Inspired by the question What technologies could an every-man teach a Palaeolithic tribe?

If you want to jump start the civilization of a late paleolithic tribe, and instead of high school dropout you can send one skilled tradesman or professional. What kind of tradesman / professional would do the best job?

The constraint is that person should have excellent current knowledge of their own trade or profession, plus some knowledge of related trades/professions. All the other knowledge comes just from watching TV & reading web sites or magazines.

For example if you choose geologist, they would probably know about where to find ores, have some idea about metallurgy, but don't know anything about agriculture.

If you choose surgeon, they would know a lot about human body, maybe basics about herbs.

Note that (s)he time travels in the past without any useful tools or materials. They will have to rebuild everything from scratch. The only tools available are made of stone and wood. The tribe has fire, wooden spears, primitive sewing tools, hooks and that's pretty much it.

The time traveler is transported back in time in the same place where they live. For example if they are from Barcelona, they would be transported back in Barcelona in the paleolithic.

There are no domesticated plants nor animals, not even dogs. Bow hasn't been invented. The tribe subsists on hunting, fishing & gathering. The tribe is semi nomadic, thus moving seasonally from place to place according to traditional route. The tribe leaves on the shore, on the continent. The climate is temperate with 4 seasons.

The time traveler is accepted as fellow tribe member, thus they will help him/her with his/her silly ideas, after (s)he does his/her share of work. The more immediately useful the inventions are, the more help they'll be able to get.


closed as primarily opinion-based by L.Dutch, Mołot, Renan, kingledion, sphennings May 25 '18 at 14:51

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. Please note that as it is now your question is strongly opinion based and too broad. Best for a forest tribe is not best for a sea shore tribe. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 25 '18 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch What kind of constraints should I add beside the location. For example tribe that leaves on the shore, on the continent, in the temperate climate zone with 4 seasons. $\endgroup$ – mugi May 25 '18 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ Narrow the scope: define where the tribe is, and what you want to optimize/improve (though this pretty much self answer your question) $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 25 '18 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ Take the geologist example. Any random geologist doesn't know where to find any ore in I'm just gonna assume something like 10k B.C.. I don't even know where to start with how many issues there are with that idea. Same goes for a surgeon, even the best of the best will absolutely not be able to find some herbs that do any good in 10k B.C.. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 25 '18 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 How about if geologist is transported back in time in the same area he works in. Like he is from Houston, and is transported back in time in Houston. Or which ever coastal place that was settled by humans in the paleolithic. So they would know the area. $\endgroup$ – mugi May 25 '18 at 12:41



Pottery is one of the oldest human inventions, originating before the Neolithic period, with ceramic objects like the Gravettian culture Venus of Dolní Věstonice figurine discovered in the Czech Republic date back to 29,000–25,000 BC, and pottery vessels that were discovered in Jiangxi, China, which date back to 18,000 BC. Early Neolithic pottery have been found in places such as Jōmon Japan (10,500 BC), the Russian Far East (14,000 BC), Sub-Saharan Africa and South America.

Maybe these primitives can leapfrog over everything and make a nuclear reactor or domesticate seals. Odds of success are better if you move them along the technologic path that humans actually followed, and next up for them is pottery. Pottery allows the creation of durable flameproof rodentproof storage items, made from natural materials in the environment. With an earthenware vessel you can store surplus food and transport water, and once those things are possible many other things become possible.

Your potter would be one who knows how to find and clean clay, how to throw it into vessels and bake it. It is not that different from gathering other natural resources, like berries, and the underlying principles of pottery will be quickly understood once the primitive people watch them being done.

  • $\begingroup$ I like it. It also gives them something to trade or at least barter with. They could even specialize in pottery, and get their food from nearby tribes. With the newfound wealth the potter could research other technologies. $\endgroup$ – mugi May 25 '18 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ I like this. One caveat: the potter would have to be familiar with traditional techniques beyond having read about them. Otherwise they would not be familiar with finding and collecting materials (no e-shops) or capable of building a kiln and firing it. Modern electric ovens are quite a bit different to get and use. Extra benefits : bricks (for building), statuettes and ornaments (for trade and luxury/religious use)... $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 25 '18 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ of course pottery does date to the neolithic so they may already understand the basics. $\endgroup$ – John May 25 '18 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ @mugi Even if it's indeed a good answer, you should wait a little before accepting an answer. You ask your question only two hours ago, it's not that much, even more considering that everyone is not on the same time zone. A good thing to do would be to wait 24 hours before accepting an answer $\endgroup$ – Kepotx May 25 '18 at 14:31

Teacher. That would be the person's primary role, right? Teaching. And there is so much to teach in our general culture that requires absolutely no technology and that is potentially civilization-changing. The basics of hygiene. The fundamentals of logic. A better use of language, including any form of writing. The very basic mathematics. How pregnancies work. Singing, as an elemental yet sophisticated form of music. The list is neverending, and available to so many of us nowadays (although, dramatically, not to all of us!). But you need to be extremely well skilled in teaching if you aim to reach people from such a different background and effectively communicate these alien concepts. Otherwise, all your specialized knowledge will not pass onto others, or not as efficiently, and you only have one lifetime (with paleolithic life expectancy standards) to do it.

