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In a world I am building the day and night cycle lasts nine years, resulting in the majority of animals migrating across the planet. One of the problems my sapient races suffer is that they cannot stay in one place long enough to build grand and glorious buildings or to mine.

This has created a problem for me when designing their civilizations: how do they even get past the Stone Age? From what I can tell, being unable to mine in the traditional sense surely means that they cannot get into the Bronze Age, or can they? How can a species that travels miles everyday advance into the Bronze Age and beyond?


marked as duplicate by Hohmannfan, HDE 226868 Oct 27 '16 at 18:19

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    $\begingroup$ It would be very difficult for a civilization like ours to develop. The most successful civilizations yet are mostly sedentary. The first step to a civilization is food security. To have people do other stuff (i.e. studying, looking at stars, thinking about numbers <pfft how does that help them survive am I right?>) you need spare manpower that don't need to be bothering themselves each day to gather food. That is why agriculture made our civilizations possible. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 25 '16 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ Once your species finds a way to have an abundance of food and grows in population, the rest would be history. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 25 '16 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ If your technology advanced enough, you could always create powered factories that stayed in one spot and worked through the nine-year night. Sometime akin to current stations on the South Pole, just with far worse conditions and much longer time periods. You'd need some hefty technology in the first place, though... and you'd have to go against millennia of cultural drive towards keeping moving. $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Oct 25 '16 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ ummm Why is it migratory? Humans are/were migratory. We stopped because we overcame the things that were driving it. Because you haven't said what is driving the migration all the answers are really just shots in the dark. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Oct 26 '16 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Durakken The planet has a day that lasts 9 years. During the daylight years everything is warm and green. During the nighttime years everything is cold and dead/hybernating. Anything that can move will be constantly migrating to stay in the light. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Oct 26 '16 at 14:22

13 Answers 13


It would happen very gradually over centuries.

The first people would use travoys (two poles with a bit of aminal hide between them) to drag their belongings. Scouts would range several days ahead plotting out the best routes and clear a way for the main group to come through.
But after a while people would figure out what kind of markings survive the long winter night, the ways will be marked semi-permanently, and the scouts can focus on smoothing the way to make things easier.

Eventually someone invents the wheel, and things get easier.

Perhaps some animals will be domesticated over time to pull the stuff, and it gets easier. They don't have to move especially fast, and you might have groups that range far ahead to plant crops for the main body, reducing the food pressure, which makes things easier.

This gives people time to start looking at the world and trying to figure things out, and so scientists and tinkerers emerge.

You might have some scout come across a copper deposit when scouting out a cliff face that collapsed over the winter. He brings samples in, and they collect a bunch to play with. Some tinkerer figures out that heat makes it soft, and so they build a small traveling forge. Scouts are now looking for other metals and they experiment with alloying them until something a lot harder is made and you have bronze.

Eventually a lot of metal deposits would be scouted and marked, and you'd have groups that would rush into the dawn to open the mine, work it until the main group arrived around noon, and then rush to the next mine as it rotated into the dawn.

If a mine got deep enough over time then the heat of the earth would be enough to keep it warm, and so you might start to get mines that stay open all through the night, with groups that stockpile food and supplies during the daylight years, and raise mushrooms like plants at night.

Depending on the types of plants that this world has, you might be able to sustain underground settlements permanently, even if the population was kept small during the night.

This could develop into a kind of stable research area, where scientists would be able to stay in one place and not be interrupted.

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    $\begingroup$ My thoughts too, but the means for dragging things could continue get larger and more complex with time so you don't need those stable research areas. Eventually a world encircled by a great path of travelling city machines. $\endgroup$ – crobar Oct 26 '16 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ A species adapted to spending their entire lives in the daylight would no doubt find deep mining rather difficult. $\endgroup$ – Kys Oct 26 '16 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Kys That's a valid point, but if there is a need then a workaround might be discovered. Maybe they would develop artificial light very early in their history, or bioluminescence. There are always outliers in society, so it may be there are people that relish the quiet darkness. But that is definitely a good bit of psychology to consider! $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Oct 26 '16 at 17:43

Instead of going a material sciences tech tree, follow a bio-sciences tech tree.

Start by domesticating animals to take with you on your migration. Humans used animals for a wide variety of purposes, including food (meat, eggs, milk), materials (fur, wool, bone, sinew), protection (small predators might avoid a large herd; larger predators might be scared off by something serving the same purpose of a barking dog), companionship, etc.

