A class of young gods at Cthulhu University were given a planet to divide between themselves. They are each given an artificially isolated island the size of Ukraine, and must make conditions on that island such that a human population will achieve a fully industrial society, similar to Victorian Britain, in as little time as possible. Let's say within 8640 years. The initial stock is a clan of a thousand hunter-gatherers of sufficient genetic diversity, and they cannot ever travel between islands.

Now the catch is that the students cannot interfere in the experiment when it is ongoing; they can only determine the starting situation. The students can determine the shape of the island (though not the area), any life forms or geology on it, any resources in the ground, and so on. They can also set things in motion that will happen at a certain time: e.g., make it so a big volcano will erupt in the year 1500 of the experiment. But they cannot dynamically respond to anything happening in the experiment; they cannot, for example, make the eruption happen as soon as the sailboat is invented.

They also cannot provide any technology; the humans must invent everything themselves. So no machines ready to serve their needs, and no books or inscriptions of knowledge (because that would be giving the humans a writing system).

Now, the obvious matters such as domesticable animals, iron ore, a fertile river valley surrounded by desert; most students would have thought of these. I am especially interested to hear some non-obvious methods, that would result in a faster technological advancement of the humans. The teacher also rewards creativity, and frowns at constructs that feel too artificial, like pre-domesticated animals that would never evolve that way in the wild, or a chain of little islands, each reachable by a technology that can be found in its natural form on the previous island.

For further clarification: making an archipelago rather than a single island is okay - as long as it can still be called an archipelago. Not two islands on other ends of the planet.

Having the climate change at a fixed point in time is also okay.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 6 '20 at 14:31

13 Answers 13


Diversity and change is the key

For the development of civilization, there are a few key requirements:

  1. Challenges to be solved;
  2. Conditions for population growth;
  3. Multiple cultural centers to foment different ideas.

We can create some conditions that ideally suit a civilization at a certain level of development. But once it reaches that level, it would likely stagnate, because there will be little incentive for invention. For example, a "Garden of Eden" would be ideal for hunter-gatherers, but they won't even need agriculture in such a nice place. A fertile valley would be nice for an ancient civilization like Egypt - but they won't develop advanced agriculture or transportation. Thus, we need to create a diverse and preferably changing environment to which humans would need to adapt.

Ukraine is about 600K square kilometers big. This is sizeable, but not much for our purpose. Of course, we can try to manage. Let's see.

First, let's divide this land into 3 or 4 fertile valleys separated by mountain ranges and plateaus. Each valley should be able to sustain over 10 million population using ancient agriculture. Central plateaus have a distinctively colder climate and initially can't support much population, but with the advent of textiles and better agriculture they could be home millions as well. The mountain ranges which separate valleys would create dangerous reefs offshore, making sailing along the coast very difficult.

Initially, humans will settle in the valleys where they would have access to grains and animals which can be domesticated. It shouldn't be long before agriculture is established. From one valley, other valleys can be accessed, but not easily conquered. So a trade between different nations would start, and because the valleys have different resources, it will grow, prompting people to domesticate horses, invent wheel, stirrup, and eventually sailing ships.

After sufficient period of time when population centers would boom, a climate change should shift the equilibrium. The change should not be too drastic as to make the valleys non-livable, but strong enough to prompt the people to search for solutions. For example, increased rains should make people build dams and levies and move their settlements to different places. Freezing would prompt them to shift to different cultures and make better clothing, and so on.

Some valleys would have abundant copper, tin and zinc, making it easy to make brass and bronze. Other would lack it, but have abundant iron ore. This would make different civilizations trying to keep up with each other in terms of metallurgical development, eventually bringing up iron age. All areas should have a plenty of high quality coal.

War, unfortunately, looks like the most powerful driver of technological development. For that purpose, separate valleys on this island would always be wary about each other. Because of natural obstacles, bringing up a big army would be difficult, but small scale raids and various hostilities should be common. One nation still can conquer another, but keeping two valleys together as one country should be impossible. Before long, the conquered nation would splinter away, keeping diversity high.

