The surface of my world cannot support life. The inhabitants of my world sustain themselves off troglophauna and aquifers. I'm leaving the mechanics of where energy comes from in this shadow-ecosystem out of scope (we can just assume it's geo-thermal or other source). I also have a evolutionary narrative as to how troglodytes can evolve into bipedal human-like creatures. This has freed up my inhabitants' hands to put pen to paper -- or rather chisel braille, since there is no light or bio-luminescence.

Now, I'm at the juncture in my world where I am to size the potential of such a race -- whether they can achieve some of the hallmarks of a civilization as we know it on Earth. At first, I thought: "Use braille! Wam, bam, super easy." And this may well have advanced the society a fair amount. After all, literacy among Earthlings in Medieval times was rather concentrated but still enabled the construction of cathedrals and other notable achievements. So it's easy to imagine a troglodytic analog of nobility/artisans along those lines: "those who hear the walls."

Yet on further consideration, the troglodytes may not be able to go beyond this. There are no trees nor similar input materials to serve as cheap materials to inscribe the braille onto. There is perhaps no exact Earth analog for this kind of obstacle, but I would hazard the situation to be comparable to an Earth without a printing press. In this way, knowledge and literature may serve as a key step towards being a full-fledged civilization, but at this juncture, it seems that the literature and depth of authorship will be very shallow.


How can a troglodytic society democratize braille literature, given there are no trogloflora for cheap materials?

Further clarifications

  • World is minus surface life
  • No trogloflora
  • There is troglophauna (but tend to be only used for sustenance, not that flush)
  • $\begingroup$ something like hieroglyph? $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Jan 19 at 9:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it cannot support life, how are there troglofauna? $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Jan 19 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ "not that flush" is a colloquialism that I'm not familiar with. What do you mean by this? $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 19 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki I just mean there is not an abundance of troglopauna. While there is certainly more than needed to keep the race alive, the animals are not that numerous that their acquisition is trivial. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ @ArashHowaida I see, so are your troglodytes capable of basic animal husbandry, or does the mystery source of energy prevent concentrated populations of animals from being artificially cultivated? $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 20 at 16:06


Textured skin decorations could easily be symbolic or pictographic as the Mursi tribe in Ethiopia attest, perhaps speaking of status, achievements, marital status or personal history or allegiances:

enter image description here

Flickr unattributed


Skins of the dead would be prepared by soaking in a mixture of urine and feces then scraping and washing. Before drying, an impression can be forced into the surface from behind to create a palpable bump, ridge or texture as desired:

enter image description here

Copyright Wikipedia under CCASAL 2021


These can be carved in-situ to provide identification of office or status with primitive tools:

enter image description here

British Museum via ZME science 2021


Bones can be carved to a texture and have been for thousands of years, some of the earliest Chinese writings are to be found in the "Oracle-Bones" found in various hoards, translated hundreds of years later by scholars.

enter image description here

Cambridge University library, via Britannica 2021

Perhaps kept in great libraries, perhaps in personal collections, perhaps each skeleton tells the history of it's owner, the writer certainly has options.


The Quipu Writings of the Incas are held on knotted string, though translation has been unsuccessful it is thought to have been one of the earliest forms of information retention system.

enter image description here

Unattributed commercial website savacations . com

  • $\begingroup$ Clay (permanent), wax tablets (reusable) - or even mud works too. IMO one issue beyond the availability and ease of use is information density. Clay and wax can be widely available and support some form of mass printing - but good luck with a book of those. Even bones (or narrow sticks) that allow some pretty high information density will have a hard time competing with paper or vellum - and vellum will have an availability challenge. Some of that can be overcome with a more compact script - use depth and texture rather than just shape to convey more information. $\endgroup$
    – ptyx
    Jan 19 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ Metal plates might be an option for long-term information storage if they get advanced enough to be able to mine ore and refine it into sheets. You could use a metal or stone stylus to make impressions in the metal. Copper is fairly easy to produce in low-tech societies, and its malleability is a plus as a writing surface. They could move up to bronze, iron, steel, tin, or aluminum as their tech level advances. $\endgroup$ Jan 19 at 19:48

If they have underground caves and water, they can make clay and use it as substrate for writing. Not much different than what was done in Babylon, where vegetation was scarcer than clay. The walls of the caves could be engraved with permanent writings.

