I am creating a culture that has the ability to change between 2 forms. One humanoid (the natal form) and one feral, animal form (you can consider this to be a werewolf). Due to this they evolved to have a cultural respect for all life. (You live through ending the lives of others so you shouldn't take more than you strictly need)

This mentality includes plants so I have a problem with how this people would evolve any kind of technology, even at a primitive level. They are only allowed to take dead wood to use for fire because it is considered a commodity as they can eat raw meat or vegetables.

So basically where is the limit of technological advancement a civilization can get to with a limited access to wood (fuel) and as such a limited access to fire? Are there alternatives to the fuel problem or other, maybe more modern way to generate heat?

Edit: To expand upon the world.

  • It has "magic". All living creatures have something called an ember. This may be similar to how we percive the spirit or the soul. It exists in unison with the soul but the ember it has more fisical influence.(it's the catalist of the magic)
  • The seting is similar to earth at the moment but further exploration in how the magic system may influence the evolution of life may change that.

Some more details on the culture:

(First a resume)

  1. They know how to make and use tools (at least stone) and they do activily but only inside the village.
  2. When hunting they only use the beast form, no tools, no protection of any kind. One on one with nature (even thought they would attack a same target in a group)
  3. They will cut/take down the ocasional tree if there is no dead wood to make fire in winter. But cutting down a tree to make fire to, let's say melt metal, it's more a comodity. (if you know a way around this I am happy to listen).
  4. They live in houses long ago carved in stone.


In this story there is a country and in one of its forests there is a group of statues. Those in this country can get the beast form by visiting the statues but only if they meet the requirements to get it. For some reason the members of this culture, who live in the forest surrounding the statues, always meet the requirements. They don't know that there are some requirements so they take the transformations as a kind of blessing.

They consider that this blessing has been given to them in order to compete with nature. To hunt they use their arms and claws as spears and their fangs as daggers. They know how to create tools and use tools within their village. (They also consider that attacking someone in their house / nest, is a kind of lack of honor but at the same time the honor is irrelevant when one finds no other source of food than what lies ahead.) So when they go out there, to hunt or collect fruits, vegetables, roots, they do it in the form of a beast and without anything else, it is what has been given to them. Using weapons and tools outside your home is unworthy and would be an offense.

They are not an apex predator, there are other dangerous predators out there and large prey remains a challenge. They believe in a circle of life where to continue living you feed on life. For you to live other creatures or plants have to die. (I do not know if I explain myself very well) You can hunt for food, you can dress the skins of your prey to protect yourself inside your village but having fire at night is a comfort. You can't kill a living being just to be more comfortable. (If I have not yet made it clear, consider plants at the same level of life as animals and humans). But they will not avoid stepping on the grass or plucking the branches of a tree if they run for their life.

As they see the world, the hunters could be bringing the food to the table one day and the next being them the food on the table of others.

Needless to say they have a high mortality rate but also a high new born rate. Even though they are teoreticaly human the new born grow to mature age twice as fast (it has to do with the magic system).

  • $\begingroup$ Hi and welcome to the forum! Can you please tell us a bit more about the world? Is this a world very similar to earth? Are there other species here, like normal humans? You mention they live through killing, who are they killing? Interesting question! $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Oct 29 '19 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Them may burn coal and oil, but prohibition on use of animal and plant parts for technological development is actually more severe. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Oct 29 '19 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ The plant thing seems a little extreme. Do they hunt because herbivores engage in mass murder? Is it maiming to eat a berry off a bush? Do they go out of their way to not kill insects? $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Oct 29 '19 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with this is the first tribe to teach dominating nature instead of balance will utterly dominate the other tribes, even if they never go into open conflict, just due to higher birth rates, better sanitation and technology, and higher calorie diets. They will outcompete the other tribes in short order. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 19 '19 at 6:29
  • $\begingroup$ Wood isn't your only fuel source, even at a stone-age level of development. Dung and peat are both commonly used as fuels and if you're doing the pastoral thing with lots of herbivores as someone else suggested, you're gonna have a load of dung to deal with. Tools would make the work a bit more pleasant but aren't required. $\endgroup$
    – Greig
    Jan 11 '20 at 10:22

Due to this they evolved to have a cultural respect for all life

This seems like a curious thing for an apex predator, but okay...

This mentality includes plants

...but this seems downright weird for a carnivore to consider things to be used as bedding, shelter or something to pee on as "alive" in the same way as they are alive, or as their prey species are. But you're the boss, so this is what you get.

they can eat raw meat or vegetables.

They are limited in the things they can eat (no foods that are toxic if uncooked) and they will be vulnerable to food-born pathogens, especially parasites. Being able to eat raw food doesn't make it desirable. I can eat sashimi, but I also know too much about tapeworms roundworms and flukes (oh my!) to be prepared to eat just anything without cooking it. Even relatively benign parasites will increase your calorific burden.

