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TL:DR

You and 1000-2000 unprepared and untrained settlers are stranded in an uninhabited area that has never had any human development. If you had nothing but the knowledge of how things work and are created, a very few makeshift tools, roughly what industrial level of technology would be able to be created in 5-10 years.

Barring any natural disasters and working on the premise that everything goes according to plan.

I'm not looking for an exact answer of say 1825 AD industrial level, as a lot of our technological development was hindered by societal restrictions. I'm after a rough ballpark idea of say 'pre-roman bronze age', early iron age, middle-ages, renaissance, industrial revolution industrial levels etc. etc.


In the far-future, a bunch of ill-prepared tourists and refugees have crash landed on a liveable planet in an 'emergency craft' that has emergency rations, medical supplies, etc. They have enough to survive ~ 6 months to a year. They were not prepared for becoming 'settlers' and have no extensive preparation for the situation at hand. They have sent up a beacon sending SOS signals. They have no way of knowing if it's being heard and answered or not. They are waiting for rescue. All they have to do in the meantime is survive...it could take many years, if at all.

Resources at hand:

  • The ships have a few high tech machines for specific tasks such as replicating ration food, medical equipment (maybe an xray or high tech portable MRI...I haven't figured out exactly what but compact and highly specialised is the key here), some surveying equipment. It has a very small seed reserve (for situations just like this), no large farming tools, no tools to make other tools. Maybe a handful of smaller farming tools, or at least items that could be fashioned into small farming tools like knifes, hatchets, scythes and hoes etc. These small tools, will wear out and need replacing fairly quickly.

  • In the group of 1000-2000 people, you have some scientists, some engineers and master-craftsman, some outdoors types and some farmers, some skilled manual labourers, mostly other trades (tourism, hospitality and administration etc), and people who have no real skills at all. They will have some guidance from people who sort of know what they are doing on how to survive, at least at first. They have lots of people with no specific 'useful' skillsets so they have plenty of manpower.

  • The Settlers also have an extensive computer databank providing knowledge on how to create tools, as well as how to create the tools to create the tools they will need from scratch, as well as farming best practises and how to grow crops etc. Technological knowledge loss is not an issue in this particular scenario.

  • The ships are not designed for extended use, and cannot power itself for any length of time, especially if damaged during re-entry or during later scavenging. High tech toys include a few rifles, some sort of perimeter warning device, and one or two types of heating sources. These heating gadgets could possible reach the necessary level for use in a forge. Nearly all high tech toys will be reduced to useless paperweights in a matter of weeks with no recharging. There is the possibility of several advanced solar panels to supply enough energy to power the database and some of the medical tech. They won't have the tech to be able to recreate more solar panels to increase power anytime soon.

  • The local alien wildlife has never seen humans and some are relatively tame but not domesticated. They will allow the approach of humans, and some may even allow humans to touch them, but being yoked to a wagon or plough is not yet feasible. With a focussed breeding program, it could take anywhere from 10-20 generations to domesticate the local wildlife. Depending on the growth and maturity rates of the wildlife this could be anywhere from 10-60 years. The 'Settlers' are going to be reliant on manpower in the short-term.

  • Humans are ingenious when it comes to survival situations and will be able to scavenge and transform items from one intended use to another, especially with several dozen scientists and engineers around. A few items, they won't be able to, or won't want to scavenge such as the medical tech and computer database. They will be able to scavenge some hard wearing metals and materials from the ships damaged hull, but not a lot. Just enough to get them started.

So, the 'Settlers' initially have 'no' specialised tools, and no animal power. They have manpower, some skilled people who can learn new specialised crafts and they have access to knowledge on how to farm and how to create tools. They combine all their resources and energy into surviving for the long-term worst case scenario...no rescue.

Working from scratch, what sort of 'stable' technological industrial level could they expect to reach in the short-term? let's say 5-10 years when the first animals start to become domesticated.