Eventually, technology would reach the level of XVI-XVII centuries, allowing for relatively quick and dependable travel between the nations. About the same time, central highlanders, who used to be pushed around by bigger nations, would multiply in numbers and should be able to form a nation of their own. This also means that they would build and maintain good roads through the mountains.

After the Renaissance, the coming of the industrial age is only a question of time (and not too much time).

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    $\begingroup$ I'd go with Japan rather than Ukraine as the starting point. The greater north-to-south extent gives you more room for variation (and more demand for transportation technologies), while amphibious invasions are generally harder than crossing mountains, enhancing the fragmentation you want. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jan 5 '20 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ The Bronze Age being followed by the Iron Age is one of the most misunderstood facts in the history of technological development. It wasn't "first we had bronze, and then we discovered iron and switched to it because it's so much more awesome," but rather, "first we had bronze, but then easily-available tin got scarce so we had to settle for the more abundant iron instead." In virtually every metallurgical category there is, bronze is superior to iron. (Steel blows it away, of course, but non-carbonated iron loses to bronze every time.) $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jan 6 '20 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ Real life example of why it's important to sometimes take a step backward to find the global maxima $\endgroup$ – amflare Jan 6 '20 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Internal war does not have to be the most powerful driver. If it's allowed to say that year 1500 a big volcano is going to erupt it would seem that it would be allowed to plan that each spring an increasing large number of multi-tentacled tiger-lobsters come ashore looking for some people to eat. People will find ways to fight off the threat. $\endgroup$ – James Nelli Jan 6 '20 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ @JamesNelli, it doesn't take much technology to fight off large predators. The European lion was exterminated in Roman times, and various other animals (bears, wolves) didn't fare much better. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jan 6 '20 at 22:32

Ultimately the industrialization in our world occurred because of trust, collaboration, economic freedoms, and resource availability

Although it may be theoretically possible for societies without one or more of these traits to get to a place of industrialization, it is so extremely difficult and unlikely that I wouldn't count on it. What we see with industrialization in countries like North Korea (with very low trust, collaboration, and economic freedoms) is mostly the implementation of industries designed and developed elsewhere. In other words, North Korea isn't exactly a powerhouse of innovation. Yet if someone else makes a new type of manufacturing process, they can learn about it and use their strongly hierarchical authorities to force it to be implemented within.

Because your gods are not allowed to interfere in any way with the societies, you can't know how the humans will evolve socially. One of the ways to measure the health of a society is by trust and collaboration, which (glossing over nuances here) can be seen through things like specialization. For example, if I don't trust you to grow food for me, nor you me to weave clothes for you, then we don't have specialization. We'll both grow our own food and make our own clothes. This kills any hope of innovation or industrialization, regardless of the resources present.

Simply put, psychologically speaking, the conditions in favor of industrialization cannot be encouraged or implemented by your deities because they cannot intervene or leave any knowledge behind. If the humans won't work together then it's not going to happen.

Keep in mind that distrust can happen when it's peaceful or violent, when there are natural disasters or no disasters. People are great at screwing over each other, or dominating each other, or manipulating each other.

However, resource wise, you can create conditions in favor of industrialization. We're talking a lot of metal that's easily available, trees that are easy to cut down, fast-growing foods and resources. The more abundant and lower the cost of resources the less likely the humans will hesitate to use and experiment with them.

For example, if trees take decades to grow, then cutting one down may seem like a bad idea. If trees grow in days or weeks, then cutting them down isn't a huge cost. If one light of a match or lightning strike can burn a whole forest down, playing with fire is a bad idea. But if fire is (relatively) easy to contain, then go for it. Same with metal, bugs, animals, crops, etc.

There's a catch-22 there: if trees grow too fast they may overrun your crops, or vice versa. So you'll need to make the island as fertile as possible, and the plants as easy to grow as possible, but also prevent them from being overrun. And, of course, make sure that metals like silver and gold are easily found. Make the ground strong but easy to dig, and so on.

