In early 15th century Europe, a cataclysmic event causes a tropical jungle to cover the whole world. The jungle is populated by very dangerous, aggressive monsters (think Pitch Black).

For unknown reasons, there are some safe zones of variable size that the monsters will avoid. In the larger safe zones, villages and towns have been founded, where the human race survives. Heavily guarded caravans travel between them, ensuring some trade. Each township is visited every 3-10 years (times vary wildly).

I'm interested in a village of 1000 people. This is the amount of people it can feed with the land it has. Before the Cataclysm, there were engineers, doctors, architects, and philosophers, but after the cataclysm, priorities and values have certainly changed.

After several centuries and countless generations, what impact would the limited space have? I'm especially interested in how their technology would evolve, and what values the society would embrace.

Maybe they will discard some specialized skills in favor of more practical concerns, like agriculture, or construction (space is the most precious resource)? I'm also interested in what technology they would lose.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh, and welcome to the site! $\endgroup$
    – Quiquȅ
    Feb 10 '16 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't this the plot of the Dark Earth RPG ? $\endgroup$
    – MakorDal
    Feb 10 '16 at 8:17
  • $\begingroup$ I ill try and update my answer as soon as I get the opportunity to incorporate the edit you added to the post. $\endgroup$
    – Quiquȅ
    Feb 10 '16 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ I think your question is a little broad. Maybe you should consider the idea of editing it. $\endgroup$
    – Eithne
    Feb 10 '16 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ I've never heard of Dark Earth RPG. I'll research it sometime. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 '16 at 14:57

As @Hanko Tanks brilliantly wrote, agriculture and construction would be surely preserved. However, there's also something they would probably preserve and develop in different ways. What? WEAPONS. The monsters are a big problem, and the less the monsters can be a danger for the caravans, the more trade can be developed, the better is the life. Bows and knifes are too slow to use or need proximity, so the technology to build guns would be probably considered valuable, not just because it makes the people be safer, but also because, allowing more trade, it could help to share knowledge and products.

Another thing to keep in mind: ELECTRICITY. Why? If your monsters are like the ones in Pitch Black, then the fear light. Electricity (if provided by rivers) can light the night without exhausting resources like wood, which could be useful for constructions. It also provides energy for little machines that can have survived from the apocalypse. It' something people are very used, they wouldn't give it up so easily.

What would surely be lost?

  • Advanced medicine. It requires special instruments, drugs that are difficult to produce, specific and complicated knowledge they needs years to be learned. Basic surgery would surely be saved, and some plants in the jungle could have medical properties, but everything that is not easily accessible would be lost.
  • Advanced technology of any type. Every kind of tech needs complicated machines, lots of knowledge and much space where to build it. The first goal for the survivors is to survive and then to guarantee themselves the best chances to survive in the future, the quality of the life is an optional.

How could the limited space influence it? Main value: life. Risk would be considered silly (much more than in our society) and everyone who likes it an ill person. The limited space would impede growing: adding the difficulties to travel, it may rise a group identity similar to the one of some tribes or of an ancient city-state (with lots of differences, of course).

  • $\begingroup$ I don't have time now to complete it. Please, if anyone knows something more, edit it. $\endgroup$
    – Eithne
    Feb 10 '16 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ Monsters will never threaten the safe zones. It's as if they were protected by a force field. So, you only need weapons to protect against mundane animals (the ones we have in our real world jungles), or if you explore outside the safe zones. Also, my monsters aren't afraid of light, I only mentioned Pitch Black because it's close to the mood I'm looking for. But instead of darkness I have lush thick forest, with plenty of hiding places for swift predators. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 '16 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ I've understood monsters don't attack safe zones, but they can attack caravans. Weapons are meant to protect these caravans, so trade can be developed more. If trade is safe, caravans can travel more and the village can be visited more times by them. More trade can mean more possibilities of regional specialisation and less need to produce everything the village needs in a small and probably insufficient place. $\endgroup$
    – Eithne
    Feb 11 '16 at 13:39

You're completely right as far as technological advances.

Two of the most notable technologies that would develop in lieu of other technologies would be agriculture and constructions, just as the OP mentioned in the question.


These colonists have very limited space, as you stated in the question. Therefore, in order to increase their numbers, they will need to find ways to produce the most food in the least amount of space. As our time period is 15th century, it seems unlikely that these colonists will be developing advanced hydroponics for a few centuries. So, depending on how long you intend for them to remain 'trapped' in their safe haven, their best bet are crops with high caloric content.

Some examples of these crops might be potatoes or corn (maize). Also, these crops have high energy per unit. For example, potatoes release $321kg$ and corn releases almost $40kg$ more than that.

Growing these crops depletes the soil however, so you may need to cycle through certain crops to help replenish the depleted soil after a few seasons.

All in all, this is probably your best bet for agriculture.

Construction and Architecture:

In the 15th century, buildings did not extend more than 2 stories into the sky (3 may have been a rare occurrence, but was not unheard of).

The structural integrity of the building would limit these survivors more than their ability to produce food for their growing population. If their ground area is fixed and cannot be expanded, then the population will eventually reach a comfortable peak, after which quality of life will begin to decrease, reducing the population slightly.

Unneeded or unsustainable technologies

Animal Husbandry:

I do not mean to say that livestock breeding will suddenly become a dead art, but it will be very localized and small in scale. Unlike the other two fields above, there really isn't too much in the way of consolidating animal breeding into a smaller scale. For example: only one to two cows can reliably sustain themselves on around $5$ acres of grassland. Keyword here is grassland.

Jungles do not offer much in the ways of lush grasses for livestock, usually undergrowth consists of hearty ferns and plants that need little sunlight, because taller trees block the majority of the light coming in, and replaces it with shade.

