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I'm writing a post-apocalyptic fiction where the main characters are tribals/natives who survived the apocalypse, but lost the understanding of the ancient technology, and sometimes even worship it (mostly inspired by the Grounders from the 100), living on an Earth that changed after the apocaplypse full of mutated plants and animals and new types of weather like acid rains.

The question is : What kind of apocalypse (Nuclear war, Asteroid, Volcan, Space ...) that is suitable for this scenario to happen :

  • Tribals who lost understanding of technology
  • Mutated plants, animals and weather
  • Four or five generations has passed after the apocalypse
  • Some survivors on bunkers fully understand technology and even inventing a developed one
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Short answer

There is nothing which can send human civilization backwards farther than the late Victorian or early 20th century technology, unless the very biological existence of the species is threatened.

Long answer

There are simply too many people who know how Victorian and early 20th century technology works. Let's try to examine some of the main post-medieval technological developments and see if it is possible to forget them without reducing human population to a handful of particularly ignorant individuals.

Whatever disaster may come, our civilization will leave behind billions and billions of books. Most of those books will be useless scrap, but among them will be enough handbooks of mathematics, physics, chemistry and engineering to make a technological rebirth almost certain.

  • Mathematics:

    Just about all engineers know enough mathematics to reach late 18th century level. Many more know enough to reach mid-19th century level. And as they say, mathematics is the foundation of technology.

  • Metallurgy:

    The big major metallurgical advances which occurred after the Middle Ages were the development of the blast furnace (arguably already known in the Late Middle Ages) and of the Bessemer process for making steel. Many millions of children learn in high-school how blast furnaces and Bessemer converters work. (Thirty years ago I would have said most children, but then education standards may have changed since I left high-school.) No way to forget how to make cheap steel unless the population is reduced way below the threshold of survivability.

    Of the non-ferrous metals, the only one which is widely used and somehow tricky to make is aluminum, and making aluminum is not particularly complicated: you just need a lot of electric power and access to cryolite; although there is very little naturally occurring cryolite left, making it is not particularly complicated either. If the remaining population numbers more than one or two million people there will be somebody who knows how to make it — the basic raw materials are fluorite (which is widely available), bauxite and salt.

  • Steam engines:

    There are millions of people who make steam engines as a hobby. There is really no way to throw civilization back so far that steam engines won't be readily available.

  • Electric power:

    How to make electric generators and electric motors is known by even more people than how to make steel. It's just that simple. You need iron (see above), copper, and a means to make magnet wire. The wire itself is not a problem — drawing copper into wire is Ancient technology; applying the insulator film may prove more complicated, but since people know what the goal is a primitive continuous coating method will be easily found, maybe much more expensive than modern vapor deposition methods but nevertheless serviceable.

  • Electric light:

    Once people know that the trick is to evacuate the air from the bulb the problem is essentially solved.

  • Telegraph, telephone and radio:

    Basic telegraphs and telephones are simple, and millions upon millions of people know how they work. Long distance communications will come back very quickly. And with long distance communications there is no way to regress back to the Middle Ages.

    Solid state electronics may be hard to make, but simple vacuum tubes are easy. Some people make simple vacuum tubes as a hobby; certainly many many more know the basic principles behind making one. I think that whatever disaster hits mankind radio (at least plain old long-wave and medium-wave AM radio) will come back in a very short time.

  • Artifical fertilizer:

    There is nothing magical, mysterious or hard to learn about nitrogen fixation, nor are phosphate deposits particularly scarce.

A civilization which has abundant steel, steam engines, electric power, electric light and radio is most definitely not medieval.