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    $\begingroup$ have multiple societies is the best way to insure some of them will stumble across the right social conditions, one idea for why europe kept advancing was there were so many countries that could not conquer each other for long thanks to terrian so there was a never ending race of technological advancement. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 4 '20 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ Silver and gold aren't much use on their own. They're only really useful as currency, which is to say a way of keeping score. You need ores of all the "useful" metals - iron, copper and so on - and with varying degrees of alloy of other metals like chromium, vanadium and so on, as actually happened here. Knowing that iron from different ores has different properties is an important step in metallurgy. $\endgroup$ – Graham Jan 5 '20 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think the premise "easy access to resources helps innovation" holds, in fact I believe it's quite the opposite. Like @Alexander mentioned, it's strife and hardship that forces people to innovate. Making resources scarce and something to fight over may be a better approach. $\endgroup$ – Douwe Jan 6 '20 at 14:11

I personally think an Ukraine amount of land is too little because of the reasons discussed in the comments (gimme at least a continent!). That said, here's my best try:

  • If the question allows it, I would break up the single island into 5 Ireland-sized islands with a few smaller island chains between, and have them on a north-south axis so that they don't suffer from the same plagues and have biological diversity, yet also close enough so that trading, both of goods and diseases, is possible as early as classical antiquity.

  • All islands would have access to the base metals important in classical antiquity (copper, zinc, iron, lead, etc, maybe in different proportions) and basic domesticated animals (you can have llamas in some islands but sheep in others). All of them would be extremely fertile, because if all you have are 5 Irelands worth of islands, you're gonna have to fit a ton of people in there so that technology progresses.

The idea is that you need periods of conflict and outside threat, but not hegemony. As each island reaches a point of being able to centralize and expand their influence to other islands, conflict and outside pressure would give impulse to technology, but distances would make it so that fully conquering and assimilating other islands would be a difficult endeavor for any single culture. Fear of war would exist, but peace and trade would play its important role.

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    $\begingroup$ Why do you need biological diversity, if you can just plop down the flora and fauna that will be most useful to humans in the first place? There will be exactly one grain crop with the highest yield, and the north-south alignment of the island ensures that growing conditions for that crop will be sub-optimal in many places. I think it would be far better to have a homogeneous climate along an east-west axis, allowing everyone access to the highest-yielding crop, jump-starting the all-important step of having surplus food. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Hoagie Jan 3 '20 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang I consider biological and climate diversity important for two reasons: 1) it would generate trade and 2) it would limit the effect of plagues. $\endgroup$ – Luis Jan 3 '20 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ Well, ok, trade within the island, but the question specifies: "they cannot ever travel between islands" - somewhat thwarts the idea of islands interacting - let alone conquering each-other. Should have thoroughly read the question..... $\endgroup$ – Tantalus' touch. Jan 4 '20 at 5:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Bitterdreggs.: You're misinterpreting that sentence. Each "god" has a separate island, and that sentence means only that the inhabitants of one god's island can never travel to another god's island. The OP explicitly mentions the (frowned-upon, but not actually forbidden) possibility of "a chain of little islands, each reachable by a technology that can be found in its natural form on the previous island". $\endgroup$ – ruakh Jan 4 '20 at 5:02
  • $\begingroup$ @ruakh How can there be outside threat if there is no contact between the peoples of different gods? Surely that would just be inside threat between people of the same gods from different islands? As I said, should have thoroughly read the question..... Or at least have mentioned the word "schism" once. $\endgroup$ – Tantalus' touch. Jan 4 '20 at 5:35

I thought I would share my own hypothetical situation, to expand on the Andes idea a bit more - if only to bring to attention how unusual their technological development has been.

The Andes

You see, South America is the closest real-life analogue for this hypothetical student project with an 8 millennium deadline. It was settled at between 15 and 11 thousand years BC, and from that moment on there was very little contact with the north. Yes, Panama was technically crossable, and fishing ships made their occasional way around the Darién Gap, but it was very much a blockade for cultural and technological ideas. The Andean and Mesoamerican cultural spheres were not aware of each other; there was no Silk Road connecting the two. Roman coins have been found as far as Japan, but nothing of Inca origins have been unearthed anywhere near Tenochtitlan, or vice versa. They might as well be considered separate continents.

