Thousands of years in the future, after a catastrophic pandemic a single population of humans survive. At the time of the event these people escaped because they lived in isolation in mountainous terrain and had no contact with technology or indeed with other humans.

Thousands of years later, these people still survive but are terrified of leaving their lands. This is because during the pandemic and for a long time afterwards, no-one who ventured out ever returned. There has built up a strong taboo about leaving and anyone who tries it is considered insane even if they do return. They are not allowed back past the sacred borders and no-one believes their tales about things they have discovered.

The discovery

One day a young woman is digging for root vegetables when she discovers a mysterious artefact. She brings it back to the elders who decide they will open the thing. They recognise it as being some sort of box and it has a simple catch that is not locked.

The elders call a meeting of the local clan and, after suitable rituals have been performed by the medicine woman, they open the box.

One of the artefacts

Inside the time-capsule (for that is what it is) they discover many objects, some covered in writing they don't understand. Something that they do understand is pictures. Here is the mysterious picture.

enter image description here


What can a pre-industrial people make of this picture? Clearly it is of great significance. How can a primitive society comprehend or explain what they see?


I didn't want to advertise. However for those who wish to search for the original picture, this is an advert for a Ford Fiesta. I'm not sure how to give a link because it is a popup ad.

EDIT in response to a comment.

The very reason that these people survived the apocalypse at all is that they live in a remote mountainous area that is fertile unlike the surrounding area which is virtual desert for hundreds of miles.

Originally (before the apocalypse) people would set out across the desert to explore. They would either not return or they would come back with stories of wonder than no-one could really believe. (This actually happens with remote tribes). The people had no awareness of the world-wide plague. They simply discovered one day that no-one came back any more. Parents began to tell their children not to go. Eventually the elders prohibited leaving. Over the generations the people forgot why the rule was there and the prohibition became a taboo. The action takes place hundreds or even thousands of years after the plague and all the old stories are now myths. There are some items that explorers brought back in the old days. However there is no high-technology - it would be useless to them. Wanderers typically brought back things that were easy to carry and especially useful. These included clothing, knives and so on. Very little remains after all this time and the items are already revered as belonging to some unknown people - perhaps the ancestors.

Note - As a result of Michael Richardson's answer, I see that I should point out that the time capsule was originally a box of mementoes brought back by an adventuring tribesman who kept it to himself and buried it because he did not want to hand it over to the elders. He would occasionally go and dig it up to reminisce and then bury it again. He never revealed it to anyone else and died before he could pass on the secret to his children.

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    $\begingroup$ "They are not allowed back past the sacred borders" So what do they say about the small town of people living just beyond the borders with occasional "hi mom" sign hanging from the wall? It's easy to say that the far mountains are death but the other side of this gate where there's obviously living people, much harder. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Sep 22, 2015 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Murphy - That's a fair comment. I'll add a note to my question. The scenario was already in my mind as I describe it in the new note but of course no-one was to know that. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2015 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ If you want to see how to use post-apocalyptic artifacts effectively in a story, check out A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller. But if you do, have a dictionary nearby... that guy's vocabulary is amazing. $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2016 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ "I see a womam sit in a throne with a huge head gear, for sure a queen receiving a strange red thing with wheels, maybe a holy wagon messeger of gods!" $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Mar 24, 2016 at 12:10

6 Answers 6


The woman would likely be seen as a Ruler, though depending on current clothing/gender-roles, she may be seen as male or female or indeterminate.

The car would likely be interpreted as some kind of wagon or carriage because of the wheels.

The inclusion of another near-identical chair could be interpreted as a co-ruler or consort that has either died or left, or that the Ruler is not yet married.

One interpretation could be that with the car centered on the woman, that the empty seat and the space in front of the other chair, that the consort is out on a quest. Tying that interpretation into their own taboos, it would be quite easy to develop a story about a Ruler who left the mountains and failed to return, leaving the remaining Ruler alone.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually that hadn't occurred to me. I somehow assumed they would think the box came from outside (which it did). However as you say, they could easily assume it came from their own culture. In fact their society never was technological but they don't know that. What you have described has happened in a way. It's similar to the cargo cult beliefs about the current Prince Phillip of British royalty. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Philip_Movement $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2015 at 15:26

The hair dryer might be interpreted as a control mechanism for the technical device. It might also mean that this is a way to communicate with the red technical device. Or it could be that the car implements its knowledge into the human being as it controls it (red being the dominant colour) in the picture - also, it is bigger. It might not be clear that the car is technology and could be interpreted as a monster. - After this event it might give them an idea to create the first wheel. :-)



Since the apocalypse has been caused by a pandemic, it's likely to assume PLENTY of artefacts of all kinds have survived, scattered all across the world.