Also, a last one for the neverending list: teaching others how to teach effectively!

  • $\begingroup$ It's nice answer but I feel that without bringing something useful, they would be more of a storyteller then a real teacher. $\endgroup$ – mugi May 25 '18 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ There are so many ways to avoid death (or improve life) just by applying what today is common knowledge. It's like parents to children: there is so much trivial and life-changing stuff to teach. I'd see it, rather than a storyteller, as the role of a tribal wise-woman/wise-man, but with an extraordinary ability to continously uplift the standards of living of the community in all kinds of ways. $\endgroup$ – agaitaarino May 25 '18 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately there is an old saying 'those that can, do, those that can't, teach' $\endgroup$ – Kilisi May 25 '18 at 21:28

Traditional bowyer & fletcher.

Creating a quality bow & arrows is a delicate craft that very few people could do. But it would give enormous advantage to the tribe for hunting and warfare. His rate of production would be quite slow with the stone age tools, but his bows doesn't have to be perfect, just better then anything available in the area.

Traditional blacksmith.

This requires far more toil, but it would be quantum leap. Historically blacksmith smelted their own iron and even made their own coal.


This is not a proper answer because there is no obvious trade corresponding to this skill.

If your time traveller only contributes knowledge their influence will die in one generation. To make a lasting change they must fundamentally alter the culture of the tribe. They need to introduce new behaviours later generations can follow even (especially) if the later generations don't understand the science behind the new behaviours.

Therefore I suggest: The ability to recognise the ancestors of modern food crops.

For example corn.

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and wheat

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They look nothing like modern food crops and probably look very much like other similar plants that are less suitable for generations of artificial selection.

Your time traveller will introduce the idea of farming. They will begin the idea of planting only the seeds from the plants with biggest yields. By their death the food crops will have bigger yields than the wild versions. Over the next successive generations they will evolve into the modern variants.

Some basics of farming will be useful. But nothing beyond a lay person.

  1. Make sure the crops get plenty of sunlight.
  2. Make sure the crops get water but their roots do not sit in water.
  3. You can fertilise the crops with manure
  4. Don't exhaust the soil. "I remember something about rotating fields or leaving fields empty from the medieval times. Just to be sure we'll relocate the field every few years!"
  5. Scarecrow to scare off birds and animals. Or wait for them to arrive and kill and eat them.
  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_rotation $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 25 '18 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ I was trying to point out how our time traveller, who only has a faint memory of crop rotation and cannot check Wikipedia, might decide to relocate the fields just to be sure. $\endgroup$ – Daron May 25 '18 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ It's remarkably simple, all you need to remember is beans/grain/fallow, if you're talking about someone who can recognise prehistoric plants, they're going to know how a 3 field system works. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 25 '18 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ That and pottery are the two greatest things you could bring back into the past. Because anything else is not doable in a single lifetime. But both of these could be converted by someone who dies hands on history, a historical hobbyist $\endgroup$ – Garret Gang May 25 '18 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ you might want to simplify it to a field agricultural botanist. knowing about the wild ancestors and relatives of moderns plants is important for finding new genetic diversity so they should be able to spot them on sight. $\endgroup$ – John May 25 '18 at 14:28

Prehistoric-specialized archeologist, teacher, or vulgarizator

One key thing with technology is, you can't skip steps. Good luck casting iron without proper tools and proper fire control.

The thing is, he is the best-suited person to not only know all the steps, but also the order of steps. He know what is reachable in a lifetime and what is not. If he manage to learn them to write and to read, he can even make some written notes for the future generations. Some things like breeding animals to create new species can't be done quickly, even if you know how.

He can also teach them things that are basic for us but unknown for them, like sanitation, hygiene, nutrition.


There is one specialty which will be perfectly suited to this situation.

Experimental archaeologist

Name any profession today and their knowledge and skills are based upon having modern materials and resources available. These will be useless when you have absolutely nothing. All materials will have to be identified and sources in the wild. No "good quality clay that way" signs. No modern kilns with accurate temperature control. No chemical supply company providing pure samples of necessary components.

For an experimental archaeologist trying to make various tools without the aid of modern supplies is exactly what they live for. They are the most likely to have the knowledge the most advanced and useful technologies which can be produced using only naturally found materials. While it is ancient history for the archaeologist, their knowledge can bootstrap the tribe firmly into the iron age within a decade, while providing the foundation for rapid development thereafter.


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