It commonly stated that this isolation would be a pure detriment for technological, which it would have been to some extent, but it does not the end of the story, for Europe has been settled by modern humans for at least forty thousand years. The Americas achieved all the technology they did, in a quarter of the time.

I am going to take the southern half of Peru for the base of my island (which is where the historical cultures in this answer lived), and then make some tweaks to support every stage of civilisation even more than the region did historically.

Food production

Norte Chico is the oldest civilisation in the Americas and, within a rounding error, the oldest in the world (sharing the #1 spot with Sumer). The earliest cities were formed around 3500 BC, so eight to eleven thousand years after the settlement of the continent - but only five thousand years after evidence of the first settlements in the area (dated at 9000 BC). I'm going to be generous to myself, and say that my island could achieve a Norte Chico civilisation around the year 5000 of the experiment, if I do not make any changes.

But what if I did? You see, it is indisputable that the ocean was very important to the Norte Chico civilisation. They sailed out to the open sea, slew blue whales (the largest beasts on Earth), and made stools out of their vertebrae.

In the seventies, the scientist Michael Mosely went further; he theorised that the civilisation had maritime origins. He did not just mean that the cities were founded by fishermen, which some theories about the settlement of the Americas already stated, but that fish and other seafood was the main source of subsistence for the entire culture. He theorised that the Norte Chico people did not make extensive use of agriculture at all, unlike any other cradle of civilisation on the planet!

Obviously this theory found much opposition in the scientific community, though much like how the equally interesting and unlikely Phantom time hypothesis forced historians everywhere to challenge their assumptions about the happenings in the Dark Ages (or indeed their very existence), this mad idea coerced many scientists to pay more attention to the Norte Chico civilisation to try to disprove it, which finally granted them some more attention over the more well-researched Inca and Wari empires in the region.

Wiseman acknowledged the role of flax as an agriculture product (to make fishnets of), and when further research found that the inland cities were more populous than the coastal ones, his theory became more discredited. Still, it was appearing in scientific literature as late as 2005, so, to put it boldly, if the scientific community seriously considered this idea for thirty years, I think I could have a society based on fish in my little alt history :)

So this is the alteration I would make: put some extra reefs and other hotbeds of marine activity in the range of the Norte Chico people. Make it a bay crawling with fish and algae, and increase the size of it. A hunter-gatherer society could quickly become prosperous there and found villages and cities to support a population capable of extracting it all from the sea, much like how population increased in the Indus, Nile and Tigris valleys just to farm all that fertile soil. Slowly, the fishermen would discover how to farm the flax for nets and develop irrigation systems while they're at it.

Now, at some point the fish will run out, at which point the budding civilisation should pack their things and move themselves and their knowledge of irrigation to more fertile grounds, which Norte Chico did historically. But in this scenario, I should have moved up their flourishing period at least a thousand years, thanks to the abundance of fish. So I have agriculture in year 4000 of my experiment.

This is all I know to write for now. I think I will expand this answer in the future, but as it stands, it should provide some ideas for alternative civilisation budding methods, and the teacher does reward creativity so I should earn some points with this :)

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    $\begingroup$ After the fish run out, the may have the knowledge of irrigation, but not the grain cultures. They should have another culture readily available, otherwise all the knowledge about irrigation would be lost. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jan 3 '20 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ the andes civilizations did not achieve terribly impressive nothing middle eastern civilizations did not achieve in the same amount of time. europe achieved the same level of technology just as fast but then the bronze age collapse happened. keep in mind europe and north america were colonized at roughly the same time. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 4 '20 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ @John Europe was settled by modern humans around 40k BC. Especially the southern parts, where civilisation first originated on that continent, were home to people long before the first hominid had reached the New World. And Sumer too. I think all evidence points towards the Americas actually being more favourable to human settlement, given how long people lived in the Old World without constructing anything. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Jan 4 '20 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm only if you work by some insane assumptions like technological development is not brought with colonists, (which we know is wrong they brought domesticated dogs with them). Humans did not appear in the americas de novo they migrated from asia bring technology with them. Migration likely hinders technological growth but that is not the same as resetting it. I was referring to western europe so yes depending on what you mean by europe they were not colonized at the same time. northern europe was colonized after even south america. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 4 '20 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @John Western Europe was colonised by the Roman Empire. Whatever technology the first American settlers brought with them, agriculture was not among them, so that fits the question's specification of the island being settled by hunter-gatherers. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Jan 4 '20 at 20:58

Russian Sci-Fi strikes again!