If any of their fauna produces anything similar to wax, they can also use it.

And if they want something durable there is still parchment or its analogue.

If you have easily accessible written media literacy will be more widespread than if you shut your books in libraries accessible only to the elites. In Pompei one can find graffiti written by low classes, and paper was yet to come back then!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "In Babylon [...] vegetation was scarcer than clay." I am not so sure. What we have from Babylon are mostly clay tablets, yes, but that does not mean that they did not have vegetation. They clearly substained themselves, and the zone was called the "Fertile Crescent". The abundance of clay tablets may be due to technological issues (it took a long time to develop papyrus, and even then it was far from cheap) and the characteristics of the material (organic materials degrade far more than clay tablets). $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Jan 19 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ Pretty much this. The ancient Roman and Greek societies were highly literate; not only all free persons (men and women) were expected to be able to read and write, but also many slaves. We have letters written by women; in one of Plaut's comedies we see a slave actually criticizing the handwriting of the female love interest of his master; and we have very many casual inscriptions left by countless lower class persons, in all kinds of places. (Including lots of graffiti in Egypt, which shows that the inclination of tourists to scribble on monuments is a human universal.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 19 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ @SJuan76, I wrote scarcer than clay, not absent. And usually the more abundant something is, the cheaper it is. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 19 at 12:37

Human civilizations made by with spoken word for mass communication for millennia. It is not perfect for recording, but if a few elders in each community know how to read, they can read aloud anything deemed important enough to the culture that everyone should know it. More niche knowledge that does not need to be known by everyone can be sought out and read by individuals.


Without Flora, Mass Literacy is Irrelevant

Flora is fundamentally necessary for nearly every technology known to man. No flora means no wood or fossil fuels for fires. Without fire, you can not have metallurgy, ceramics, or mortar. Even many of our products we can make from animal parts need fire to process them, like hide glue and leather. Flora are also used directly to make things like textiles, wicker, tool handles, etc.

In short, without fauna, your planet will be stuck in the early stone age LONG before there is enough information worth sharing to need to worry about how you will write it all down.


Democratize the walls

If the walls and other surfaces are the best place for writing, then perhaps "wall rights" are an important property right. Perhaps, in the past, families reserved large areas for keeping records, and they pass them down through the generations. It would be interesting to re-read parts of your family history while feeling for a clean space to start writing.

Or, perhaps each troglodyte is granted an allotment in the Great Hall of Writing as a sort of universal basic right. Perhaps the size of the allotment is based on wealth or social standing, where well-to-do troglodytes get large allotments at a comfortable writing height, while lower-class troglodytes get allotments on the floor or up high where they need a ladder to reach. If each allotment were regular in size (say, built out of 1 meter squares), allotments could be assigned an "address" describing its location in the large hall. A troglodyte would know his or her writing address as well as an American may know his or her social security number.



EDIT: Noticed the post explicitly prohibits flora. I can't imagine how you would have complex fauna without flora, but I believe the reasoning stands even when you only have animal products.

If there is enough food, there are textiles. On earth, many lifeforms that provide us with food also provide fibers that can be spun into yarn. If there is enough life to eat, there is likely also enough life to create textiles. (plus textiles are generally very useful to a society and are among the first technologies we have developed as humans)

Textiles can support rich patterns: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Constantine_Slaying_the_Lion_(tapestry)_-_1637.jpg https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crochet_sweden.jpg

And they can also be quite thin and storable.

We usually create patterns on textiles by combining yarns/threads of different color. Your societe would use textiles of different material/structure/thickness to let the patterns be appreciated by touch.

If you get to industrial level, you can mass-produce patterns on textile which could in fact be quite similar to printing press!


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.