A character (person from the 21st century) is going to be sent back to Europe in the late 16th century.

The plan is to upon arrival, immediately attempt to contact someone who is both reasonably intelligent, held in high standing in society, and reputed to have a generous, patient disposition. Then, the time traveler will have to prove to them that they are from the future.

What proof can they give that would have a good chance of convincing this person from the 16th century that they are indeed from the future and not just trying to trick them or totally insane?

Reasons for the characteristics of the person the time traveler will meet

The reason why they have to be held in high standing by society, i.e. a respected philosopher, professor, or clergyman, and given that the destination is the 16th century, they may be all three, is that they can then be a respected ally to the traveler, explaining your situation to others who trust him.I imagine they couldn't be the pope or a king as they would likely be far too busy to hear the time traveler's case in the first place.

The reason why they have to be intelligent is that, since people back then had no concept of being able to travel through time, an uneducated peasant probably would not even begin to fathom what you sere trying to explain, or if he or she could come to comprehend the idea of time travel, they may very well be unmoved by any proofs that you are a time traveler as the notion would be so absurd. Even educated people may perhaps dismiss this notion as ridiculous though.

Finally, they absolutely must be of a kind temperment because an impatient or harsh man would probably just tell you to get away from him and quit babbling nonsense at best. I imagine the time traveler would first flatter our selected person, and maybe even present them with gifts.

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    $\begingroup$ The same type of question has been asked, among others, here worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/12348/30492 and here worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/104720/30492 How is this one different? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jul 14, 2020 at 5:26
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    $\begingroup$ An interesting question, but the solution will be close to impossible if the contact is prepared to believe in angels and demons as an alternative explanation. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Jul 14, 2020 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ I have one problem with questions like this: Why they need to prove they're time travellers? Because for me the only reason is to conviece someone who have the idea of TT that the TT is possible. I can assue you that even now there are people who can convice other that they have magic powers, knowledge from angels or abilities "beyond science". In your scenario the sole concept of making someone aware of the idea of TT would be mind blowing. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2020 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ "since people back then had no concept of being able to travel through time" I'd wager time travel stories are as old as humanity itself. As for "yeah but they had no idea how it could be done", well, neither have we. (At least not for going backward that is). The only thing that separates us from them is that we are starting to see more and more evidence that it in fact can't be done, as it would break causality. You would have an easier time convincing a medieval peasant then a modern day scholar, i.e. you need someone stupid, not someone intelligent. $\endgroup$
    – Douwe
    Jul 14, 2020 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ "Look, weird stranger. I've been very patient while you while you have wasted my entire afternoon. But it's increasingly obvious to me that you're a dangerous witch or some terrible supernatural demon instead of a harmless loony, so GUARDS! Gag and then burn this witch before sunset." $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jul 14, 2020 at 14:02

8 Answers 8


The concept of time travel was not something that most people would have known about in your target time period, and the concepts of occultism were still very prevalent throughout Europe at that time despite the Renaissance. This means that without physical evidence, you're not likely to convince them of anything more than precognition of some sort.

This means that you can't rely on knowledge alone to convince them. What physical evidence will work is highly dependent on the individual, but the best case scenario I requires that you are able to arrive at a very precise time and avoid the possibility of persecution by the Church.

The approach I would use, assuming those requirements are met, is as follows:

  1. Pick your intended patron ahead of time. Absolutely do not leave this to chance. An ideal situation would be someone who is both a prolific writer and a polymath. Galileo Galilei would be a nearly ideal choice (not sure about his personality) for the stated time period other than the whole ticking off the Pope, getting investigated by the Inquisition and spending most of his life under house arrest thing. You'll notice if you actually start looking that most of the people who meet both of my listed criteria are also usually important figures in society in some way. Unless you had lot of free time in that time period, you would not have met these criteria, and the only people who had lots of free time were clergymen and nobles.
  2. Figure out exactly when they completed (not published, but actually finished writing) one of their major works and then procure a modern publication of that same text in the original language.
  3. Aim to meet them just after they finish said work, and open the conversation with something along the lines of 'Hey, I heard you've been doing a lot of research in !' and then guide the conversation in a way that results in a natural point to pull out the book and show it to them.

That should for many historical figures be sufficient to get your foot in the door. From there, you're going to need to use technology to fully convince them. It's very important that what you pick as technological samples for this purpose does not require significant amounts of what would at the time be 'new' knowledge to explain how it works, and would ideally be relevant to areas of interest for them. The important thing here is to use these technology samples to reinforce and expand upon their existing work in ways that they can actually understand but which are not physically possible with the state of technology at the time. If we use the above example of Galileo, you would want to bring mechanical astrolabes, orreries, armillaries, and possibly tellurions built using modern technology to have absurdly high precision and ideally correctly model the elliptical orbits of the planets (non-circular orbits and eccentric were not really a concept at the time, but the fact that they predict the actual motion much better than circular centered models do should be very convincing).

