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I'm working on colony development. The word is similar to the earth around 5000–4000 B.C. and humans basically known how to hunt, farm, build houses/structures and share their knowledge between them and their kids.

We have a group of these people (let's say around 300) who wants to build a sustainable colony starting from almost nothing. They have enough food (but not usable seeds) and water for some weeks, rudimentary clothes, a small amount of basic tools and some flints/firestones. So they shouldn't be dead for the next few weeks :)

I'd like to know what kind of environment is the most favorable for them? What are the most important resources to gather and farm in order to properly start this colony?

I thought about a large forest in a moderate climate (Mediterranean?). They could find water sources, gather berries, hunt wild animals, get wood for houses and fire, and rocks for their tools. Do you see a better place to start?

If you had to select the ~5–10 most useful/mandatory raw resources (fitting in the same environment), what would you choose?

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  • $\begingroup$ Whats the tech level like? Is this a colony on a different planet, like a space colony? Or a colony on newly discovered land, like the early colonies in the Americas? $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 18 '15 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ This question may be related: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/10648/… $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 18 '15 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Andy, it seems like your question was addressed in the first paragraph. $\endgroup$ – Seth May 18 '15 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 The tech level is really low (something like bronze age). It's a colony in a newly discovered land. You can see them as exiles without (or a very few) connection to other colonies. Thanks for the link to the question, it will be useful about the tech aspect. But first I'd like to focus on the environment/resources needs. $\endgroup$ – Allan Quatermain May 18 '15 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ Do they have any starting equipment, such as tents, saws, hammers, seeds? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre May 18 '15 at 14:18
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I believe what you are looking for are river valleys. Many, if not all major ancient civilizations who settled down to permanent settlements could only do so because they were able to learn agricultural techniques and they needed fertile land to do so. Look to the Egyptians and the Nile, as well as the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia. There are many more examples in other parts of the ancient world.

Food and fresh water.
Sustainable food sources along with fresh water are the most essential things for any human settlement. River valleys provide for an abundance of fauna and diverse wildlife for your colony to make use of. This is besides the fact that they offer some of the most fertile land you can find for agricultural uses.

Shelter:
Since you will need some form of shelter a river valley allows for you to choose a few options. They could build brick homes from clay found in the river. Wooden structures from great forests growing along its banks, or maybe even use the river to transport stone from quarries they mine up river.

Trade:
At some point the world will start getting smaller and the population of your colony will get bigger. Trade will be something that most likely you will participate in. The river is a natural medium for this as most major rivers either lead to some major body of water and are navigable.

Some form of metal:
You are going to want some source of metal, so that at some point you will be able to allow for technological advancement. Now what you decide to use will be subject to how you want your colony to grow and interact with the world. I do not think it is essential to have it right next to the initial settlement but within a reasonable distance, there should be some sort of easily mineable metal such as gold, copper, tin.

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The best location is generally a sea shore with a source of fresh water. A cliff with caves is the best low tech shelter. Caves actually give better protection from weather than most buildings.

Before large scale fishing oceans apparently had orders of magnitude (yes, plural) more fish. A coastal area with good fishing due to upwelling, plentiful molluscs, or even seals unused to humans could easily support small human colony without much effort. Coasts with cold currents are generally more productive since the current lifts nutrients from the deep.

A source of fresh water is a basic necessity for humans. And many other large animals so a good source of fresh water usually implies good hunting as well.

Areas with low population density generally have significant seasonal food resources in the form of fruits, berries, and mushrooms. There are of course also plants with edible leaves and roots, but those might be less obvious. I think the traditional theory of discovery of new food sources is to observe what other animals think edible and then experiment cautiously.

If there are only few hundred people and the world is uninhabited, hunting, gathering and fishing should support them comfortably. So generating new food sources would not be a priority. In fact with a good starting location there would be no urgent priorities, I think. It is easy to forget, but we actually evolved to survive without civilization.

