Could primitive human like species evolve into highly advanced race only using bio materials (other than wood) during their advancement (instead of other tools as early humans developed from iron, stone and other non-organic sources) If so what would be the key inventions during the earlier stages (like the wheel, fire, etc. during our present path of technological development) and will this technology be eco-friendly or harm the environment?

Note Here, biomaterials may include any material of direct organic source. This question is not about technology without metal but metal derived from organic sources may be utilised indirectly.

  • $\begingroup$ Where are we putting the limits on the bio part of biotechnology? Like biochemistry? If so, then you can use genetically modified bacteria to create and lay carbon nanotube circuitry and build carbon fiber. Then distill rocket fuel. Computers+airplanes+rocket fuel=space flight. Problem solved. $\endgroup$ Apr 27, 2015 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ Your question is very much on the broad side. It might be a good idea narrowing down what you are looking for. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Apr 27, 2015 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ Your question is still far too broad. The only reasonable answer is “yes, in many ways”. There is no such thing as “each stage of their technological development”: development does not follow a linear, predictable path. You can find some examples on TVTropes. $\endgroup$ May 2, 2015 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ I think the first thing you need to do is come up with a good definition of 'advanced'. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    May 3, 2015 at 4:56
  • $\begingroup$ Seriously, I really really like the question. I just don't think you get to exclude everything inorganic, like clay, sand, stone, flint...read the comments on my answer. $\endgroup$
    – user8827
    May 4, 2015 at 3:11

3 Answers 3


Well now. This question is interesting.

The answer is: yes, but you're going to have to redefine your concept of 'technological' and also accept an awful lot of conjecture to get it to work.

Consider the following: A tribe of proto-humans (let's just call them Monkeys for short) are living on a beach. They're scavengers, but not all that bright.

One day the Monkeys come across a beached whale carcass. They tear happily into the eyes and lips, but the thick blubbery skin prevents the majority of the tribe from getting to the tasty blubber.

Now, Joe is an atypical Monkey. He's scrawny, but inquisitive and pretty smart. Having been pushed away from the tasty face of the whale with only a few scraps of flesh he stumbles across a tidal rock pool. In the pool wallows a Proto-lobster. It's hungry, simple and running out of time to live. Joe, intrigued, lopes over to the weird insect fish thing, and following some weird quirk of his Monkey brain offers some food to the evidently struggling proto lobster.

The protolobster's legs aren't strong enough for full terrestrial movement, but it's a tidal creature and hence amphibious, and when the hairy brown arm of God descends from on high proffering tasty whale, the lobster scuttles up, keeping it's jaws locked on the food, and latches onto the furry surface.

Joe is initially shocked by this, but when he heads back to the tribe to show them his discovery the lobster, not relinquishing it's grip on his arm, snaps out at the exposed flesh of the whale. The lobster has sharp claws, and as Also Spake Zarathustra plays in the background Joe lifts his new Arm-Lobster on high.

Now, who would think to pick up a rock when you have a suitably trained and specially bred arm lobster? From this point the development of the Monkeys becomes a bit nebulous and can basically be defined however you like, but it essentially replaces technological development with advances in selective breeding, animal husbandry and training techniques. Development would be much slower, but after a while the concept of hefting a rock would be as alien to the Monkeys as strapping a lobster to your arm to act as a trainable Swiss Army knife/extra set of hands is to us.

This brings me by a roundabout route to the meat of my point. If this is a thing that happens it will have to happen so far back in evolutionary history that it's impossible to say whether it would or would not have worked. 'Technology' becomes a matter of increasing levels of symbiosis rather than increasing levels of refinement, and the world would be utterly different in physical, social and even moral perspectives.

On the other hand, Pimp My Lobster would be a hit on the Cuttlevision.


I tried. I really did. Three paragraphs in, I had no choice but to turn this into a reality check. Do bear in mind, I gave this enough consideration that I reopened this.

So. There is no way, on any Earth like planet, that primitive creatures don't learn to hit stuff with rocks before they learn anything else. I mean, sea-gulls know this trick, dude.

The problem is this - lets say there are plenty of small, armored critters with chitin hard enough to woodwork, or whittle bone. Let's say there are enough of them that no one ever considers finding or using flint, because the pincers on these critters are that plentiful, and that effective. You now have the serious issue on your hand of dealing with wildly sharp, armored land bugs that only probably aren't very cuddly. Primitive bipeds aren't going to sit around and wait for these things to die - they're going to beat them down with rocks and scoop out the delicious insides.

So you might be able to replace early flint tools with bug arms, from which they can start early woodwork and scrimshaw tools. These tools are soft, and leave you unable to cut anything harder than bug arm, so you have a problem - either bug arm is as hard as bronze, in which case humanity is totally hosed, or you have to write in a biological source of something even harder than bug arm, in which case humanity never evolved. Our brilliant tool making minds find ways to do things, but there isn't a way to make Mohs hardness not a thing - we survived because we were built better than our competition. This will not be true against a race of critters with metallic scale armor.

If you take it to a certain point, and then do some future history, it makes more sense. Here, on Earth, right now, there are several processes we use organic bioreactors for. One that springs to mind is ethanol production, and we're trying to develop more.

Note of course that there is a huge difference between organic and eco-friendly. Lots of organic chemistry is pretty bad stuff.

  • $\begingroup$ There has been record of certain nano composites used by people in early culture found naturally. Like Mayan blue used by Mayans. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanocomposite. There might exist some nano composites which is conductive so that it could by these people by applying on some surface instead of metals from usual sources. $\endgroup$
    – user93
    May 3, 2015 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ These nano composites found naturally might also have property to strengthen any thing they are applied to. $\endgroup$
    – user93
    May 3, 2015 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, but humanity had been around for a while at that point. Which is my point. You can't start at caveman. $\endgroup$
    – user8827
    May 3, 2015 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ @user93, also? Clay is NOT organic. Read the recipe for Maya blue. $\endgroup$
    – user8827
    May 3, 2015 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand why the presence of harder-than-bronze crab-things could prevent humans from evolving. Every species probably has at least a few things it can do better than us hominids, that doesn't mean we're not a competitive life form for our specific niche. $\endgroup$
    – user243
    May 4, 2015 at 2:25

A long story short: without metal we couldn't evolve a thing like 'biotechnology'. It would be like stone-age with us running around wrapped in smelly fur and waving flintstone-axes. I don't see a way how metal could be derived from organic sources without complex machines. And to build those machines you'd need... non-bio materials. Ad the invention of the wheel and of fire: as far as I know they where made with sticks and stone. So you'd have both in your biomaterial-world too -allthough stone is non-organic ;)


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