Resources they will need:

  • Besides air, water and safety from unknown predators.
  • They will need to be able to find metal ores, extract the metal, shape the metal, create tools to create the tools.
  • They will need to use their created tools for farming. Let's assume familiar Earth like farming conditions (for the sake of the question).
  • They will need to find the alien equivalent of grass cereals and start the seed cultivation and domestication process (but this is not vital, as we harvested wild cereals for thousands of years). They also have a small seed reserve if nothing is found.
  • They need to figure out of the alien wildlife is consumable and start hunting meat. Shouldn't be too hard at first as the animals have no fear of humans. Yes, Hunting accidents will ensue.

Note: We can't really use real colonial history, as most, if not all, colonies had 'all' necessary supplies pre-provided and 'regular' resupply for a lot of supplies/industrial equipment that the colony could not yet reproduce 'on-site'.

I'm trying to figure out what level of industry to drop my far-future people to. I know the technology level that can be recreated will drop dramatically as the industrial infrastructure will need to be created from scratch. And I'm not really focussing on how far it will drop from, what personal expertise will be needed or what resources will be needed or even how many of my settlers will be involved in production or even what are the minimum requirements for an off-world colony as this last one didn't focus on tool manufacturing or technology/industry level. What I'm focussing on is how far they could crawl back up the industrial ladder provided they had access to all technological theories and data. I need to figure out my starting point before I let them advance or fall further due to unforeseen alien encounters!!

Would they immediately recover and reach an industrial level, or is more likely they end up in a Middle-ages or even earlier industrial period?

EDIT: clarified I'm after the industrial level not the theoretical technology level that they may know. So they may know how to make an atom bomb or a space craft engine but what sort of physical industrial level would they be able to recreate with no pre-existing infrastructure and just the theoretical technology knowledge to help them.

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  • $\begingroup$ What power is available ? Do they have access to that power long term ? And note "no tools that make other tools" won't work : all tools can make other tools, especially if there are engineers in the group. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Mar 4 '17 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ I'm working off the premise that any portable high tech gadgetry they have will run out of power relatively quickly. Only the database lasts any length of time. I see I forgot to add that - will edit. Also, the no tools issue. to create a plow, you need a forge and hammer. to make a hammer you need...a hammer. so I'm trying to get at, they will have to start small and work their way back up. so, stones for hammers at first, then small iron hammers, and then bigger hammers, and then they can make the plow... $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Mar 4 '17 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ It seriously doesn't take long for a couple thousand people to make a single hammer, no large scale endeavour is actually needed. And once you have one hammer you can make many more much easier. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Mar 4 '17 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ ah, but how long will it take to make a stone hammer to crush all the ore needed to forge into a metal hammer, and then crush more ore to make a bigger hammer with a better metal refinement and then a crush enough ore to make a plow? more tools will also be needed , such as the anvil and shaping tools. everything we will need, will need to be recreated. nails. screws. bolts. tools to make the bolts. etc are we looking at ~months or years. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Mar 4 '17 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ From the answers provided so far, I realised there was some ambiguity. I've edited the question to clarify my intention more on the industrial base they could reach provided they retained their technological knowledge base. It shouldn't invalidate the answers, I don't think. Thanks for pointing that out. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Mar 5 '17 at 12:37
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Their knowledge base wouldn't change since you've got a nice computer system telling them what they need and a group of experts to be able to interpert that information and move it to the real world.

After 10-15 they would probably end up with a bronze age industrial base, maybe iron if they found an easily accessible iron vein. The big killer here is the lack of domesticated wildlife. Without beasts of burden everything slows down, moving materials or providing power to machines is limited to human muscle power which means that everything that's done will have to be done small scale. Also domesticated animals will provide a regular food source which will improve farming efficiency which is nothing to sniff at given that you need a large group of farmers for every craftsman.

Another limiter here is the need to build up experience, unless you're people have actually done the various tasks needed (hand plowing, copper/bronze casting) they still need to build up the experience to be able to do the tasks. It's all very well being told what you need to do, it's another thing to actually do it.

Giving them some machines to fill in for this won't help as without the industrial base to repair them they will be prone to breaking down, usually at the worst possible moment.