Good technologies to preserve to the next generation despite no urgent need might be pottery, making thread and nets, maybe boats. Making salt (or just brine) from seawater and using it for food preservation would also be good skill. A small garden might be practical and help keep the idea of agriculture alive.

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    $\begingroup$ A nit: we evolved to use technology, though very primitive. Cooking changed us physically in important ways. Sewing made "modern humans" spread and outcompete better adapted hominids in the ice age. We have thumbs and "tool feel", not sharp claws or great strength. If the people have rocks they will have technology and learn to develop it. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 18 '15 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz Entirely true. I originally thought "without civilization", then added "technology" without thinking thru what the word actually means. Edit to fix. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 18 '15 at 21:31
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To answer this question I (somewhat surprisingly) turn to Dwarf Fortress and its associated wiki. Dwarf Fortress (DF) is a game about... building a sustainable colony/fortress starting from almost nothing. It is also highly detailed and quite realistic.

Location:
An ideal (ie: easy to settle) starting location in Dwarf Fortress has several key features:

  • Easy access to fresh water, like a river or stream. This is mentioned in some of the other answers as well. Easy access to a river also provides fish and (depending on your setting) irrigation. If your river periodically floods like, say, the Nile, then your colony gets free irrigation like the ancient Egyptions did.

  • Mild/Hospitable weather. A hard winter right after settling could easily freeze all your settlers. Hot weather is less of a concern if you have access to a riverwater but extreme weather places you colonists at risk of heat stroke and/or melting.

  • As other answers have noted, you will at least want one metal ore in close proximity to your colony. Metal is useful for better tools, weapons, etc. and has economic value, but that might not matter to your colony yet.

  • In a primitive society, trees are also very important resource as fuel and as a construction material. If your colonists know how to work metal (copper, tin, bronze) or want to make glass then trees also become a source of charcoal which is neccessary for any serious smelting/glass making.

  • Food. Duh. Rivers provide some fish, plains and savannas (like Africa) provide larger herd animals and grains. Forests may also have eadible plants. Trees will have edible fruit which have seeds. If your settlement is near an ocean then salt is also valuable because it can be used to presurve meats.

Resources, Tools and Knowledge:
Many DF players tweak their starting resources too:

  • You mention that your colonists have several weeks of water with them. I have a problem with that; water is really heavy. A Litre of water is one kilo. and one human needs 1-2 L per day depending on exersion. Two weeks of water is (worst case) 28 KG. That is alot for one person to carry. It is far more likely that your colonists followed a river. As user2389345436357's answer states, you will probably be looking for a river valley (like the Nile) for your colony.

  • Your colonists should take along knives, both for self protection and hunting. In some early cultures openly carrying a knife was a simbol of status as well. Your colonists should also have the knowhow to make shelter for themselves.

  • It is best that your colonists have a wide variety of skills. In DF, you would typically start out with a Mason, Carpenter, Woodcutter, Miner, Fisherman, Fish cleaner/disector, Butcher, Tanner, Farming, etc. Consult the full list of skills here. Of these, the Fisherman, Butcher and Carpenter will be most useful in providing food and shelter. Later on your settlement might want glass makers, metal workers and masons. Once you have seeds (hopefully) from the local plants farmers will come in handy. Note this list of starting skills and other considerations.

  • The local animals might be hostile and unsuitable for tameing: if possible your colonists should take along animals as pack animals, for leather, producing meat, milk and (later) cheese. Goats and llamas might be a good choices, they both produce milk which can be made into cheese, wool for clothes, and can act as pack animals. They are also produce edible meat.

  • One last point - have you heard of the 50/500 rule? Basically, 50 people is enough for short term survival, and 500 or more are needed for long term survival. This has to do with genetic diversity, if your group of people is too small then inbreeding becomes an issue. According to Wikipedia's article on Space Colonization, 150-180 people should provide enough genetic diversity to last around 60-80 generations, or 2000 years. 300 colonists should last significantly longer than 180, but 500 is a fairly well quoted figure for long term (10000yr+) survival.

