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In the year 2340 on the planet Ionia, a small colony of about 20,000 people was founded. They were camped out near a small lake between two canyons. The colonist all came from advanced planets like Earth and Andon, and their colony was equally advanced.

They had fusion generators and cloning technology, hydroponic farms, and even had a small zoo with animals like horses, tigers and apes. They lived normal lives until something knocked their civilization back to the Stone Age.

My question is, what scenario could cause that?

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  • $\begingroup$ Have you read S. M. Stirling's and David Drake's The General? Spoiler: something broke the Tanaki Spatial Displacement Net. The characters in the novels don't know what did it, all they know is that the network broke up some 1100 years ago, and their planet, Bellevue, is isolated. Civil war ensued for control over limited resources, it escalated to kinetic bombardment, machinery broke down, etc., and when the series begins the most advanced statelet is roughly at the level of the 6th century Roman empire, albeit with some steam engines. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 28 '18 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ Anne Mcaffery's pern books explore this premise. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Apr 28 '18 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ AlexP, the two most advanced societies in The General series (the Civil Government and The Colony) have steam engines and breach-loading rifles. The problem is that the wars they're continually having as well as their internal power struggles are allowing the barbarians at the gates (who have muskets, so again, tad more advanced than the 6th century) to continually chip away. Raj Whitehall's mission is to create enough stability to allow civilization some breathing room. None of this is spoiler, like the cause of the Fall, as it's revealed in like the first 20 pages. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Apr 28 '18 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ With all due respect to the answerers, I find it unbelievable that a colony could ever be set back to the stone age (or any other age) because the colony was never there in the first place. Colonies, unlike the motherland, are rarely staffed with uneducated people you can depend on to not reaquire technology and knowledge. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 29 '18 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH You're being too sensible. That's what might happen on a real colony planet.This is worldbuilding. Use your imagination, knowledge & reason to build a world where this can be & drive them back to Stone Age. You asked a fictiony question about planet-busting weapons, surely you can get fictiony about a different scenario. $\endgroup$ – a4android Apr 29 '18 at 5:26
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This will sound facetious. Sorry about that, but it is intended to be logic and fulfill the conditions for this scenario as set out in the question.

The entire twenty thousand colonists, partly because they live near one another, decide to go on a picnic to celebrate the anniversary of their arrival on the colony planet. After the picnic they return home only to find the robots have locked them out. Without the necessary tools and equipment they cannot get back inside the colony's buildings.

The colonists are now forced to survive without tools, machinery, and access to their advanced knowledge. They have to survive in the most basic way. Since they never recover their technology nor return to their colony's infrastructure they must live lives similar to Palaeolithic humans. They naturally survive about the population of the colony has been reduced to a Stone Age existence. And so on, for succeeding generations.

Sadly things don't well for the robots. Without humans to supervise their maintenance the robots progressively malfunction and break down. Perishing inside the confines of the colony's built environment. While outside the plucky humans adapt, survive and flourish in adopting their ancient way of life.

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  • $\begingroup$ I love this answer, I now have a weird image of the humans knocking on the door demanding to be let in only to be told to go away, like Dorothy at the Emerald City. $\endgroup$ – Dan Clarke Apr 29 '18 at 9:47
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    $\begingroup$ @DanClarke Funny enough, I had a similar image in my mind. I also imagined the robots locking the library and taking away the keys. The colonists peering into the darkened depths of the closed library, banging on the windows to be let in. Which never happens. $\endgroup$ – a4android Apr 30 '18 at 1:43
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There are 2 things needed to revert a civilization back to the stone age, loss of equipment and loss of knowledge.

Loss of equipment:

An EMP won't be enough as mechanical devices are unaffected by it (water wheel, gun, old non electronic car engines) so it has to be something that actually destroy all of the equipment around all the civilization, chances for that happening naturally without it also killing everyone is slim to non so most likely it was planned somehow, could be a religious as the colony was overtaken by a cult convinced that all off world tech is evil or could be just a mad scientist created a gray goo nanobot to eat everything man made.

