

The current assumptions are they have access to decent wood or wood substitutes, can build ships, and are pretty much entirely coastal or along rivers since water is the easiest form of shipping. So things can be moved with large and small vessels, but farms by their very nature aren't going to be small.

Humans are the only significant power source for moving things across land. With this in mind, How large can a pre-Industrial city be with a technology level of roughly 1500-1600s? You can take a bit of leeway with the technology level - The population did come from the stars and was able to recreate some historic technologies.

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    $\begingroup$ 400 years is a broad range of technology even before you allow for leeway. Our idea of technology is predicated on a tanning industry which would be lacking in a society without domesticated animals. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Dec 30 '17 at 5:07
  • $\begingroup$ It is, but I didn't want to constrain too much. I've put it at more along the lines of 1500s-1600s. $\endgroup$ – Andon Dec 30 '17 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ By genetically engineered rabbits and mice I assume you mean engineered before or shortly after landing, otherwise if they can still support genetic engineering they should be able to make industrial equipment like tractors. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 31 '17 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP There is no way to make a an early modern state work without animals. I don't think that is valid. It did not happen on Earth, but that is mostly because the animal-havers went and conquered all the draft animal free societies before they could get very far. Are you telling me that there is no chance that the Amerindians in 10,000 years could have developed modern technologies? I find it hard to believe that. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 31 '17 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion: This is an example of the treachery of language. I think we agree on the fundamental idea, but the constraints of linguistic expression produce the appearance of disagreement. The question asks for "the technology of the [16th century]"; while I agree that most likely, left to their own devices, the American Indians (Native Peoples, First Nations, etc.) would probably have somehow progressed technologically, there was only one actual 16th century: they would create a different society. The actual 16th century simply cannot work without animal power and animal products. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 31 '17 at 21:17

Based on the fact that Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, is estimated to have had about 250 000 inhabitants in 1519, lack of draft animals is not a deciding factor when it comes to city sizes. The Aztec domesticated only dogs, turkeys, and ducks, all of which were used as food sources. Yet, they achieved at least 60% urbanisation. Climate and soil fertility might be more influential factors when it comes to cities.

Therefore, your city can be any size comparable to historic cities of the corresponding period. It is not possible to give a better estimate without knowing more about specific conditions in specific locations.

I believe that your people can achieve higher levels of urbanisation and denser populations than historical examples. Being space colonists, they have an advantage of not inventing the wheel. Of course, it presumes that not all knowledge is lost.

To address some technological problems:

The comments point out the lack of leather, ground transportation, and animal power and mention that all of these will prevent technological development. It might be true if humans start from square one, but it is not your case.

Leather can be obtained from genetically modified rabbits. They could've been genetically engineered by the original colonists to provide high-quality leather and fur. And further generations could've used selection to improve those rabbits.

Ground transportation is a bit challenging but still is far from unsolvable. Your people can use sail wagons, i.e. sailboats adapted for moving on land.

Land yachts designed by Simon Stevin in the year 1600

These land yachts were built in 1600 to entertain nobles (image from Wikipedia).

Apparently, land sail carriages were used in China as early as the 6th century. Your civilisation will have no problems building them considering that they have developed ship-building technologies.

The lack of animal power is relatively easy to address by wide utilisation of hydro- and wind power. Both were used for centuries with great success.

Ploughing might be a problem, but your people might adapt sail wagons for this. Alternatively, they may use low-level farming technologies and rely on soil's fertility and good climate (the way Aztecs did).

Further research suggests that ploughing is not really necessary. No-till farming is a very viable option. It can be even more attractive on another planet since there are fewer pests. Moreover, no-till farming is much more environment-friendly than traditional ploughing. No-till farming has its own problem, but many of them can be eliminated by genetic engineering. And we know it is an option in your world since rabbits have been genetically modified already :).

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how you expect to have genetically modified rabbits without domestication in the 1500s. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Dec 30 '17 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings Because they're specifically stated to exist in the question itself? $\endgroup$ – Andon Dec 30 '17 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ the lack of animal power is not easy to adress in the place it is needed most, plows. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 30 '17 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ NO its really not, a sail will not provide the power needed to plow. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 30 '17 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ You know, since 'land yachts' have very limited ability to travel up and down grades, it would probably be easier just to dig canals on the appropriate flat land and use yacht yachts. The Chinese may have had land sail carriages, but they also had a pile of canals. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 31 '17 at 20:56

Your biggest issue will be lack of a plow animal, that will seriously impair farming, the Aztec farming methods were very labor intensive and unstable to boot. Without machines or animals to do the plowing for you, you will have a severe limit on the returns on large-scale farming. That, in turn, will limit your city size, keep in mind the largest Aztec city only had around 200,000 people in it and its supporting territory, that is about 1/5th the size of Bagdad or Alexandria at the same time. It was only able to support this through a lot of human labor in farming (caste system and slaves), unsustainable methods (slash and burn, imperial imports), and lucky local conditions.

Aztec cities did not handle climate variation well, they were highly reliant on natural conditions they could not alter the land to create fertility as well as the eastern, African, and later European civilizations could. This is not to say they were primitive far from it, but the needed a lot more labor to get the same number of calories as their counterparts across the globe, meaning they had less surplus to support other activities. The surplus is everything. Without it, you can't support the large numbers of specialist you need to advance technology quickly. With a better baseline crop (something with higher return and better nutrition like rice or wheat) they might have had more luck but it is difficult to say.

Really without a draft animal, your civilization will be lucky to reach the industrial age. Your best bet would be to have them start with tractors or at least repurpose as much machinery as possible into tractors.

  • $\begingroup$ So, how would you explain higher urbanisation levels in the Aztec Empire compared to Europe of the same time (early 16th century)? $\endgroup$ – Olga Dec 30 '17 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ You mean a generation after the black plague? And I never said they could not have a lot of people living in cities just that many more of those people will be farmers. The fact the former was an empire while the latter was not also contributes. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 31 '17 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ Levels of urbanisation reflect the percent of the population living in the cities and whose main economic activity is not agriculture. Europe had big cities, but urbanisation levels were very low (higher in the south) [data for 1300-1600]. As for Tenochtitlan, the metropolitan area had about 0.5 mln people (some estimates are higher). The population relied on tributes received from conquered city-states to feed itself rather than local agriculture as you imply. $\endgroup$ – Olga Dec 31 '17 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Olga you might notice I mentioned more than europe, europe at the time was a mess. Your own paper do not use the definition of urbanization you describe, one explicitly states they are only measuring the number of people living in the cities, further the other agrees with me that integration is low. Yes Tenochtitlan used more forced influx as all empires do but that is not an option here so I did not focus on it, but I also see I was not clear about that. lastly your own sources do not agree with your population estimates, the latter being the one I actually used 212,500 to be exact. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 31 '17 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Olga which I never debated, just that their form is not the kind you want if your end goal is industrialization. There is a reason their technology barely changed, they could not produce the excessive reliable food surpluses needed. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 1 '18 at 6:04

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