TL;DR: You want a temperate climate, a river or other fresh water, wood, fruit, fish, butcherable animals, more wood, and ores of your favourate metal.


You might benefit from reading the Dwarf Fortress Wiki (link above) and/or playing the game. Dwarf Fortress might not be the best way of simulating your colony but many of the concepts are applicable.

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Since you explicitly have eliminated seeds from the supplies the people would have, they should retool themselves for a nomadic hunter/gatherer existence. Living as nomads isn't a huge stretch for people, the world's population is descended from hunter/gatherers and that lifestyle was around even into the late 1800's in various parts of the world.

You did not mention horses, but if they have horses then they will be able to go one better and become nomadic pastoralists and even horse raiders as well. This would also imply they can get a source of livestock along with or shortly after getting horses.

As nomads, they would not need (or even be able to carry) lots of goods, so basic tools to hunt/fight, butcher, clean and dress animals, and manipulate the skins and wool for shelter and fibre would be the 80% solution for these people. What they need after that they can trade meat and skins for (if they are traders) or raid the settled agricultural settlements to get. (Historically, it was usually both).

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Depending on the skills/knowledge of your colonists; raw ore on the ground, and trees to go with it - since you've implied water and animals are available.

  • High quality iron ore (detectable by magnet) was available on the surface in the US as little as 150 years ago, when MI and MN were opened up. Iron tools go a long way towards... everything.
  • Coal beds nearby would be nice, instead of having to barge the ore to the coal, which is what happened historically. Alternatively, you could make-do with charcoal, which takes trees and dirt (helps if you have an iron shovel...), which leads to:
  • The right trees are next most important (fuel; tools: bow & arrow, ax-handles, shovels; buildings/machinery: tepee poles (valued at 4 horses apiece on the Great Plains), houses, lumber-drying sheds, mills; transport: barges, wagons, carriages).
  • Finding plants you can start to domesticate, since you're refusing to let them bring seeds. Crops may take quite a long time to develop.
  • Domesticated horses that they brought with would be very useful; transport, transport, transport, and horse-power to run mills/machinery that you need before you can make engines. Same for goats and/or to a lesser extent, cattle (both of which covert the landscape to food).
  • You'll also need some good clay deposits to make kilns/firebrick with.
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At around 3000bc is when we first started building pyramids, so they would be progressing rapidly towards organised settlements with civic structures.

I agree with the river valleys answer, particularly about the metal. Salt is also a crucial factor as our brains require salt to process properly. (salt was used as a currency in the roman and pre-roman eras). According to a research paper*, it is also the only taste we are born to like, all others are learned.

Something to remember is that the odds that there would be life on another planet that would have the right proteins for us to consume without being toxic is very remote (they may not even be carbon based.) So maybe have the original fauna & flora as well as introduced ones, could make for interesting complications (if earth flora can only grow in certain areas etc)

Edit: *There are a few articles here, I cannot remember the specific one I was referring to, but it was a neurological basis paper I read about 5-7 years ago. Here are some others, the first of which has to do with the lessening of the salt in infancy as the child ages: "Infant salt taste" (GK Beauchamp, BJ Cowart, JA Mennella), "Intersalt: an international study of electrolyte excretion and blood pressure." BMJ has arguments in it that both show nature and nurture arguments.

Salt also helps with control of our blood osmolarity and is used for conduction within the brain. Of course too much also causes heart and blood pressure problems. Too little salt in the body can induce episodes of symptoms with eerie similarities to dementia/Alzheimers and can lead to death (I know someone who had this happen, she survived thankfully).

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you add which research paper you are referring to? $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Jun 3 '17 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ Couldn't remember the specific paper, but got a couple others I thought were interesting along similar lines. See edited version above. $\endgroup$ – Slipoch Jun 5 '17 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ The question doesn't appear to be asking about a colony on a different planet. $\endgroup$ – MichaelHouse Jun 5 '17 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ "The word is similar to the earth around 5000–4000 B.C." This implies it is not earth, but an earthlike world. $\endgroup$ – Slipoch Jun 14 '17 at 0:06

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