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I need a bit more flavour to my setting. If it's just Earth like - it's boring. If all technology (in spite of comparable tech level) is too alien then there is a risk that it is simply impractical to be believable.

In order to avoid this problem, I'm seeking for ideas that would solve it through some form of environmental determinism. It simply makes sense in local conditions to use different technology. Right now I'm playing with ores.

Which crucial ore (deficit or abundance) could plausibly dramatically change modern-like civilization?

Assumptions, limitations:

-not fossil fuels

-not nuclear fuel

-not precious stones / precious metals (let's ignore tastes, but plentiful platinum as catalyst could work)

-its easy to explain why terrestrial planet has much more or less of easily accessible ores of that particular element (I mean explaining low iron content in Earth like planet would be tricky ;) )

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Copper

A deficit of copper for moderns would be a big nuisance. A deficit of copper 5000 years ago would mean no Bronze Age. Copper is available in metallic form on the surface and the availability of copper introduced humans to the possibility that metal could be used for tools and melted and cast into other forms. Experience with copper led to experience with copper alloys like bronze, and from there to iron and onward.

It is hard to think of how humans would have levered themselves out of the Stone Age without any experience with copper. Maybe gold could substitute?

Iron.. The question suggests that this is off limits but an Earthlike planet with limited iron is very plausible: the light siliceous crust is thicker and so events energetic enough to bring iron to the surface are less common. Iron is handy for metal etc but availability of dietary iron is a bigger deal for animal life generally - iron is necessary for hemoglobin. Iron deficiency is problematic as it is in many parts of the world and would be even more problematic if iron were scarce. I could imagine that animal life generally would be different - consider that high hemoglobin levels facilitate oxygen carrying to muscles and allow bursts of speed. Either animals would do better with anaerobic metabolism for long periods or bursts of activity like this would not happen.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see the connection as necessary. As long as the iron is diffused, and does not occur in high-quality ores, its usage would have been far less while still being available for biology. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 16 '17 at 2:08
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No aluminium would have a huge impact. Of course there no veins of aluminium but you could limit bauxite. Aluminium is used in a wide range of products these days.

  • Containers, food and beverages. Because of corrosion resistance.
  • Packaging like aluminium foil.
  • Streetlight poles
  • Sailing ship masts
  • Shell and casing of electronics.
  • Coins
  • Lightweight equipment like pots, pans and camping chairs.
  • CDs
  • Aircrafts, lightweight compared to steel.
  • Heatsinks for transistors.

Now aluminium can be gained from clay but this is a much more difficult proces.

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    $\begingroup$ A planet with no aluminium would be very unlike Earth. Aluminium is the most abundant metal in Earth's crust; the vast majority of rocks (including dirt and clay) are made of aluminium salts (usually various silicates of aluminium and one or more of sodium, potassium and calcium). $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 15 '17 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ Well, it's a good thing we use aluminum and not aluminium. $\endgroup$ – Phiteros Apr 15 '17 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ Aye, hence me saying later no bauxite. So aluminium exists just not in the current concentration. So it's much harder to discover and mine. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 15 '17 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Mormacil: The difficulty is not getting the alumina. The difficulty is separating the aluminium from the oxygen -- they are both highly reactive and cling together fiercely. And for the majority of our civilization we never knew any chemistry anyway. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 15 '17 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ +1 @Mormacil Just "close" intention of cheap method. Most honored guests were given aluminium utensils, while the others made do with gold $\endgroup$ – ADS Apr 16 '17 at 12:31
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Take out tin and you have huge historical changes. It was essential to several important civilisations growth. It's needed to make bronze and whole trade networks were built around it. Wars were won and lost because of it etc,.

It is so superior to copper and stone that even after early iron it was still the best metal to have.

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    $\begingroup$ By itself, tin's not that useful, since it's pretty soft. However, a small amount of tin turned a large amount of copper into useful, valuable bronze. This was important when shipping was expensive. $\endgroup$ – Catalyst Apr 16 '17 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Catalyst yes, and make tin more abundant in other parts of the World and whole complex trade routes, wars, conquests etc,. would change. The whole balance of power and resources would change. Bronze was that important, particularly in war. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 16 '17 at 10:57

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