In this setting magpies and mammoths have been domesticated for hundreds of millennia, allowing them to become far more diligent and trainable than dogs by a wide margin.

The mammoths come in full sized and dwarf breeds, and the magpies similarly come in breeds from wild magpie up to raven sized.

Both these species have become smarter, but not dramatically so. They do come off as much more intelligent however, as they have very good memory, can learn huge numbers of words, and are all incredibly attentive to body language like Clever Hans.

The animals are also more dextrous than their wild counterparts when manipulating objects, but not up to a point that would require major physical changes.

For reference the magpies capacity for rote memorization is such that it has allowed the construction of an entire bird based internet. So many jobs that requires minimal intelligence and no manual dexterity will be replaced.

What I can't predict however is exactly which tasks are and aren't limited to humans by virtue of the required dexterity.
For instance mass manufacturing of some goods like pottery is extremely old, but I don't know how much finesse a pottery wheel requires.

Given these mammoths and magpies physical and cognitive limitations, what physical labor would still be limited to people?

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    $\begingroup$ Jared Diamond has entered the chat... $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2022 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ "hundreds of millennia" would predate things like the evolution of neanderthals by quite some margin, and be a very long time before the proposed dates for the domestication of dogs. I'm not gonna tell you that it is impossible, but you're pushing human technological advances a long way back into the past which will have substantial knock-on effects on your fictional prehistory. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2022 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime Yes this scenario is pretty hugely divergent from our own and has multiple hominid species. I just want to know the kinds of labor that would be replaced in early civilization. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2022 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ You must be a MacCaulay fan! I love your world already! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 15, 2022 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ The edits changed the original question to the opposite: The original question asked about jobs suitable for the specified animals but the latest version (as of now) asks about jobs that are not suitable for these animals. Edits like these are not in line with the WB.SE rules. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jan 15, 2022 at 18:27

4 Answers 4


In this case, I am considering "the bronze age" to be the period from ~3200 BCE to ~1200 BCE. Note: The question is not which tasks they could perform, but which ones they couldn't. Here is a brief, but non-exhaustive list. I'll include some non-purely physical tasks, just for the sake of closer completionism.

  • Potter (yes, a pottery wheel is much too fine of a craft for animals to master)
  • Farmer (even mechanization hasn't replaced farmers, and it's considerably more advanced than domesticated animal labor)
  • Smith (Silver, gold, bronze, copper, etc)
  • Prostitute (hopefully not replaced by magpies or elephants, but up to you)
  • Baker
  • Brewer
  • Priest
  • Scribe
  • Engineer
  • Mason
  • Quarryman
  • Miner
  • Weaver
  • Tailor
  • Doctor
  • Tanner
  • Cobbler
  • Carpenter
  • Driver
  • Sailor
  • Carter
  • Merchant
  • Money changer
  • Musician
  • Soldier
  • Cartwright
  • Cooper
  • Lumberjack
  • Barber
  • Butcher
  • Shipwright
  • Fletcher
  • Leatherworker
  • Charcoal Burner
  • Oarsman
  • $\begingroup$ hi @DanielB, you claim "completeness" but I wonder where did you get that list from ? It is not a complete list, there's millers, shoemakers, roofers, locksmiths and cooks as well, and many professions that have now disappeared, like woolpainters, watchmen and wheelwrights.. Next, the opener did not ask for a list of all professions. How would your answer relate to the question ? this is about animals doing tasks. There is no way a baker, or a locksmith or a barber could be replaced by a mammoth or a bird. You need hands for these tasks. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 15, 2022 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies 1) I literally said 'non-exhaustive', 2) the question, and my answer, is not which tasks they could perform, but which ones they couldn't, 3) a shoemaker is a cobbler. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    Jan 15, 2022 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ Ahh @DanielB you keep ignoring the animals there are: 1) mammoths and 2) magpies, your list should be pruned accordingly, a lot of these professions are not suitable, there are no hands ! $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 15, 2022 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies The question was edited to ask for jobs that could not be performed by animals. I guess this is where the confusion and misunderstanding came from. It was reverted to the original now. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jan 15, 2022 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies My comment was only aimed to resolve the misunderstanding. I have no comments regarding the content of this answer. I am not familiar with the topic enough to have an opinion. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jan 15, 2022 at 18:37


Transportation: Hauling and transporting would be the obvious answers to this one. I'm assuming you've already considered that. If someone could keep them fed (no easy feat, there is debate on how much they would eat a day but people agree that it be a lot.). That food requirement might make smaller breeds of these creatures more practical for common use. For farms or transport of persons or goods, smaller breeds would be best and save the massive ones for large-scale hauling.

Warfare: Mammoths could dominate on a Bronze Age battlefield. A mammoth that could be trained to plow straight into humans could turn the tide of a battle. Using them as pack animals for hauling an army's wagons would also be viable. Same for hauling/pushing siege weapons.

Food: A mammoth packs a good amount of meat. As well as hide, fur, and ivory. Even milk if you're into that.

Miscellaneous: It's believed that mammoths cleared away snow with their tusks to get at grass during the winter so a city would utilize a mammoth team to clear their streets when it snows. Training them to perform tricks for an audience also wouldn't be out of the question. There was a dog breed whose entire job was to run in a wheel to turn a meat spit over a fire, don't see why a mammoth trunk couldn't do the same. Same with other repetitive motions like fanning a forge.


Messenger: Depending on the level of intelligence you want to allow they could be used to deliver messages. Repeating the message word for word. This could be even more useful if the birds could be trained to recognize individual people or uniforms.

Search and retrieve: Magpies like shiny things, so do humans. They like food more. Training a magpie to search for food or other animals to hunt and bring them to the attention of their human handlers would be useful.

Record keeping? The question mark on this one because it is up to your definition of "very good memory, can learn huge numbers of words". If I could train my bird to recount certain bits of information in response to different commands I certainly would. Especially if I didn't trust that information to be written down.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you elaborate more on some physical tasks the animals could perform? I was thinking they might be able to work a pottery wheel, but I don't know how much finesse those require, and ditto for other forms of simple manufacturing.. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2022 at 20:44

My two cents..

Your magpies could keep to their old profession: silver was a very precious metal. Magpies love to steal shiny objects, so you could train them to steal silver for you. Let them gather all the treasures hide in a secret place.. also, if you have 100,000 years, magpies will develop language along with humans. By conversation, they can help humans to structure their language. Magpies could become the first messengers.

The mammoths.. small ones will be employed to take care of the children and play with them. Small mammoths serve as intelligent pets, keeping an eye on the surroundings, and providing emotional support, like Earth dogs can do. They may be able to prepare a meal.

You could learn the big mammoths to help building settlements and fences around settlements, or to prepare land for agriculture. Digging, for water, or to find copper. Unlike the animals helping Earth bronze age people developing agriculture, these animals would be able to perform tasks autonomously, really freeing men of work.


All labor that required the use of small hand motions and opposable thumbs would still require human labor, as would everything involving literacy or supervising others labor.

The tasks animals can be used for, even extremely intelligent animals would be limited based off of their body plan and senses. For example, your mammoths would be excellent at hauling lumber, as Asian Elephants are used in that very task in modern Thailand, but you really couldn’t employ an elephant to bake a cake.


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