Then start breeding the animals for certain traits. Humans did this with cows, horses, etc. You might breed for size (more meat or able to carry more), docility (should be obvious), stupidity or intelligence (depending on your needs), strength, resistance to disease, or even aesthetics.

All of that mirrors early human development - but then you take a slight divergence. Instead of mining and smelting ores, become far better at breeding animals to be more useful or have more useful byproducts. For instance, stronger carapaces can be used as metal plates (for armor, shields, the carriage of a sled, etc.)

Once you figure out how you're going to get a lens to develop a microscope (or telescope), things can progress further/faster. A good understanding of genetics can lead to faster and more directed breeding programs.

I believe you could fairly easily spin a realistic advance of science well beyond a stone age. I'm a little more pressed for how you would develop an industrial age - but I'm not necessarily convinced you "need" it to obtain a "reasonable" technology. Without an industrial age, however, I believe you would have a much slower technological rate of advancement than humanity has seen; this is especially true if you're relying on breeding new "product lines" rather than creating them in a factory.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a unique idea, love it. $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Oct 25 '16 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b Hardly unique: I stole it (er... "liberated it") from, among other places, Harry Harrison's West of Eden books. The books postulated an alternate Earth without the asteroid, an intelligent dinosaur species (the Yilanè), and cavemen. The Yilanè's entire technology was based on bio-sciences. Fascinating read... if you realize the science is (quite obviously) thirty years out of date. He doesn't go much into how they got where they are - but their end products might be worth cribbing from. $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Oct 25 '16 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Bloc97 I envisioned nomadic peoples with mostly grazing herds, feeding off what they find naturally. In this world, you don't need to worry about barbed wire fences keeping you from farmer's pasture lands - so the equivalent of US range wars shouldn't be an issue. $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Oct 25 '16 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Bloc97 Note that this planet's day/night cycle is already going to be evolving animals that are used to migrating. (There may also be some that don't migrate - but I think you ignore those and concentrate on the ones already doing what you want.) It's not so much a question of "how do I make them walk that far?" as it is "How do I make them walk with me?" $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Oct 25 '16 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Ghotir I would imagine the original path the nomads took would be greatly influenced by those of the animals that pre-dated them and that they depended on. Much like migratory herds and their hunters of our world. So not "How do I make them walk with me?" but "How do we walk with them?". You may not need to domestic entirely at all. $\endgroup$ – barney Oct 26 '16 at 23:32

9 years is actually a pretty long time. If they can move significantly faster than the terminator some of them might adopt a hurry up and wait plan allowing living in the same place for a while.

25000 mi in 18 years is almost 4 mi per day. If your people can handle 15 miles a day (through wilderness with everything you own this would be heroic) that's about 100 traveling days a year. Part of the year you tighten your belts and hope to survive, the rest you prep for the next round.

If they can take multi-month breaks they might build things that will last until the next time they migrate past. Stone building might be left 20 years and not be worthless on the next pass, or if they nurtured trees or directed water or ice in clever configurations they might over the centuries grow pretty cool structures. Maybe the could use natural processes to slowly mine too.

Once you accept some infrastructure furnaces or open pit mines aren't impossible, certainly they'll travel far enough to be able to choose only the best suited sites.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Open pit mines and best suited places are actually very important aspects. There are/were places on Earth where mining ore was actually as simple as picking through the gravel in a riverbed. And the simplest smelting oven can be built from rocks and clay in a day or two, meaning the basis for metalworking is theoretically possible. $\endgroup$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Oct 26 '16 at 10:41

One can imagine that these people would at some point start leaving caches of useful items behind as they moved between locations. Wrap up some deer antlers, useful-shaped bones, a few lumps of flint, in tanned hides, bury it all and build a cairn over the top; when you get around there the next time, you've got tools all ready to go. You could even tie this kind of thing in with their breeding and maturation, say by having a tribe leave gifts at the place a baby was born which the baby can claim when they return there next cycle.

This allows them to start really thinking about the idea of permanence, and building up infrastructure as they go to be used next time around. This can get you to a situation of building permanent bases for their tents, and leaving a series of villages all around the circumference of the planet. The suggestion of nurturing trees or other slow-growing crops in another answer is excellent; plant an orchard around one of your temporary villages, then by the time you return the trees are mature and ready to feed your population. This can effectively make your population semi-nomadic, mimicking the sedentary lifestyle that is believed to have led to the discovery of metals.

You could also consider having the people travel around the world in boats. If there are seas, rivers, or big lakes along the route, traveling by water could save enormous amounts of energy. The boats could be portaged between bodies of water, and give you permanent homes.