Even if they live isolated, it's absolutely impossible that for thousands of years nobody found anything like that.

Nothing novel then

They would definitely recognise the car, the sofas, the chairs, the woman. They might me puzzled by the "strange hat" the woman is wearing, but they are used to see "something strange" from the "pictures of the old world".

Also they will have no idea what this means. Nor would I, tbh.


It's entirely possible they will be somewhat familiar with the concept of advertisement. Not in our sense, but as in "well they were popular, they don't make sense, usually there's something written above".

They would be confused by the fact that visually it looks like an ad, but there's nothing written. Wouldn't make much fuss, anyway.

Meh (again)

I'm totally unconvinced it is possible for isolation to last so long. Newborn people would have no memory of the pandemic, and their nephews wouldn't even have anyone who lived it to tell them the scary story.

Yes, you say that for a long time those who left never came back. I'm totally unconvinced.

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    $\begingroup$ Add to that: even if the world collapsed, the remains of cars would possibly be one of the most common things in the world. There's a billion of them. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Sep 22, 2015 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ I think you are being over-critical. In fact, the other circumstances are well worked out. I didn't want to bore anyone by writing the whole story. I've added a little extra to my question now but I'm sure you don't want a history going back hundreds of years. I think I'd prefer if answerers could simply accept that the world is the way it is and focus on the effects of finding the artefact rather than trying to pick holes that actually aren't there. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2015 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK I hope you'll understand it's difficult or impossible to draw conclusions based on a set of assumptions that (apparently!) don't make sense. Thank you for your edit, no time to read it now, will do that later hopefully. $\endgroup$
    – o0'.
    Sep 22, 2015 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK read it. Still unconvinced, sorry. I'll wait for opinions by other users. $\endgroup$
    – o0'.
    Sep 22, 2015 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ I understand perfectly. Let's say someone asked about an alien artefact found on a FTL spaceship. I would not down-vote them because I don't believe faster-than-light travel is possible. They aren't asking about that and I suspend my disbelief - otherwise I couldn't watch Star Trek. If you want to downvote my question that's fine. If I want to downvote your answer that's fine. However I don't think rubbishing the background story serves a purpose when the question is not about that. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2015 at 16:11

Red would become known as a sacred color, especially this shiny metallic red which really doesn't occur in nature.

The car would probably be interpreted as a living being (seen here in profile) with shiny white eyes and a mouth down near the bumper. The fact that the mouth is open might imply that the creature is aggressive and potentially dangerous.

The woman would on the other hand, be seen as royalty. She is sitting on a throne and wearing elaborate headgear. Her posture is relaxed, suggesting that she does not fear the beast despite its proximity.

With her head raised slightly and the beast apparently grovelling at her feet, this image might display the ceremonial surrender of the King of the red monsters to the Queen of the people.

Great stories would be told about that epic war and the beasts eventual defeat.


Since the chair to the right of the Queen is vacant, she may have recently lost her husband, the King. In that case, the red beast might be a suitor..?


The people of this civilisation would probably recognise the person as a person. They would see this person as hugely powerful probably as they are seated and have a huge beast/machine under their control (possibly the human is a god, would explain the head-ware). They may see the picture as threatening however as it shows a form of transport in red (colour of danger) and so it could be used as a sign from the gods not to travel. Whatever happened it will be used as the elders to increase their power either by saying it is a warning or a message from some evil creature.


If you could suspend disbelief that a photo could last thousands of years in a small box in the ground without deteriorating, then this might work..

The people that discovered it would have no understanding of what the car is, let alone the function. The photo would be kept a secret by the elders or chieftains. Some of the most brilliant minds available will be tasked to find out what the object is. Most likely, they would think it was some kind of extra-terrestrial being, or some kind of object of worship.

They may also attempt to build a replica of the car out of materials familiar to them to study it. The replica would be very crude, and constructed of stones, wood, and dirt. It obviously would not functional. They may also carve a statue out of stone and worship it.


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