There is a short story from 1990 about two guys from an advanced civilisation that want Micronesia to be able to fend off European expansion during the Age of Exploration.

They artificially divide the nation in two, waging a perpetual (but somewhat ethical and controlled) war against each other – no killings of children, no civilian bombings, etc. There is an old legend that both nations would reunite at the sight of a common enemy. The advanced guys feed both countries suitable technologies and ideas (which differs the setting from the question).

Long story short: the Micronesians are using aircraft carriers and have piston engines, powered by spiritus from a palm refinery. When the European caravels with their front-loading cannons are sighted, they are driven off and traced to the port of origin. The latter is then attacked, as the now-technologically inferior Europeans have the resources for which the new Micronesian empire has a better use.

So, what does it have in common with the question? As sad as it might sound: war is a great amplifier of an industrial development. So, your young god might want to create circumstances for a quite ongoing war that should not, however, eradicate the settlements. It also should not end in one of the parties winning too soon.

Now, Ukraine has 603,628 km² on land. Split off 242,495 km² for UK – separated with a strait from the main land mass; have around 357,386 km² for something like Germany. Put somewhere the Alps and pull the remaining area in something like Ruhr – or, speaking about Ukraine, – a Donbass and Kuzbass combined.

Now, ideally, at some point you'd have some local countries that are fighting each other, an island nation that spends time either fighting itself or provoking the main land countries to fight each other, and a well-isolated country with enough iron ore and coal to kickstart an industrial revolution.


It has been suggested that one thing that held back Rome from having an industrial revolution was the presence of large scale slavery. The ancient Greeks had the basics of the steam engine, and the Romans eventually figured out the value of standardization for their military supply lines, in the latter parts of the imperial era. Despite reductions in the amount of slavery by that time, they still had a significant (~10%) enslaved population (perhaps not by the standards of the day, but compared to most industrial revolution economies). Why invent machinery if you can just have slaves do all the fabrication?

We can also observe that technological development really takes off when there's a class of people who are confident enough in their future to invest in themselves via education, and in research projects to brighten their futures. So, we need to make sure the middle to lower classes are valuable. We also need large populations to get the network effects that produce science.

As a result, I'd suggest a predictable boom-bust cycle for crops. Every generation or so, there could be a couple years that produce very little. The goal is to constrain the population to the point where just throwing people at problems is unprofitable, and also to incentivize planning ahead.

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    $\begingroup$ And please don't call slavery in the classical world "chattel slavery", confusing it with the genetic slavery prevalent in the modern United States of America. In ancient Rome, a slave had excellent chances of becoming a freedman (or freedwoman), and freedmen were full citizens, again unlike modern U.S.A. The children of a freedperson were eligible for the highest offices of state. It was a very different social status, with different expectations and different outcomes. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 3 '20 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ Chattel slavery was the wrong word, I agree. It looks to me like they did have a ton of slaves (~30% of the population of Italy, for example*), though, particularly compared to countries that were gearing up for industrial revolutions. *en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_ancient_Rome#Demography $\endgroup$ – Zwuwdz Jan 3 '20 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ That's in the first century (= early empire), just after the largest territorial expansion of the empire. But then in the first century territorial expansion stopped, the empire having reached its natural boundaries. Since the Romans tended to manumit the children of slaves (eventually), by the end of the fourth century (= late empire) the proportion of slaves in the population fell to 10% or so. By the middle of the fifth century there basically no more slaves, except exceptions in the service of rich people (and those had very very different lives and expectations than a common slave). $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 3 '20 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander: ? The Modern Period started in 1648 -- Peace of Westphalia, rise of the sovereign states as principal actors on the world stage, separation of church and state, etc. The 19th century is well within the Modern Period; the entire history of the U.S.A. is within the Modern Period. I wrote the modern U.S.A. simply as opposed to ancient Rome. I have no opinion, political of otherwise, about 18th, 19th, or 20th century countries far away across the ocean. I'm not even particularly interested in modern history. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 4 '20 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the clarification. Since USA has started only in 1776, it completely falls within modern period. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jan 4 '20 at 0:08