  • $\begingroup$ +1, This is viable, but we still need to figure out how do they feed themselves? Nomadic populations on earth are really bad on stockpiling food, thus their populations stagnate. If you have only a few people, there is less spread of information, and fewer minds to advance sciences. Only when the tribe/civ reaches the third ladder on "Maslow's hierarchy of needs" can "real" mathematics and science advance. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs Before that, it's just tool-using and some small bursts of ingenuity to help them survive, there is no consistency. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 25 '16 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ Also how do you keep your caches safe? A night time tribe to survive by just raiding the supplies stored by others. Animals might eat the food. Also many types of tools rust or decay in 9 years. $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Oct 25 '16 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ One would imagine social structures would build up around the migration. Rather than controlling a fixed territory, a tribe or nation would control a certain latitude. If you find your caches have been raided when you get back to them, you go and raid the caches of those north or south of you. A rite of passage for youngsters could be going into the hot lands or the ice lands to raid the enemy's caches. In time, raiding one anothers caches might become taboo. $\endgroup$ – Werrf Oct 26 '16 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ I would note that we have an example of buried wealth - the Viking Hoard, and of course more mythical Pirate's buried treasure. A simple tech defense system is just "hide it" - no obvious cairn. The 'treasure map', physical or in stories, could become tied with culture. Less fun, pigeons and squirrels (and other animals) bury foods, and have a particularly good memory for where they bury things - though obviously non-rotting food is far more difficult a proposition, depending on the climate particulars. So the nomads keep the knowledge of treasure with the tribe, and knowledge is birthright. $\endgroup$ – BrianH Oct 26 '16 at 21:49

Throughout history, civilizations have tended to crop up near good water sources. I'm not sure what the terrain looks like on your world, but maybe there is a continuous river or ocean system that could be traveled along.

This provides some interesting possibilities. The civilization could start by floating some of their supplies in the river as they travel along. This lightens their load and keeps them from having to abandon any technology that they are able to develop. As the society progresses they can create rafts, then boats and continue to increase their supply retention.

If they become adept at fishing this also alleviates some of the food related stresses that plague nomadic societies.

Finally, utilizing the water will greatly speed their travel. Eventually, the percentage of the year spent travelling will reach a point where one or many settlements can be created. At this point, there is no significant barrier remaining to technological advancement and industrialization.

EDIT: I was thinking about this question again on my commute this morning. I like Bloc97's idea of them either living on the boats or at the very least having all of their smithies/factories/infrastructure on boats.

Eventually, the travel will become an advantage because throughout the "day" they will encounter all areas of the globe. This could potentially give them access to a larger variety of resources that no civilization ever had (Without trade of course).

Now for the twist.. There are actually two continuous water channels or systems running laterally along the planet, never intersecting. Since our civilization is bound to their river/ocean, they would potentially go thousands of years and become very advanced before they ever encountered the other civilization moving along in the other water system. Exploration as we have known it throughout history would be very limited over land, because all of the civilizations travel technology would be focused on water travel and if an explorer got too far from the water, they would fall behind the rest of the community geographically and it would be a struggle to catch back up.

When they finally did meet, who knows what hilarity could ensue?

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    $\begingroup$ I agree, having faster speeds of travel will transform their society to a pseudo-nomadic society that either has multiple homes, or ditch the land to be entirely built on a giant structure of interconnected ships. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 25 '16 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ Edited to flush out my answer a little. @Bloc97 The giant network of ships would be pretty sweet if the river allows for it. $\endgroup$ – Rat In A Hat Oct 26 '16 at 12:51

Depending on the structure of your world and the location of the tribes, you could have them travel backward every 9 years. It might be difficult at the Equator but the closer you get to a pole, the shorter is the distance to the "end" of the night.

Basically, when the night is upon them, they pack up and travel into the night until they reach the day. This can easily let them settle in place and prosper for about 8 years. With some planning, you can have 2 main cities.

  • $\begingroup$ The night side of the planet would get rather cold to put it mildly. $\endgroup$ – Kys Oct 26 '16 at 17:07

Why can't they progress in motion, on a repetitive pathway across the planet?

Migration in Motion

As they progress into wheel building, they would naturally be able to cover much more ground than the rotation demands, and thus stay on sites for increasing durations; say ~1-2 weeks, and appoint a priest-like caste to keep them on schedule.

As their numbers increase, they would expand in a line-like formation, with specialization developing based on your placement in the hemispherical society.