Loss of knowledge

Even if you all of your colonists woke up in the morning to find out all their stuff is gone (don't ask me how their bed vanished without them waking up) they are colonists, they must be used to hardship and have tech knowledge enough to build some tools from what's available in the woods, I'm positive that out of 20,000 at least one person knows some bushcraft which already puts him ahead of anything that can be considered as stone age, I've seen bushcraft buildings being created within a couple of weeks that included rain collectors and fireplaces (with chimneys) made without any real tools and only from materials gathered, that means that people knowladge also has to go, either you mind wipe them to forget everything (and I mean everything, if even one person remember a book he read in the past then he remembers what writing is which is already ahead of stone age and can be simply replicated with a pointy stick on a piece of wood) or you kill off everyone with any form of knowledge leaving only the babies around to start from scratch, you will have to find some way to care for them without them learning anything more advanced then stone age tech in the process so maybe AI robots designed to look like caveman that are also programed to hide the fact they are robots from the babies until they grow to a point where they can take care of themselves at which point the robot goes to "hunt" and never return?

Bottom line is there is no realistic way of having an advanced society return to be stone age without the society (and I mean everyone in that society) choosing to revet to that stage, we simply learned too much since then and even a tiny bit of that knowledge remaining will put us ahead of stone age tech.

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    $\begingroup$ Once you know something could be done, you're already way ahead of the game compared to someone who didn't realize what was possible in the first place. Take basic sanitation. Knowing about things like boiling water because there are microorganisms already catapaults you well past the stone age. Or consider something like soap. All it takes is someone to know that soap can be made from an oil (such as can be extracted from plants or animal fat) mixed with lye, which you can get from wood ash and rain water. It will take experimentation to get the best process, but you know it will work. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Apr 28 '18 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison this is a really good point because it encapsulates the difference between research and development. Survivalist societies living with scarce resources will be much more willing to develop ideas because the benefits can be imagined; they're much less willing to research because it's putting resources into ideas with far less chance of realising a benefit. This is now and has always been the case of course, but now we have resources to spare and have seen how research can lead to tangible benefits, so we're willing to take the gamble with 'spare' resources because we can. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Apr 29 '18 at 3:02
  • $\begingroup$ The flip side of the knowledge thing is that "Stone Age" is actually a fairly complex technology. Making a decent stone tool is not simple: you need to find the right sort of stone, knapp it to the desired shape (which takes practice), bind it to a shaft... wildernesscollege.com/making-arrowheads.html $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 29 '18 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ @jamessqf, but then again, even if you don't know exactly how to do it, you know it can be done and what you can do with it. The first hominids who broke rocks to use as a crude knife or axe couldn't comprehend everything they could do with that technology, or that they could use those tools to make even better tools. I might not know off the top of my head how to get an axe head out of a rock, but I know that attaching it to a stick will give me greater leverage when I do manage to get a crude one made, and I know I can use it to cut more sticks to make a spear, bow, or an atl-atl. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Apr 29 '18 at 6:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Keith Morrison: But in any reasonable scenario, your colonists will know that there are better/easier alternatives than re-developing the technology of the Stone Age, and will use those. For instance, to attach your stone axehead to a shaft you first have to shape it, find some sort of cord to attach it, select wood suitable for a haft... Outside of some sort of selective amnesia, there's no way they would duplicate Stone Age tech rather than using materials at hand in some more efficient fashion. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 30 '18 at 4:50
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Adults are gone.

Lord of the flies

If the only survivors are preliterate kids, they could grow up in the ruins of their civilization. On a hospitable world (like the island in Lord of the Flies) they might not die of disease or the elements. But they would not be able to recreate the technology which slowly crumbled around them and it is very plausible they might not learn to read.

This would especially be true if the kids were refugees of some sort - again a Lord of the Flies scenario. The kids are away at camp and while they are gone their colony is nuked. The camp kids are the sole survivors of their civilization. Commenters (you know who you are!) please do not point out that there would be a counselor with those kids - yes there would, but she ate a bad taco and died before she could teach them to read.

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