Besides the excellent points about diversity and challenges in other answers, let's not forget about a very important challenge: have a geogoraphy and/or location which guarantees that there is a lot of variation between fertile and infertile time periods.

To be able to accumulate, preserve, store, and protect food to last during the less fertile period, people need to organize, build a civilization, and make laws. Take a look at the Middle East (periods of drought, requiring irrigation, water storage, commerce), and Europe/China/Japan, where a few months of winter requires people to both build up a food surplus and to care about heating their homes.

In most areas of tropical climate, where the same food sources are available all year round, people remained in hunter-gatherer tribes until fairly recently. Without a need forcing you to build up a surplus for several months (with all the hassle of working more than the others to gather it, and then protecting it once you have it and others don't), there is not much need to organize anything bigger than small tribes. Yes, hunter-gatherers might want to have a small surplus for a case of a bad hunt, but not in the order of magnitude of many months.


Parrots, thousands of them, parroting preloaded knowledge. No writing system needed.

They'll be gone in a century or so, but being available for even a decade will be enough to jump-start things.

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    $\begingroup$ So the tree of knowledge was actually a tree full of birds of knowledge? $\endgroup$ – CJ Dennis Jan 4 '20 at 6:42
  • $\begingroup$ Well there are many different species of parrots, But if we are talking about talkative parrots here, I can assure you living with thousands of chatty loud parrots in a remote island will guaranteed to drive people to insanity. I think something like this was subject of a horror manga by Junji Ito :D Then again, it's sounds like exactly what a newbie god would do. Sometimes i like to think about all the "failed experiments" of our god(s) before we were made. I pity the poor experimants. $\endgroup$ – Soorena Aban Jan 4 '20 at 7:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Soorena An "island" the size of Ukraine is not that crowded. $\endgroup$ – Emilio M Bumachar Jan 4 '20 at 8:08
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    $\begingroup$ Disqualified: a spoken language counts as technology too :) You've lost 15 credits at Cthulhu University! $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Jan 4 '20 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ @SoorenaAban What makes you think we're not a failed experiment? ;) $\endgroup$ – Mark Storer Jan 9 '20 at 13:30

Creating shortages is the key. People with good hunting grounds don't switch to agriculture. People with steady rainfall don't invent irrigation. People with lots of tin and copper don't invent and improve iron. People with battalions of slaves don't invent the steam engine. People with tons of trees don't invent adobe. People with massive peasant armies don't need to invent the professional army or adapt gunpowder for personal usage. People with plenty of shellac and ivory don't develop plastics. People with lots of whales to hunt don't develop kerosene.

Plagues, famine, natural disasters, etc. will be the shaping tools of your god. Throw your people into the grinder, just barely giving them enough time to recover and prosper before the next disaster strikes. There will be no dynasties, no Rome, for these your people... only a bitter and constant struggle to survive. Only the invention of industrial tech will give them the ability to finally break this cycle of devastation and triumph over nature itself. Just pick a proper interval of destruction, and you're set.

For overall layout, create a few mostly-separate regions so that you can have multiple disaster cycles going simultaneously. Keep them close enough that anybody who makes a big leap in tech can conquer the others and spread it.


must make conditions on that island such that a human population will achieve a fully industrial society, similar to Victorian Britain, in as little time as possible. Let's say within 8640 years. The initial stock is a clan of a thousand hunter-gatherers of sufficient genetic diversity, and they cannot ever travel between islands.

In the course of actual evolution, humanity went from hunting and gathering to the Industrial Revolution in not that much longer than 8640 years.

They are each given an artificially isolated island the size of Ukraine

That's 2.4x larger than Britain. So... give it the geographic and climactic conditions of Britain.