  • The front-line leaders would be a militaristic-style class of the strongest warriors, clear brush and obstacles in the path, neutralize threats, prep the 9 year old edifices or what remains of them, upgrading as technologies developed in the middle segment reached the front lines, setting animal traps.
  • Those behind them would be a construction-like caste, doing larger rebuilding like tasks, making the structures usable again, upgrading them with new technology, more preparation for the societal bulk
  • Those in the middle would be the largest bulk, and include the elderly, young, infirm, academics, the wealthiest and industrial base, building products and items with the prepped foundations ready for them by the two groups ahead of them and innovating new technologies to help the entire tribe
  • Those trailing the middle would lay the dead to rest, close up shops and start the storage process for anything destined to remain for the 9 year cycle
  • Those at the very end would be just missing the nighttime, performing scavenging like tasks and dying frequently if they made mistakes, and could be similar to an untouchable-like caste. There could be some additional tasks available to the rear, such as planting night-growing species to harvest in the next migration, or releasing night-breeding animals to make a robust population of huntable meat (or frozen, preserved dead meat) for the leaders at the next arrival.

As societies develop, better forges and tools are left scattered across the planet, as well as deepening mines with each migration, thus moving from hunter/gatherer to wood based tools, to stone, and then metals.

Some tribes may take differing paths across the planet's surface; perhaps joining in some places where their cultures and diplomacy aligns, and avoiding or desecrating each other's sites where cultures differ or diplomacy breaks down.

While there is certainly a penalty in development time for this migration relative to sedentary/agricultural societies, some benefits include constant necessity for innovation, very quick disposal of irrelevancies to survival like art and burials and the inability to wage war in the traditional sense, with large lapses in communication between the front, middle, and rear of the 'tribe'/'nation'.

I would presume they would eventually lay iron tracks since there is a singular, well traversed route that would allow for train-like constructs to ride on, though perhaps built from wood and foot/pedal powered at first, which would then allow for a planetary rail network, with then bicycles and cars coming along and allowing mobility between tribes/linear nations.

Once railways and interconnects are built, it would be conceivable to have powered travel to the emerging dawn, and full 9 year habitation, with a travel cycle every 9 years, which is longer than many humans stay in one place on Earth.

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    $\begingroup$ You, sir, have a wonderfull imagination. This should be top answer. I am a random readerw with no imagination $\endgroup$ – user21263 Oct 28 '16 at 9:29

The obvious answer is "they stop migrating and settle down". So you need a way for them to survive when they settle down, in spite of the 9-year day/night cycle. This means challenging a few of the assumptions that led to them migrating in the first place.

The first is that there's no food available during the 4.5 years of night. All the big animals may have migrated, and traditional crops might not work, sure. But there will be animals around - local equivalents of deer, rabbits or anything else that likes the dark. There may also be other things that can be farmed - mushrooms and other fungi will happily grow in the dark, for one obvious example. Your world may have some other dark-adapted vegetation. And fish will still be around in the lakes and seas. It might not be much fun in the dark, but you can still survive.

The second is that there's no method of long-term food storage. If your world goes icy in the night cycle then you can store meat indefinitely, as various Arctic tribes discovered.

And the third is that there's nowhere safe to live in the dark. The first mines were simply caves with convenient mineral deposits. Adit mines were the next step, taking advantage of places where a valley exposed a vein of ore. Both of those lend themselves quite naturally to groups becoming cave/mine-dwelling. This was common in Europe, in some places well past the Middle Ages, because it gives you a constant temperature and good protection from the elements and from intruders.

If they keep migrating though...

This still isn't too problematic - the simple answer is that each group owns two mines on opposite sides of the world. They get 3.5 years to exploit one place, then they spend a year travelling to their other place (see my answer to your related question), and rinse and repeat. On that basis there's no problem with investing in a site, because you know you'll be back there again.

There would have to be systems of boundaries though, so that other groups know an area is theirs - not just the mine, but all the farmland around to support the miners. There would also have to be a strong taboo against walking into an unoccupied area. If this taboo was established as part of them developing farming (again, previous answer) then you have that already. Then all that's needed is someone discovering a cave or adit with ore deposits, and you're in business.


Does the planet have a tilted axis? If so, there may be some parts of the world that get more light or less devastating darkness/cold than others. Settlements there would become the political and technological hubs.

Consider including geothermal energy and a predictable or semi-controllable freeze/thaw cycle and you could see water-powered factories like the Romans achieved. The Egyptians also built waterwheels underground to pump water out of mines.