Regardless of your approach, I think it's worth pointing out that this is seriously risky. The Inquisition was a big thing during your stated time period, and anything you're likely to be able to do to convince most people you really are from the future is likely to be treated as either heresy or possibly even evidence of possession or some contract with the devil by the Catholic Church of the time period. Even if you choose somewhere with a predominantly Protestant population, you're still likely to draw similar accusations if you're not careful, and Protestants have historically been just as nasty as Catholics when it comes to stuff like that.

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    $\begingroup$ I think it might be more effective to arrive slightly earlier--show up with the printed copy of their work while they're still finishing it up. $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2020 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ @LorenPechtel Either should work honestly, although showing up before they finish it with a complete copy would probably b more successful if they are particularly paranoid. $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2020 at 11:36

Given the period involved (late 16th century) and the type of person to be persuaded (intelligent, open minded and held in high standing) there is a chance that it could be done. There is no way to guarantee it's possible.

If the are of high standing and travel in the appropriate circles, they may have a reasonably well documented life which the time traveler can learn in detail. Knowing this information the individual may be able to persuade their target that they have knowledge of future events in that persons life (or someone they are close to) which could not reasonably have come to them any other way than by coming from a future time.

You might predict the prices someone paid at an auction for land or livestock. These might be well documented in some cases and knowing an exact price or all of them would be impressive. If the time traveler can demonstrate further that they knew this and did not not profit themselves from the knowledge it might also demonstrate their honesty. Predicting one price would be put down to luck, but predicting the vast majority would be quite impossible to explain another way.

Precision predictions of random events is the trick. Any event that could be hard to predict accurately but which was measured and recorded accurately and is available to reliable historical records would be good.

But to avoid being considered a charlatan they must also make some effort to demonstrate their honestly and trust worthiness. That is much harder. This might simply require the time traveler to live in that area and become a well known and reasonably respected figure in the local community themselves. Someone that could be relied on and trusted. That might require a year or many years !

A time traveler might also have to do something that is probably difficult for them : profess and practice the local religion as if they deeply believed in it. A deep devotion to religion would be the most common demonstration of honesty that would be expected at that period. It might also be the hardest one for someone from later periods to adapt to. The extent to which God and the Church were interwoven with people's lives and minds at the time is hard for most people now to understand.

The reason why they have to be intelligent is that, since people back then had no concept of being able to travel through time, an uneducated peasant probably would not even begin to fathom what you sere trying to explain, or if he or she could come to comprehend the idea of time travel, they may very well be unmoved by any proofs that you are a time traveler as the notion would be so absurd. Even educated people may perhaps dismiss this notion as ridiculous though.

I don't think this is an issue at all. Magic and sorcery was a real concept for many people in that period and belief in someone from the past or future visiting them is not at all ridiculous, but certainly not something they'd just believe without proof. Education is not required to understand the notions of past and future or of coming from and going to. As long as there is some vague framework to attach the idea to (religion, science, magic) they can, with the right evidence, believe.


Bring some modern technology, like a tablet or a Polaroid camera. Show that you can snap full-color photos and even shoot video that can be played back on the tablet. Even a Zippo lighter will impress, as will a modern set of binoculars (the telescope wasn't invented until the 17th century). A model airplane that runs on alcohol will be an eye-opener. Also bring some modern science books, preferably with full-color photos. A detailed world map will also impress.

You can also brush up on historical events that happen shortly after your arrival, like famous deaths, births, earthquakes or other disasters, or even time your arrival to just before a solar or lunar eclipse or the arrival of a comet.

You could also recreate famous scientific experiments like Foucault's pendulum or showing that light and heavy balls fall equally fast. Use the binoculars you brought to show that Jupiter has four large moons and that Venus has phases. Invent the hot-air ballon.

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    $\begingroup$ Knowledge of historical events is the only thing that can distinguish a time traveller from an advanced alien. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2020 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ Either of these options could (would?) be met with 'you just puzzling me, demon!'. You need something to assure that you are not evil. And you are not angel, just man with such strange things (and strange language and clothes) $\endgroup$
    – ADS
    Jul 14, 2020 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ Knowledge of historical events just means you can predict the future, not that you are from the future (if that's a distinction that matters). $\endgroup$
    – chepner
    Jul 14, 2020 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ I'm afraid a solar eclipse won't work since even the Babylonians knew something about Saros cycles, and thus whomever the time traveller speaks to may just think they are trying to swindle them, and not actually from the future. Predicting something like an earthquake or death would be better, but I guess you'd have to hope they didn't figure you somehow caused it. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2020 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with using a list of historical events or facts as 'proof' of your status as a time traveler (apart from being arrested and burned as witch/practitioner of astrology etc) is that the list of events you pick have to be very carefully. During the period in question news travels slowly and only major or unusual events outside the targets local district will in most cases become know to them anyway. If you pick major events e.g. the deaths of Kings and or major battles then you risk changing the time flow and all your 'future knowledge' evaporates because the time line is changed. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Jul 15, 2020 at 3:33

This sounds pretty similar to "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."