Preserving uncooked food will be challenging. Drying meat obviously works, but anything more complex than that might be a bit hit and miss.

Their ability to brew will be limited, and their ability to distill will be absent. This means little or no alcoholic beverages, but also no teas or coffees. Without any of those, and without the ability (or knowledge!) to sterilise water they'll be at much more risk of waterborn pathogens, too.

So basically where is the limit of technological advancement a civilization can get to with a limited access to wood (fuel) and as such a limited access to fire?

No metal, for starters... without plentiful fuel you won't be doing much smelting. No glass other than naturally occurring things like crystals or tektites. No fired ceramics. Unfired ceramics aren't really very useful for anything other than building with, if the climate allows for it (eg. mud bricks), or writing on.

You'll be staying in the stoneage, only with worse technology than human stoneage people. Are they allowed wooden tools or weapons? Or would making spears or bows seem weird when they can just run their prey down and tear them apart with their teeth and claws? Maybe they wouldn't even develop stone axes (what would they cut?) or arrowheads or adzes or mattocks, etc. Stone blades for use like knives might be useful for butchery, but maybe they just tear stuff up and eat it like regular animals. Maybe they don't develop any kind of tools at all.

Woven fabric might be possible, using things like bone or thorn needles (again, if they developed tools). Leather working is also possible. Containers would probably be made of carved wood, sewn leather or (for liquids) probably animal stomachs.

Agriculture of various kinds would be achievable, though whether they'd see it as morally acceptable is up to you. Being carnivorous it seems they'd be mostly about pastoralism, I guess.

If the hunting and gathering were good enough you could form quite complex societies, as did the people of the pacific northwest (who are well worth reading up on). That would allow for rich and complex cultural traditions to develop, and perhaps even the ability to support an intellectual class. Mathematics and some astronomy (that which doesn't require lenses) would be achievable and other more abstract disciplines like logic and so on. Chemistry and pharmacology might be limited somewhat by the lack of fire and unwillingness to harm plants. Shipbuilding is possible without metal, but challenging... especially if you only had deadwood to work with (though hide and skin coracles woudl be clearly achievable). I'm sure the list goes on.

Are there alternatives to the fuel problem or other, maybe more modern way to generate heat?

Coal would be the only obvious fuel source that would be potentially plentiful enough to allow them to enjoy all the technological benefits of fire without the need for high-tech assistance, though mining it without metal tools would be a pretty miserable task.

Perhaps they could trade with other people who aren't under such crippling restrictions? More modern petrochemicals would suffice, of course, but the vast technological and cultural differences between flint-wielding stoneage tribespeople and an industrial civilisation are likely to result in an Outside Context Problem for your not-werewolves.

  • $\begingroup$ Once they have coal, though, all the other problems disappear: with coal you can have fire, cook food, work metal, make subsequent mining easier. $\endgroup$ Oct 29 '19 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ First of all; wow, thanks for such a detailed answer. Second; (just because you mentionned it) they are omnivores but don't have any kind of agriculture or pastorage. In Fact they see this as slavery. Making something grow for the only purpose to be eaten is disgusting in their eyes. $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Oct 29 '19 at 17:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Mike but they're just fine letting things live short, painful lives filled with stress and hunger and ending in teeth ;-) In the absense of any sort of farming, they'd need to live somewhere with an abundance of stuff for hunting and gathering. I can heartily suggest reading up on the pacific northwest tribes. $\endgroup$ Oct 29 '19 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ cooking food also drastically increases its caloric value, that is why humans switched t eating cooked food. a cooked steak or potato yields about the same calories as two raw ones. also you can't burn coal by itself you need something else as a starter fuel. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 19 '19 at 6:23

The main source of heat now are coal and oil. Fossil coal and peat are known from ancient times. And many middle-east cultures (where access to wood is very limited) were (and are) using manure as a fuel and were advanced for there times.

So limitation of using only dead wood as a fuel is not that limiting. It would have more effect on building and mining technology and in toolmaking. Wood is a natural polimer - it was widly used where we use plastics now.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Gah, can't believe I forgot peat; that's a pretty good fuel source, though it is somewhat geographically restricted. $\endgroup$ Oct 29 '19 at 19:08

A natural source of heat would be geothermal. When they live in an area with active volcanism, then they might find industrial applications for hot springs, geysirs, natural heat vents or even lava flows.

You can also reach pretty high temperatures by focusing sunlight. But in order to build a solar furnace, you need to be able to either process and polish metals (to create mirrors) or to make glass (to create lenses or prisms), and both already require an intense source of heat. Another option could be to create prisms and lenses from natural quarz crystals, but they would need access to a lot of large and pure crystals in order to do that.

  • $\begingroup$ Geothermal heat is not nearly sufficient for metallurgy. Only hot lava at the vent can be hotter than 1000 C, but even now in XXI century we humans not able to harness that. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Oct 29 '19 at 18:06

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