  • $\begingroup$ Does the soil still deplete if it's in the middle of a jungle with a vigorous ecosystem? Dangerous predators aren't interested in the flora, so the roots of plants can go as far as they can reach. The limit is our ability to harvest them. Also, aren't potatoes and corn New World crops? I think I'll just say that some intrepid people do explore the jungle and bring new crops home. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 '16 at 6:57
  • $\begingroup$ @DonkeyMaster, it still depletes, soil fertility is very localised hence the 3 field system $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Feb 10 '16 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ Crop rotation is a big deal in this sort of situation. :) $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Feb 10 '16 at 9:43

Since @HankoTanks has covered the food, I'm going to take a look at lost technologies.

A lot of Roman era technology has already been lost by the 15th C. Plumbing, Concrete and Large scale architecture being the most obvious. You're now going to start losing a few others before they really develop, the biggest of these being key to the period.

Mining, Quarrying, Masonry, Blacksmithing.

These are going to become very regional skills at best. Of course Mining is always regional, there's no point having the skills away from the mines, but quarrying for stone, dressing that cutting that stone for constructing large buildings is going to be lost. Why? Population pressures and a lack thereof.

The primary use of stone was defensive fortifications and religious structures. Without human conflict there's no need for stone fortifications, wooden ones will keep out animals. Without high population, you can't afford grand religious structures. These key skills would slowly reduce in spread to the point where they're effectively lost to the population. Not entirely lost mind you, given the nature of nasty beasts in the woods, spearpoints and arrowheads would among the most valuable of trade goods.

and one that's liable to be more widespread than it was.

The English Longbow

You're right on the button for something like this to become a more widespread technology as opposed to the crossbow which superseded it by virtue of not needing a highly trained archer. In a smaller group, hunting is liable to become a more widely required skill, both for adding to your food supplies and dealing with nasty things in the forest.

Hopefully they won't lose agriculture, but I'd expect the low populations to slowly revert to stone age hunter/gatherer lifestyles, especially in wooded rather than rocky areas. Localised advances in hunting and fishing techniques offset by the loss of "advanced" technologies that require separate stages of production, mining/smithing, quarrying/masonry.

History of the Longbow

The English Archery Law of the 13th century ensured that English men would be come experts with the bow and arrow. In 1252 the ‘Assize of Arms’ ensured that all Englishmen were ordered, by law, that every man between the age of 15 to 60 years old should equip themselves with a bow and arrows. The Plantagenet King Edward III took this further and decreed the Archery Law in 1363 which commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays! The Archery Law “forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practise”. King Henry I later proclaimed that an archer would be absolved of murder, if he killed a man during archery practise! The victories over the French at Crecy, Agincourt and Poitiers were directly due to the expertise of English archers and the longbow. Skill in the use of the longbow took considerable time. The English invested in the time required – the French did not. Up to this point the skills and weapons used by a Knight were deemed to be worth 10 ordinary soldiers – hence the French reaction to defeats by the common peasant.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you think it's possible to dig and build to save real estate? There are lots of examples of ancient peoples digging into mountains, but I don't remember vast underground complexes. Surely these are possible? Also, I love the idea of the longbow, as a weapon that relies less on advanced technology and more on individual fitness, especially when compared to the crossbow. I'll have to develop that concept. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 '16 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @DonkeyMaster You mean like Petra? As far as I'm aware there are a fair few places of a similar type around. Digging a city isn't that uncommon a concept. There's an enormous "cut and cover" one in China that I can't find the name of right now. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Feb 10 '16 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for clearing up the things I didn't consider! Take a +1! $\endgroup$
    – Quiquȅ
    Feb 11 '16 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ Disagree about the longbow. You need to have a lot of time devoted to practice, hence trained longbow archers were extremely dangerous but also rare (only the English ever had a corps of longbow archers). Almost anyone can be taught to be an effective archer with a crossbow with only limited training. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Feb 12 '16 at 6:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Thucydides When you're up against the danger zone all the time, the skill becomes much more worth the effort. They'd also be hunting which allows for considerable practice. (Technically the laws in the UK still allow the parish priest to call the men of the parish for archery practice) $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Feb 12 '16 at 8:20

1000 people is not enough for any meaningful level of scientific research to happen, you may have 1 or 2 people who retain some scientific knowledge but there is no way they would have the resources needed to advance it. Instead they would act like librarians preserving knowledge for future generations and providing what advice they can to others.

15th century is both a good and a bad time for something like this to happen. It's good because most people are already subsistence farmers, and for those people very little would change. If something like this were to happen in the modern world a lot of people would starve to death very rapidly.

However it's bad because a lot of the scientific progress we currently enjoy has not yet happened, and even those advances that had been made were not commonly known. Your society will need everyone growing food, treating the injured, defending the village from monsters, etc. There will be no spare capacity for anyone who isn't providing immediate benefits, and scientific research does not provide immediate benefits.

So in other words technology would stagnate at whatever point it was at when this happened. There might be minor tweaks or improvements and adaptation to the new environment but in general everything would continue as before but without any substantive progress being made.


Slash and burn agriculture

While the colonists are likely unable to penetrate the dense jungles directly, they will often need to fight off the dangerous supernatural jungle beasts. Since limited trade is possible, the beasts are almost certainly not invincible.

As a result, it would be necessary to fight these monsters from time to time. Fighting the monsters in the jungle would be a terrible idea, just think Vietnam War, without the overwhelming technological advantage.

Burning their habitat and destroying them would greatly reduce the home ground advantage of these beasts, rendering them more easily defeated.

Limited agriculture can then be carried out on the fertile land, much like medieval walled cities having farms outside their walled boundaries. When the beasts approach, the farmers will withdraw into the safety of the force field, and pick the beasts off with ranged weapons.


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