The good news is that once they have beasts of burden things will start to snowball. They can move around much more materials which means they can start to snowball up to the point of steam engines and once you're there things become a whole lot easier.

A good resource for this is project rho (http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/stellarcolony.php) They've done an awful lot of work gaming out interstellar colonization.

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    $\begingroup$ As far back as the bronze age! Wow. Just shows how much we are reliant on the work of our ancestors! $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Mar 5 '17 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ You don't need an 'iron vein' to make iron, even if such a thing existed. Most local scale iron production made use of bog iron. If there are wetlands (and things similar to Earth plants) on your planet, I would expect bog iron. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 5 '17 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ Um, 10-15 what? $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 28 '18 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix, sho. Didn't even notice that. I must say I initially read it as 10-15 years. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Nov 28 '18 at 14:27
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They wouldn't change technology levels.

Their technological level won't suddenly "drop down" as you believe it will. No, simply they'll be living in the rural version of where ever they were living before in this far-future.

A lack of adequate tools doesn't suddenly mean you forget how to make them, especially since your group of "untrained" settlers includes scientists and engineers.


The evolution of technology was not an evolution of actual machinery, but rather an evolution in ideas or in other words the development was the knowledge of how to make said machinery. People often find it striking that we were able to completely change the world in the few centuries after the industrial revolution compared to the relatively slight changes we were able to apply in the thousands of years prior. This becomes less strange however when you realize that implementing the technology itself is actually pretty easy.

Coming up with the idea for that technology however, from scratch, is what was incredibly hard.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree totally. But what I'm trying to figure out, if we have the idea's for all this technology, and suddenly had to recreate the machinery from scratch....it would take time. most of our current technology is dependant on machines that had previously existed and which had been built with machines that existed before them. so we use machines, to build machines to make today's technology. so if we remove those machines and start again, how fast could we recreate even a semblance of our technological ideas? $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Mar 4 '17 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ Knowing how to make them in a modern era doesn't mean you know how to make them without resources. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Mar 5 '17 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ @LorenPechtel, I had already taken that into consideration. Which is why I've given the settlers access to a database that can tell them how to make the tools to make the tools from the beginning. I've factored in inexperience into my story already but hopefully if they have some guidelines on how to find and create the resources necessary they will be able to make the required tools to advance their industrial base even if their technological knowledge base is way ahead of them. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Mar 5 '17 at 12:23
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Let's assume they get really really lucky and have surface iron, copper, tin, flint, clay, coal and woodland all within a day or so walk of their landing zone. They also have some physically competent people, and a reasonable knowledge base available to them to be able to recognise what they've found.

The key to their survival and rapid return of technological levels is that they don't need to invent the technologies related to their luxurious lifestyle, they just need the resources and craftsmanship.

You're going to have to start at the stone age, crude flint tools. Axes and farming tools initially to start clearing clearing ground, cutting wood, growing any suitable crops and building shelter. This is going to take you some time to set up and is preliminary work before you move on a stage.

You can use flint tool to mine copper and tin. Wood allows them to make charcoal, the first fuel that permits true smelting of metals. Between that, your copper and tin supplies, and some clay molds you're pushing into the bronze age in a matter of weeks. The great thing about bronze is that it doesn't have the complexities of iron, you can just cast it and it's as good as it gets.

Clay allows them to make bricks. You're now looking at upgrading some of the buildings, building ovens (for cooking and making bricks) and building proper smelting facilities because the next thing you're going to do is start mining iron and coal.

Good bronze tools were better than early iron tools, so don't worry too much about your bronze tools not being up to scratch. You'll need a blacksmith on hand to sharpen tools day to day anyway. Your first iron that doesn't go into making a new anvil or the blacksmith's own tools is going to be the core for your first copper wound generator (assuming you've found some magnetic rock). This is either wind or water powered, it doesn't really matter, but it's your first step into a technological age.