Except the traveler is coming from the 21th century, not late 1890's, and the time period is Renaissance not medieval.

But in that book, the time traveler- an engineer- is able to use his advanced knowledge to convince people he's a magician. In your setting, they would use the same knowledge, but to show that they came from the future.

  1. Knowledge of eclipses, earthquakes etc. Being able to determine when these things will take place will establish credibility. And instead of saying that it's "magical" power, the time travelers should be able to explain the science involved.

  2. Making of futuristic technology- in the book, the time traveler is able to make gunpowder, telephones and more. Since the locals won't understand about it, he just uses them as tools to keep up the magic facade (ability to make explosions, knowledge of distant events, etc.)

But in your case, if your travelers can create such technology, they should be able to explain how they created it. Train them with chemistry, engineering and the like, and let them explain how they create various items from the future.

  1. Prediction of future events. Your travelers could just predict future events- who's going to get married, or assassinated, which countries will do certain things, etc.

The first two deal with demonstrating the advancement of science. This third answer is just revealing knowledge which could only have come from the future. But as long as your characters are speaking with "rational people" who don't think of demons or sorcery, then knowledge of the future events may be acceptable to convince them of time travel.


Just Demonstrate It

Take them in your time machine to the previous day, then let them watch themselves from a distance doing the exact things that they did that day. I'd be pretty convinced, wouldn't you?

Other kinds of tricks can include the contents of a time capsule that you could get the information or contents of, either by having them before you left, or by sending a message to a future confederate, who would then send the information or objects back in time, etc.

I understand if the intent of this question was different, and perhaps this approach is not an option, but the question does lack the specificity to rule out the approach outlined above. Perhaps an edit to the question should be made in order to precisely define what is and is not available.


Use software such as Kiwix to download a complete text dump of Wikipedia (in the appropriate language) to your phone. Take along a few solar chargers and spare batteries as well. Let them browse.

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    $\begingroup$ Is the phone supposed to impress, or the Wikipedia dump? Most of what's on Wikipedia will be future events which are completely unverifiable, or textual descriptions of scientific theory that may or may not be correct as far as a 16th-century reader is concerned. What Wikipedia article specifically would you show them to prove you're form the future? $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2020 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ I'm a litlle dubious about a 16th century English speaker managing to read 20th century English text. The language has changed considerably. Could you read 16th century English text and understand it ? Why expect the 16th century person to do any better. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2020 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG Shakespeare was writing at the close of the 16th century and, as much as schoolchildren being made to read him might protest, is for the most part perfectly intelligible with only a few words that aren't known any more (mostly largely guessable from context). And that's poetic! Prose is generally much easier to understand as it's more restrained in its syntax. A 16th century person would certainly find Modern English odd, but it wouldn't take much effort for them to get the gist $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Jul 14, 2020 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Tristan I think you misunderstand me. I can read Shakespeare fine, but to understand what it meant required what I can only describe as translation (of idioms and period uses of words) and contextual learning of semantic things. Just read Sherlock Holmes stories requires a lot of semantic learning - stuff to do with horses and carriages and ordinary commonplace things of the day they took for granted. Wikipedia would be no different to a 16th century reader - something that looks similar to but seems not to be English as they know it. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2020 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang I’d start out by showing them their own article, and go from there. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Jul 14, 2020 at 17:28

Show them something that they can understand and use

If you show modern electronics, where are they going to get batteries? Will they accuse you of using black magic? These things are too far ahead for them to comprehend as technology. They will think they are magic.

Instead take:

  1. A good stock of Medications like aspirin and paracetamol, hemorrhoid cream, antiseptic, and so on. These will fit in with their mindset of potions to cure ills.

  2. Weapons - take them a modern bow and arrows. A machine gun is no use once all the ammunition is gone, but a bow, they can understand and even imitate. The important person will enjoy being the only one around with such a fantastic bow that will win all the archery competitions.

  3. Present them with a warm clothes for the winter. Use modern fabrics that look somewhat like those they are used to but are more weatherproof.

  4. Dyes with bright colours. Back then the range of colours was pretty limited and what there was, was muted.

  5. Luxury items: Scented soap, hairbrushes, nail clippers, etc.

All these will persuade them that you are from a technologically advanced world compared to theirs.

Then they will treat you as a human, not a wizard or a god (or devil).


Once persuaded, then...

"Mr Spenser, I am a visitor from the distant future! I hail from the year 1972!".

The gentleman looked him over, then nodded. "Indeed, by your outlandish look it could be truth." He extended a hand. "How may I be of service?"

The time traveler paused a moment. "I must persuade you that I am truly from the future!"

Mr Spenser smiled reassuringly. "I am persuaded. You have an honest face." He inclined his head towards a nearby common house. "I will buy you dinner. Come, tell me tales of the future while we eat."

What if it does not take much? It is one thing for someone to believe you are from the future, or assert that he does because you are are a coherent and entertaining madman with remarkably good hygiene. It is another thing to turn that knowledge into a living. If you can do the latter, the former will come naturally.


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