Supplementary considerations

The Middle Ages were not particularly backwards technologically. True, some of the technology available in the Antiquity had been forgotten, but most was preserved, and many technological advances took place. The essence of the Middle Ages was the particular way society was structured; feudalism, that is, a strictly hierarchical social structure formed by links of loyalty between individuals, may indeed make a comeback after a disaster. What I'm saying is that this neo-feudal society will almost certainly have a technological level much higher than the Middle Ages.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd disagree with some of this. The knowledge would exist, but the materials might not, since we've mostly extracted the easy ores and fossil fuels. So if the post-apocalyptic people wanted iron or copper, they'd need to mine ruins rather than ore bodies. Rarer materials, like tungsten for incandescent bulbs, might not be found at all. But then, sensible folks might mine the ruins for still-functioning LED lighting instead of making their own inefficient bulbs... (And the real trick is not to evacuate the air, but to replace it with inert gas.) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 31 '17 at 4:37
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf: Extracted easy ores? What ores extactly? Iron and copper ore deposits are within easy reach. (Iron oxide has been deposited in huge amounts when the first plants poisoned the air with oxygen.) Aluminium is inexhaustible. Coal is very very far from exhaustion. Lightbulb filaments can be made from cotton (and historically, were), and nobody mines for wolfram anyway. The problem with LEDs is that they don't work without advanced solid state electronics. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 31 '17 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ Copper is one of the most recycled ore in the world. Known worldwide copper resources are estimated at nearly 5.8 trillion pounds of which only about 0.7 trillion pounds (12%) have been mined.. through history because copper have infinite recycle life. Half of copper used in US is from recycling. So yeah, you mine the ruins to find copper pennies. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 31 '17 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra: The question is about "resetting the world to Middle Age tech". That for one or two decades life will be hard after a devastating event is something else entirely. For example, life was quite hard for one or two decades in Europe after WW2. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 31 '17 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ (Cont...) The point is, as JBiggs says, why would they bother with a lot of mining, or re-developing medieval-level tech, when they could 'mine' the ruins for most of what they'd need to supply a (much smaller, I think) population with something close to current levels. The big problem would be fossil fuels, especially oil. You'd need to distill fuel alcohol or make biodiesel. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 1 '17 at 4:17
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Practically any apocalypse

See my answer on Restarting Civilization. To summarize, it says "you can destroy civilization any way you want, because we'll bounce back like we always have".

As long as most of civilization is wiped out - that is, you have a big enough apocalypse - we get redevelopment, which could be medieval.

  • By killing off most people, you may cause global fallout - nuclear meltdowns will occur because we can't maintain our power plants. Releasing waste over thousands of kilometers will mutate plants and animals. A nuclear winter could also reasonably stir up some interesting weather patterns.
  • Such nuclear events may last for decades. Perhaps the fallout is reason enough to stay sheltered for generations - or maybe it's because a nuclear winter could damage the ozone, letting in harmful UV radiation to cause more mutations.
  • All tech dies eventually - or the apocalypse could damage much of it. Without facilities to make the most advanced stuff, people will result to the crude tools and weapons they can make by hand, causing them to forget about tech. Of course, more urban areas will very conspicuously be high-tech, but buildings can crumble - especially when the apocalypse knocks 'em down.
  • Of course, those who can afford shelter will. There are plenty of rich people with the ability to buy bunkers - or who already have them. World leaders may hunker down together, for instance - allowing some survivors and their descendants to fully understand technology - and even invent ways to reclaim the world.

The point is, any apocalypse will pollute the world, causing roughly what you want, and people will come back out of hiding and resettle. Perhaps there will be another medieval period because of random chance.

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  • $\begingroup$ In case of nuclear meltdowns or nuclear war, automatically followed by a nuclear winter. How the ancestors of this tribals will survive the nuclear effect that will last for decades ? $\endgroup$ – Aiman Vargas Jan 31 '17 at 2:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Aiman that's a separate question... ask it in a separate post. But it'll probably get closed as a duplicate. There are a lot of things already on that topic, such as: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/64771/… $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 31 '17 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ Nuclear meltdowns won't cause "nuclear winter", which really has nothing to do with nuclear. You'd get the same effects by burning all the cities with conventional firebombing. Likewise, as we've learned from Chernobyl & Fukushima, the effects of the radioactive materials emitted by failed nuclear plants are far less than scaremongers have claimed. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 1 '17 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf regardless you would reach a similar effect by destroying a lot of property - I chose meltdowns because they're notorious for throwing out particles but realistically there are a hundred options for what will cause pollution. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 1 '17 at 6:46
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Well honestly, any kind of world ending event that would wipe out modern comforts/technology would be adequate. Nuclear war or massive volcano eruption would help in the acid rain formation. The destruction just has to be strong enough so that the survivors have to learn how to do tasks without electronics or comforts of life such as gas chain saws (where would they get gas?). You could even say that a nuclear war contaminated food/water and people and may have caused the minds to decay and lose knowledge due to radiation.