This is a little bit of an XY problem. The immediate physical environment matters a lot, but there are in my opinion too many other things at play to be able to focus just on the layout of the island :o)

The biggest drivers for development of science, per se, were:

  1. Terrain, as mentioned in several other answers and comments, certainly appears to have been a factor, although it's quite hard (for me, anyway) to pin down the reasons for that. However a good mixture of forbidding mountains and fertile valleys does seem to be necessary. The awe provoked by enormous flora, fauna and ... well, landscape, to inspire the dreamers, coupled with enough fertility that people have some idle time while still alert enough to notice things, ...

  2. The skies were clear enough for both stars and nearby planets to be visible to the naked eye, encouraging both poets and those of a mathematical inclination to wonder how and why. Throw in the Milky Way too I guess, and the Magellanic Clouds, which also inspired astronomers. Make a few stars explode each century - hopefully bright enough to be noticeable.

  3. Thanks to the wonders of the universe, coupled with people devoted to practising peaceful religion and reflection, a monk named Gregor Mendel noticed - that word again - the, dare I say it, beautiful patterns of nature produced by the mixture of mitosis and meiosis that makes the world go 'round.

Anyway, all of these are needed, otherwise people stop dreaming as soon as they can reach everything they can see. Put bright things in the sky, make them do odd enough things to make intelligent life go "Hmmm..."; throw in a really, really crazy system of fundamental particles and forces; tweak all the fundamental constants so that one of the most common elements on the planet can be used to build electronics ...

It's like stimulating a baby with toys, isn't it?

The world is not enough ...

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    $\begingroup$ [ obligatory ST:TOS reference - make sure there's plenty of sulphur, multiple allotropes of carbon and some plant life with long hollow stems ... ] $\endgroup$ – Will Crawford Jan 9 '20 at 2:43

Put an Old Faithful type geyser or thermal vent that will erupt at consistent intervals forever. This will give them the notion of repetitive, mechanical action, as well as a preexisting steam engine to clone

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    $\begingroup$ The sun has repeatedly risen and set every day for 4.5 billion years, but this didn't speed industrialization that much $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 6 '20 at 15:08

They need a good motive. The industrial revolution was a disaster for most people in terms of longevity, quality of life and workers rights. If you already have enough food and shelter, you need a very strong motivation— eg a caste of greedy capitalists - to force the people to give up their rural idyll. Most cultures did not go down this route, even after thousands of years. It’s too early yet to tell, but they may have had the right idea...so maybe you need to present them with a threat or a condition - everyone dying at 30 day - which needs an industrial revolution to overcome.

  • $\begingroup$ The loss of longevity during the early industrial revolution was the fault of cities, not industry -- the sanitation techniques of the Romans were forgotten and had to be re-learned. Loss of workers' rights was a regional phenomenon -- in England, it might be a step backwards for a freeholding farmer to work in a factory, but for a Russian serf, it's a step forwards. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jan 5 '20 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ I'd say the big step for the serf is not being a serf. I'm not familiar with the Russian industrial revolution, but I suspect hours were longer and conditions worse -- and, unlike their agricultural brethren, they lacked direct access to food which was vital in times of shortage. Even in the early 20th century in the UK living in the country meant being better fed. $\endgroup$ – David Hambling Jan 6 '20 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ The industrial revolution was a disaster for most people in terms of longevity, quality of life and workers rights. This psatoralist fantasy is rebutted by the simple and incredibly obvious demographic fact that literally everywhere rural subsistence agriculture workers had the opportunity to move to industrial jobs in cities, they took it. $\endgroup$ – tbrookside Jan 6 '20 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ @tbrookside, there was a distinct lost of life expectancy -- a combination of poor sanitation and high disease rates meant that until about the mid- to late-1800s, European cities had a negative natural growth rate, being sustained by migration from the countryside. The migration to cities was driven by the countryside being effectively filled up: you could stay in the country and work a fractional share of your parents' already-too-small farm, or you could go to the city and look for a job. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jan 6 '20 at 22:12

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