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Let's say in an alternate world, Homo Sapiens died out but another Homo species evolved. Homo Carnivorous is very similar to Homo Sapiens with one big difference. Homo Carnivorous can only digest meat and cannot digest plant matter. Because they are evolved to be carnivores, Homo Carnivorous can get far more nutrients from uncooked meat than regular humans can. Homo Carnivorous can also eat any non-poisonous or non-venomous animal. Homo Carnivorous is otherwise identical to humans in most other ways.

If Homo Carnivorous evolved alone on Earth, would they ever make the jump from stone-age hunter-gathering to a bronze age and sedentary civilization? Agriculture seems far less valuable for carnivores. They would eventually have to create it in order to feed their domesticated animals, but fattening up animals to eat them is far less efficient than simply eating the plants. I imagine that Homo Carnivorous takes up herding and pastoralism at first, but that is inherently nomadic and doesn't give birth to a true civilization. Starting a civilization would also be harder due to the reduced population of carnivores.

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    $\begingroup$ It's your world. They will if you want them to. Or they won't if you don't want them to. We're not here to speculate about what could happen, but help you determine what did happen on your world. Perhaps after a satisfying night with the god of carnivores, the goddess of civilization decided to grant carnivores the gift of advancement. Perhaps an intergalactic empire of herbivores are waging a campaign to disrupt the development of carnivores across the 4th sector. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Aug 15, 2022 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ What about milk? There's a long precedent of ancient dairy pastoral civilizations. $\endgroup$
    – Mathaddict
    Aug 15, 2022 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ An argument could be made that the need for animal husbandry would spark the need for social cooperation even more than agriculture. Animals are a more limited resource. Consider: homo sapiens have hunted whole species to extinction and yet we're happy to eat carrots. Imagine what would have happened if we didn't like eating carrots. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 15, 2022 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ Depends on what you mean by 'civilization'. Could they become nomadic or perhaps even sedentary (depending on climate) herdsman with levels of technology, arts and science matching or in some areas even exceeding that of real medieval/early renaissance cultures? Absolutely. Could they progress into the industrial era? Highly unlikely. The problem is population density. Without agriculture you can't produce enough calories to support multiple large city states and nations. Without those cities you don't get an industrial revolution and the march of technology on-wards into the 21st century. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Oct 24, 2023 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ The thing with meat is that pretty much any animal can digest it fully, even herbivores. Humans cook meat to make it easier to chew and to kill bacteria, not to make it more digestable. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Oct 24, 2023 at 2:09

3 Answers 3

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Historical Precedence?

The transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculture is still an area of active study. It is possible, however, to have a city without agriculture. Poverty Point was an ancient city that bucked the trend of "early cities were based on agriculture."

An Alternate Path

May I introduce you to aquaculture, the practice of raising fish (and other water critters) for consumption. This could, depending on nutritional needs, produce the basis of a carnivorous city mirroring an "agriculture" path. This would, of course, depend on aquatic habitats much in the same way that traditional ancient cities were on farmland!

The other path is simply to have the environment be abundant with game. This could mean various prey animals migrating in/out of a territory so these early people need not move around or risk ecological collapse.

A Note On City Size

City size is going to be a bit limited, though. This is just because of trophic levels, which is a bit outside the scope of this question. I would expect smaller populations compared to an omnivorous settlement, or simply smaller people.

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The only condition we've been able to divine is that they absolutely need to be eusocial to achieve it.

By this I mean:

  • The group cooperates to raise and provision the young.

  • There are different age groups mixing together:

  • Division of tasks/responsibilities such as reproduction, food gathering, group protection between different groups. This is commonly observes in mammals, some crustaceans and Hymenoptera such as wasps.

This would make it unlikely for a solitary predator species, or one that lays its eggs then wanders away taking no care of them to ever develop civilisation.

There are creatures such as amphibia that tend and care for their young to an astonishing degree, but lack the other sophistications necessary for civilisation to develop, but should those characteristics evolve within any species then they basically have a chance in the long-run of achieving it.

In conclusion, yes.

Your smart carnivores can either adopt the behaviour by instinct, or because their cognition has evolves sufficiently for them to overcome any instincts to behave in a way that's counter-civilisation. What it would take to convince them to want to cooperate when it's not their tendency naturally to do so (if that's the case), I leave for another question.

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I understand this is not part of the question, but one suggestion which has been explored fancifully has to do with communication, namely telepathy.

Ok, so before you get out the torches and pitchforks, hear me out. :D

Following from my comments on the question, the answer is it depends.

I think one of the fundamental requirements for advanced civilization, and thus the technical and engineering capacity to resolve and ultimately propel the problem of obtaining enough meat to support a presumed critical mass of intelligence over all, is a function of network density in that the sharing of information is necessary to advance the sciences.

A number of suggestions have been made already, including societal structures and forms of production including aquaculture. But the core of the problem is invariably information and knowledge based.

We don't have evidence for telepathy, obviously, but we can suggest from what we know about information science, neuroscience, biology and even into quantum mechanics that it's perhaps not outside the realm of possibility. Consider sharks sensing electric fields and eels producing them and you're on the right track there.

We know that neurons are plug and play. These little cells care not what kind of information you give them, they simply grow toward and figure out how to differentiate signals. Macaques have been shown to cooperate to move a robot arm in a suprabrain activity in order to fetch and receive treats with the arm.

Furthermore, we also know that the brain is a complicated gizmo and it does some pretty amazing things, often things we're not aware of or kinds of thoughts, feelings or senses that fall just below our threshold of attention.

Again, not going fully creepy mode, but just genuinely questioning the nature of what is and the potential with regard to what we do know.

Obviously, and again without turning on the creepy tap. We're already voluntarily placing hardware into the brains of individuals with motor impairments and learning the language of neurons so we can explicitly reconnect it to synthetic body part replacements. The distance between that kind of technology and direct, conscious communication is perhaps smaller than it looks. We just shy away from it because it sets off all of our warning signals and fears about self and identity and privacy and so on.

So if you need a way to "get over the hump" of challenges which lead to advanced civilization under such constraints, this may be a good option to consider.

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  • $\begingroup$ On the creepy hypothetical end, if neanderthals were somehow more advanced than homo sapiens in that they were more naturally able to communicate without so much speech, then maybe it's possible the only reason that humans exist is that something caused a disaster for neaderthals and created a window of opportunity for a primate to evolve and dominate which did not possess the dominant trait of greater mind share sensitivity. In our separation we can only suspect what goes on in the minds of others, which possibly makes us more brutal. Now go ahead with your homo centric pitchforks! $\endgroup$
    – Nolo
    Oct 24, 2023 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ On the bright side, this allowed us to consume all the resources of the planet with less empathy, which ultimately leads to greater engineering challenges we must solve. However, to suggest that neanderthals wouldn't have done a better job, given more time, is simply unknowable with our current understanding. $\endgroup$
    – Nolo
    Oct 24, 2023 at 22:00

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