Limelight might be used as artificial lighting in a rudimentary greenhouse-type structure or caves near geothermal.

Mushrooms, probably very large ones, might dominate a landscape. There's a lot of decay involved when 8-9 years of growth suddenly stops. Expect plants/animals to form symbiotic relationships that coordinate over extended periods of time. Bio-luminescent mushrooms that feed on the decay and provide artificial light for small plants/animals that are semi-dormant until day returns.

Start from the bottom of the food-chain and weave your way toward utility. Nobody wants to move constantly and people will learn tricks from nature and the landscape until they get what they want. Mastery of migratory animals is essential I think.

Even without wheels, if there are rivers, they might build rope and primitive rafts and use their migratory animals to continuously move supplies.

Is there a moon that reflects light? The moon's orbit and reflection of light around the planet might become the new pseudo-day, with the measure of time in moons being more granular than days and the means to track time to the next day. Our full moon can have enough light to read by at times..

You could also add a ring around your planet. I don't know if this could be fed or driven by the day-cycle, but an icy partial ring (maybe that thaws on the day side) could reflect light in a way that feeds additional cycles of civilization-driving growth.

  • $\begingroup$ "Nobody wants to move constantly" seems contrary to lots of actual cultures such as Tuaregs, Berbers, reindeer herders, etc. $\endgroup$ – barney Oct 26 '16 at 23:41

It's possible to have a civilization, albeit slowly. Once they make something round, also known as a wheel, it wouldn't take that long of a time to speed up their movements. Another way of transportation is animals. If those animals are fast enough, scouts and people could figure out that if they went ahead and started some stuff, it makes things a lot easier. This would probably take longer than a couple thousand years.

Those plants must have some way to stay alive, so agriculture is possible, just plant seeds all over the route and once you circumnavigate the world, congratulations, you just discovered agriculture, only a different form of it.

Beyond the Stone Age would require some time. That hill seems to be blocking your path, why not carve through it. They can accomplish this by finding some ore or, as they would call it, shiny stuff, and accidentally throwing it into the fire. With this coppery sharp thing melted on a stick, you have a rudimentary Pickaxe, able to get more of the shiny stuff.

They can learn how to mix metals through experimentation and they'll inevitably develop slightly faster/better transportation. The well-trodden path would make travels a lot easier. They'll probably find ways to make their stuff more mobile and warfare would be a lot different.

The social structure would probably be like the Native Americans, with more unidirectional movement, because of this, warfare would happen only if one civilization got too close to another. All of these advances could happen within a hundred thousand years, with the right conditions of course. That shiny wheel won't help you in the boiling desert bordered by a frozen tundra. It's probably best to stay in the temperate zone.


We generally do not realize what is possible for a nomadic people to achieve. We assume that there is a very low bar when in fact, using history as guide, there is an amazingly high one. Most tools and complex languages were developed before agriculture.

Before agriculture:
Large, extensive monuments like Stonehenge with their associated complex labor organization.Another similar site: Göbekli Tepe

Large scale environmental engineering: most of pre-Columbian North America

Large parts of the Amazon are believed to be overgrown settled regions.Although, to be fair, these would be classified as agricultural in the sense that they are made by a sedentary population. But still, it is indicative of what a primitive populace can achieve.

We have barely scratched the surface.


Depend on how long the progress from one stage to another would last. If you want to go with the solo approach, consider the localized innovation and traded among other civilizations, which overtime help them fill up the piecing part that would take them to the next level.

Alternatively, you could say a mystical obelisk fell on the groud, one species touched it and suddenly obtained all advanced knowledge.


One thing I would like to point out is:

OK, the night/winter part should be hard because of the cold, but the day/summer part will be as hard or even harder due to the continuous scorching of the surface by the planet's sun.

I even find it hard for anything to survive that kind of environment in which for at least 2 complete years the surface is radiated continuously to a degree in which lakes could heat a lot (cannot say an exact temperature but I'm sure that it could be QUITE a lot).

That will also make that only really big masses of water will survive without evaporating completely and quite probably the generated clouds would migrate either to the night part (probably raining near the terminator) or even get completely lost in the higher layers of the atmosphere.

My point being, your civilization will surely have a harder time just getting food than what is discussed here due to the extreme "seasons" this planet will have.

I'd even say that in this kind of planet only if living underground you could really survive.

PD. All of this could change depending on the distance between the sun and the planet AND the planet's atmosphere (the atmosphere part would maybe even make the temperature differences between day and night not so different).


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