All this can be done in months, depending on climate. Perhaps a year or two at most. Simply because nothing needs to be "invented", it's all existing knowledge that needs to be applied. It's all going to be done on a craftsman basis, you only need full industrialisation when you have the population to support it.

Of course if they don't get so lucky then they could be spending months or years in the stone age, just hunting the resources to be able to take the next step. During the bronze age, copper and tin could be sourced from thousands of miles apart to support the industry. Your population can't support that and might have to work towards skipping bronze age and going directly into iron age.

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Most chemical and physical processes we know of can be achieved in a variety of ways, which is fortunate because your resources (in terms of minerals) will be minimal.

Scaling up basic smelting and chemical refinery is pretty much a guaranteed capability within a few months to 19th century levels. isoprene, urine, dead ants, sand and sediments..all that jazz. ofc it's high school desk scale a lot of the time, but if you only need a thin tube of waterproof rubber or some low quality copper wire..or some opaque glass right now.. that's all you need.

Primary methods of gathering chemical resources are the same of course: animal, plant & mineral.

Which brings up err 'is this planet mysterious?' Because one would expect that a life sustaining world would attract a great deal of attention and it's unlikely a random bunch of civilians is just 'flying' through un-surveyed territory..and if it's surveyed they'll have an excellent idea of where to find what minerals, there'll already be a database on the most profligate lifeforms at least.

Now, I thought I saw a reference to surveying tools, but I can't find it now.

1: Expectations & Ambitions 2: Work Ethic & Social Stability 3: Survey accuracy/survey tools/luck

Feeding 2000 people is easy, the colonists will want to strip back an area of terrain for crops, settle on high ground (in a valley) with a nearby 'fresh' water flow that doesn't show signs of 'seasonal' dry periods or massive flooding, access to aquifer.

Animals and native plant-life wouldn't be so much a source of food as of chemicals, 'biofuels' are manifold and they'll be able to start producing electricity (negligible supply) if they wanted even before cutting down their first tree.

They can reach 21st century technological production within 10 years if that's what they aim for, chemistry is chemistry, physics is physics, biology is biology, it's only a matter of having the raw materials within reach and the scale.

Most industrial operations on earth suffer from having to do it better than anyone else(or have a captive audience) and a whole lot of social and socio-economic noise that can destroy perfectly good projects. All your guys have to do is get a job done.

The first things they'll want to do is probably start clearing land, digging wells, making water purification systems and assembling shelter. Done such a way that they have worthwhile collateral effects (field stone, timber and plantfiber collection, defensive/irrigation ditch etc) If they weren't planning on crash landing, it's likely their first big worry that takes more than two minutes to solve will be clothing replacements, aside from anything else, physical labor and tourist/shipsuits probably don't mix well. I suggest becoming stranded in spring.

Trying to detail too much. They'll be able to produce their own internal combustion engine within half a year(or just stick with steam if they wanted for a bit longer to prioritize other stuff), have brick houses before that, but manually mining isn't much fun so they'll probably go for explosives asap.

one or two or all 3 can be used as energy sources for machinery and generate electricity, or that river. anyway, then it's a matter of mining mining mining until you have enough of various minerals to produce intermediate steps, catalysing agents, distilling processes, without planning out step by step i'd probably go with living like bronze age plebs with electricity whilst everything else goes to the 'progressive' effort of minimal scale processes to reach those intermediates until basic gathering processes can be automated.

bear in mind that almost all products used in everyday life now and for many years is far more complex and involved than it really need be, and generally of a larger scale too.

also, a stick can work as a scythe, you don't need to go to the effort of using your precious metal ores to make individual blades when you could save it up and make a mechanical (though perhaps initially human motivated) reaper.

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  • $\begingroup$ The main bar behind doing something is knowing it can be done, the second is knowing how to do it, the third is wanting to do it, the fourth is having the raw materials available and the fifth is doing it an efficient fashion. There is nothing in this scenario that implies very small scale (not consumer economy) capability to produce almost anything available today could not be achieved. $\endgroup$ – Giu Piete Dec 5 '18 at 13:08

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