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Humans have come and gone. Their aggressiveness and pride have caused their own end. War has torn apart all society, engineered diseases pick them off one by one. The last remaining people have fled to the corners of the world. Some say they still live there, hunting and growing crops in primitive villages in the far-flung lands of Siberia, parts of Canada and Alaska, and Oceania. But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, they are long gone.

And the next ones up for civilization are the ungulates.

Many hooved animals already have fascinating and large social structures, and with the disappearance of their largest predator they have started to take on the task of society. Flocks of sheep rule the empty farms. Deer herds patrol the forests. Mustangs wage war against each other. Everyone is competing against their enemies for food, shelter, and safety. Fighting the huge buffalo and horses would be suicide for the weaker species, so they turn to cunning. The race for survival becomes a race of smarts and inventions start to form. Goats make herbal medicines, buffalo find out how to sharpen their horns. But even with the most advanced of innovations, the question still lingers:

How far can these fingerless ungulates advance? At what point is the limit?

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    $\begingroup$ What makes you think they'll get any more advanced than their current wild counterparts? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 2 '18 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ The first time they need to use a screwdriver, they're done for ... $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Aug 2 '18 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ And domestic sheep... man, they are STUPID. Without humans to shear them, they'll all die of starvation within a year. Why? Because we've bred them for wool, which grows in copious amounts even on their faces. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 2 '18 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ "Fighting the huge buffalo and horses would be suicide for the weaker species." What -- other than a wolf or mountain lion -- is going to fight a horse? Or buffalo? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 2 '18 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ Why are you all just poo-pooing the premise? The question isn't whether or not multiple species of ungulates will become intelligent, but rather how far can they advance with their limited tool manipulation capability. Lots of great stories have ridiculous and unlikely premises. Comments pointing this out are not constructive. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Aug 2 '18 at 19:00
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Give enough time they should be able to catch up to humans.

Most complaints i read so far seem to focus on them having hooves and not hands. fortunately hands are not the only prehensile appendage. Ex Giraffe's have prehensile tongues, and horse have prehensile lips. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prehensility

If they evolve quick enough they might be able to piggyback off or what little human technology is left. Of course they might not be able to use human screwdrivers, but that does not mean they would not create a screwdriver that they can hold.

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    $\begingroup$ We don't have just one prehensile appendage, we have two. This is a significant difference as it allows us to hold a thing in one hand while we work on it with the other. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Aug 2 '18 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan_L I don't see having only one prehensile appendage as being a show stopper. Granted it would slow down what ever task they are working on. Plus it could be argued that they could evolve two, the animals could developed both prehensile lips and tongue. $\endgroup$ – Madcow Aug 2 '18 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ Even some humans can do trippy manipulations with their tongues and cheek muscles. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Aug 3 '18 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan_L So the punchline of the joke 'How many goats does it take to screw in a lightbulb' is a rather pedestrian '2'. $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Aug 3 '18 at 12:46
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First thing's first. They absolutely need to lose the hooves on their front limbs. Fine manipulators are essential for technology.

The first species to do this will have such an extreme advantage over the rest that I find it extremely unlikely they will coexist very long. The tool-using ungulates will quickly domesticate or exterminate the non-tool-using ungulates. Even if it is a small species that figures it out first; paleolithic humans dealt with mammoths pretty effectively.

As for things that will be different from human evolution here's a few:

  • They may have no/little need for clothes. Most will have enough fur and thick enough hides that it's unnecessary. This will limit some species' ranges a little at first however, until they figure out shaving. Sheep would cook in the desert.
  • I have no idea what ungulate furniture would look like. How do they sit, given that their legs bend the other way? This could affect vehicle development.
  • Big ungulates like horses will probably have little use for work animals. This might hamper mechanization. Without thousands of years of experience using animals to turn axles in mills and pump-houses, they might never get the idea to use water or steam to turn axles. Technology is a tree, like in the civilization games, except in real life you don't know what is down the branches you've ignored.
  • Trade might be reduced a great deal. Ungulates have pretty narrow diets compared to humans. They won't be as interested in eating exotic foods as we are. If they don't need clothing, textile trade won't interest them either. With reduced trade comes reduced spread of knowledge.
  • Ungulates all have their eyes off to the sides of their head. This means they have poorer vision, but of a much wider field of view than a person. This means they will likely have difficulty reading, writing, or fighting with projectile weapons.
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As others have mentioned: fine object manipulation, and sight are probably the two biggest problems.

I doubt any species would get past stone tools and sharp sticks. To make a complex spear you have to be able to do small things like split a stick to insert a broken rock, and make and use cordage to bind it. I don't think cordage would be very plausible. Imagine trying to split a stick without breaking it with one eye closed. Try tying a knot in a cherry stem with your tongue.

At most, they'd probably use their natural defenses like you mentioned, or use rocks as hammers, potentially broken rocks as knives, and sharp sticks as spears.

As a general note:

I would suggest you take some time to think through why these animals would have all suddenly evolved to sapience, and why herbivores would suddenly take on predatory habits like war.

Predatory action seems to be a common driving force (not the only, but arguably the most prevalent) for intelligence in the animal kingdom. Dolphins coordinate to trap schools of fish, way more than to evade sharks.

War seems to be a reaction to resource (food) scarcity. You'll need to come up with a plausible reason for grass-fed herd animals to decide to fight each other over the Great Planes, for instance, when they could plant and grow crops of their own(elephants do this). This is especially important to nail down, since humans have already deforested and converted a huge percentage of the world to be viable for crops and grasses.

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They could definitely grow to be technologically advanced, in spite of their lack of fingers. You just have to be creative, and think in terms of big objects instead of small ones.

To begin with, they start breaking rocks into various shapes by stomping on them, pushing them with their noses or feet, stacking them, and then stomping them some more. It's precarious work, requiring lots of prior planning to make use of hard, precision blows, but before long they have stone objects that they can either fit around their feet by pressing into them, or the objects might have blades sticking out that pierce the hooves like horseshoes.

Not only that, but they are able to produce furnaces by hollowing out large boulders (by putting rocks on the boulders and then stomping them) and stacking wood inside them. Then they stack flint and stone just outside the furnace and stomp on it to produce sparks, and with a little work, it's a furnace!

Once they have furnaces, they can start producing charcoal and coke, which will enable them to make much hotter furnaces and eventually start melting stones in them. Before long, they are cooking metal in large stone (and eventually metal) cauldrons and pouring it into large, carefully chiseled molds.

Supposing they use this kind of thing to make armor, they may need to help each other get dressed, but dressing ourselves with armor or utilities is a habit that humans take for granted, and isn't a necessary component of an advanced society.

Now they've got metal of any shape, wool, and basically the capacity to start farming. They can melt sand to produce glass, and carefully bend metal and heat it to produce kindof makeshift straws for blowing the glass. Once they start refining copper and glass, they can rub wool against the copper to produce static electricity and then store it in (large again) glass vacuum tubes that they've just blown using big, horse adapted glass blowing stuff.

Leather is, I guess, out of the question, but it's not necessary. We've got electricity now, and it's only a matter of time before they start doping large transistors. They'll never have computers with little keyboards like we have today, but they might eventually have monitors with hoof-adapted stomping-interfaces.

Screws are by no means the only method for joining things together. The hooved society would likely just not make use of them for a very long time, if ever. They'd more likely use wedges and compression to friction-lock things together. Eventually, they might even make sap and horse hooves into glue.

We've seen humans do some pretty amazing stuff without any hands at all. If horses wanted, they could get pretty dextrous with their front limbs. I see no reason they couldn't advance significantly with enough time.

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