As I said though, really any end of the world event that causes the earth to stop working, literally destroys the face of the earth would be sufficient to force people to go back to archaic means to survive.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, bubba could NEVER work out how to cook alcohol in his backyard still and adjust his chainsaw to burn that instead of gasoline... [sarcasm]. You might be very surprised at how ingenious people can be. Look up the crazy contraptions people in the Australian outback have put together with some "redneck engineering". $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Jan 31 '17 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ Your sarcasm is also miss placed. He isn't talking about right after the event happens. More than likely, 4-5generations down the road, the alcohol they did have would be used or drank up assuming that the alcohol stock was not destroyed. You also assume that people would put a priority on the creation of new alcohol instead of surviving. The ingredients for alcohol is now hard to come by valuable food that can't be cultivated due to contaminated soil and earth. Also the people in the Australian outback are still able to have modern comforts to make the "redneck engineering". $\endgroup$ – ggiaquin16 Jan 31 '17 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ Alcohol "used up"?? Are we also now assuming that it is impossible to grow vegetables or grain??? I must have missed that part! If humans can grow FOOD (which they would have to do if they wanted to survive 4-5 generations) they can make alcohol at will. If they can do that, they have fuel. Important things like how to tinker with engines or make new ones out of scrap would definitely be handed down. My point is that NO, "any kind of world ending event..." would NOT be adequate. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Jan 31 '17 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @ggiaquin seriously, as long as some stuff grows, fuel is a solvable issue. Even assuming that everything edible is eaten (which is unlikely, you're likely to see some groups have or take a surplus that can be used for alcohol or fuel even if other people starve because there's not enough for everyone), you can make biodiesel from inedible plant mass and you can convert existing cars to run on firewood - we have done it, lowtechmagazine.com/2010/01/wood-gas-cars.html $\endgroup$ – Peteris Feb 1 '17 at 9:29
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Do you know any of the stories/movies about planets where all adults die? There is an episode in the tv series Andromeda, and as well in Stargate. And there is a complete series about this this, called Jeremiah (in which the adults only died once, allowing the following generation to grow old again).

The point I want to make is, that in this stories almost all the adults knowledge dissapears. Combine this with an additional szenario that destroyes the currently available technology (EMP bomb?), and you are on the right track.

Also, in Asimovs "The Foundation" series, there is a nice paragraph on how a civilization degrades after a phase of too much wealth. At some point, there are no people left studying how to build new power plants, but only people who lern how to keep the exising ones running. Then, if they collapse, nobody can rebuild them, and society degenerates.

Edit: Bye the way, play the old fallout games. Like part one and two. There you will get a pretty good idea of what it means to enter the wasteland if you are one of the saved guys in a bunker, who still understands technology. Life outside did not fall back to the middle age, how could it if there is tons of technological stuff lying around everywhere? But it degenerated quite much, and there is tons of funny sidestories, that will give you a deeper understanding!

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Global pandemic of virus causing agraphia ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agraphia ), coinciding with regular kind of global catastrophic event (megavolcano, etc). Should be extremely contagious, but should not kill. As added twist, initially it may provide some kind of evolutionary benefit (e.g., protection from wide-spread malaria, etc), before it became apparent what kind of harm it does. Making written forms of communication impossible or extremely difficult would make recovering lost technology very challenging.

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As @AlexP pointed out, there are too many people knowing too much about post-medieval technology. Therefore I only see two possible ways:

  • The idea of @Lot: kill all the adults (maybe expect the very stupid ones), and destroy the books and usable pieces of technology. But, for example, many children get to know the principle of galvanic cell, (put together two metals in a tincture) before they could forge a proper sword. So a killing eradicating all post-medieval technologies will erase many medieval ones too. Besides that, it's hard to imagine a catastrophe able too kill every adults. You would need an extremely weird disease or the direct intervention of malevolent aliens.

  • A world-scaled war with nuclear and biological weapons could account for mutated weather and animals, and might shocks the survivors so much, that they reject using any modern technology. It is quite hard to explain, since those who break the taboo will gain a lot of advantage of it, but maybe the survivors in the bunkers feed the beliefs, that technology is bad, and eliminate those, who are trying to reinvent it.

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Aliens did it. They came in and did their best to force humans to regress to a middle age technology level by destroying modern technology and killing off a large portion of the population, as well as turning most surviving humans against technology.

A few humans fell through the cracks in their system, but not enough matter for whatever purpose they have (point 1). Furthermore, the surviving humans who abandoned or forgot technology could be viewed as evil sorcerers (or possibly, by the first generation, as being double agents for the aliens), forcing them to remain isolated from the rest of the world and preventing them from advancing the rest of humanity in technology (point 4).

They mutated Earth life forms (or dropped in their own genetically engineered ones that outcompeted Earth life) to farther set humanity back by making them unfamiliar with livestock and crops, delaying future development back to whatever state that they would not want humans to reach (point 3).

The combination of those three factors would prevent technology from advancing past the Middle Ages for hundreds of years (point 2), which would allow them plenty of time to do whatever it is they wanted to do (maybe they needed to strip-mine our moon of its Helium-3 or something of that sort) and move on before humanity can figure out what is happening and do something about it.

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