It is 2000 BCE. Seven late bronze age clans descended from the Fatyanovo-Balanova Culture which have been warring for control of the Moskva after the disappearance of their culture have finally been united and are currently developing small crops.


A collection of tribes with modern-day levels of technological, scientific, medical and mathematical knowledge and complexity, a history going back to the Bronze Age, and much closer to an ecological equilibrium than we are today. If that is too vague, think of a society with our technology, but on a much smaller scale (I imagine the capital would not need a population greater than 250,000), with a guiding principle in their activities being "Consume less before doing more."

Identified critical elements

These are elements I identified as being crucial to the development of modern-day technologies:

  1. Development of recorded communications, e.g. writing (assume a transition from wood cuts to pictograms to a syllabary)
  2. Development of rigor (I have isolated this as being necessary for precision, a fundamental trait in most modern disciplines)
  3. Development of the scientific method
  4. Discovery of denser sources of energy (I have already decided on charcoal as the first one)
  5. Be conscious of (un)sustainability of practices (e.g. regulation of charcoal production following its discovery)


How would N° 2 & 3 occur in a tribal setting? Is there some plausible cultural loop-hole that would allow the tribe members to become sufficiently rigorous to develop theories, experimental to prove, disprove or correct them, and architectural to use them create designs and projects using them? And if they are incompatible with cultural values of a tribal society, is there some process by which a tribal society can reach them without altering too much its composition?

EDIT: I should also have added that I envision the expansion to occur through a combination of population increase and absorption and integration of other tribes.

  • $\begingroup$ Seems unlikely, the scale would be too small, big engineering (our highest accomplishments take huge amounts of resources and human resources. Even if you had people with the skills, you still need the numbers and the resources don't come from one locale. Nor do the skills to use them for the obvious reason that you can't learn or experiment with/about something you don't know exists. In terms of cognitive power yes, you could just have them evolve more efficient brains. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 30 '17 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Kilisi I guess I forgot to add that schedules are not the same, so development can be done by a few people over a longer period, instead of by large teams at a rapid pace. Also, there would be recording of findings, so knowledge would be reused - wouldn't that allow a slow development of technology? $\endgroup$ – setun-90 Apr 30 '17 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, I don't see why not, most breakthroughs are done by small groups working on a problem, even individuals $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 30 '17 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Kilisi right, I realized the subject would be too broad, so I had to boil everything down to a few things which would enable everything else, and resolve the biggest question. I even did a mock history from the unification to the discovery of charcoal, but it seems a bit rushed, even for 600 years. I imagine most useful would be to imagine the cases where the ideas would come up, e.g. the square root being proved irrational as a practical matter for members planning out farms or plots of land. $\endgroup$ – setun-90 Apr 30 '17 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, imagine a society that highly values discovery and invention and through natural breeding becomes more intelligent as a group. Most early breakthroughs were made by individuals, you are getting a group of brilliant minds over time. All eager to make their mark and attract the ladies who are no mean shakes at the brainwork themselves. Teaching skills make a big difference as well. Minds can be trained from a young age. Not so much these days where it's left to school, but many societies had their own methods, Polynesians could memorise the position of hundreds of stars at any time of year. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 30 '17 at 22:40

I would think it is possible, given a strong tribal demographic and plentiful resources.

You would need a society that values discovery and invention and through natural breeding becomes more intelligent as a group. Most early breakthroughs were made by individuals, you are getting a group of brilliant minds over time. All eager to make their mark and attract the ladies who are no mean shakes at the brainwork themselves. Teaching skills make a big difference as well. Minds can be trained from a young age. This could come about purely through the invention of a new weapon that made them stronger in war. It would only take one person to get this started and through a combination of luck and design perpetuate to become the norm.

Almost everything in early tech was invented by an individual or small group. If your tribe selectively gave an advantage in breeding to their most inventive and intelligent members it would upscale over time the mental attributes of the whole group.

The rapid advance of tech these days is not just because we have random individuals working on an idea. But because we value inventions and breakthroughs highly and people are being trained from childhood to build on it.

Agricultural societies often have a lot of time on their hands, planting and harvesting are times of frenetic activity, but in comparison to hunter gatherers who spend much more time foraging, they have plenty of time. This and warfare would probably be their first focus for tech advancement. As it was with societies these days. Give them an advantage over their neighbours and they can develop more leisurely and theoretical tech if there is a marked incentive to do so.

If they're focusing on science then they won't be overtaken by other groups who aren't. Short term and specific focus as you get in wartime is not the same as long term cultural general focus.


You won't get modern technology level. There is simply no way.

The simple problem is what I would call the infrastructure of knowledge:

  • You need time to develop things. The tribal way of life consumes much more time for food finding than modern method, every single person is important to gather food. Having time for own inventions is a luxury. Even agriculture in the beginning has problems: If you compare the crops, old crops are unbelievably small, you need much more work to get enough to eat.

  • You need logistics to to have a continous source of food. If you look at the beginning of civilization, math was developed for exactly this reason: Get an overview how much of the things are needed.

  • Modern technology needs a specialisation level which is not achievable with a tribal background. You need people writing things down, calculating, creating metal, wood, tools....the whole industry. If you think about the Industrial revolution: They needed many, many people (manpower) and the ability to nourish them when they are not gathering food.

So how to create a competent civilization:

Michelangelo, Boticelli, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci were one of the most important artists in the Western World and they all lived at roughly the same time in Florence, Italy. What you need is a nucleus, a freak accident where some geniuses meet together and by working together are able to develop a culture. This culture in return attracts curious and inquisitive younger people.

While modern age is out of reach, some impressive technology could be achieved, look up the four inventions of China: Compass, Gunpowder, Paper and Printing. Steam machines have been described by Greek polymaths, the Antikythera device uses a highly-sophisticated gear.

  • $\begingroup$ "you need much more work to get enough to eat" up until a certain point. I chose charcoal not just as an energy source, but also because it is directly linked to terra preta, giving them a potential way of boosting yields. Besides, given that they are recording things, mathematics could arise as a collection of practical solutions to problems which involve reasoning. $\endgroup$ – setun-90 May 1 '17 at 1:34
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I formulated it wrong, now that I look at it: I didn't mean exactly "tribe", but perhaps something like a "union of tribes" who pledge manpower in times of defense, and receive autonomy over their lands and minds in return. They would have not just gone through a population increase, but also absorbed and integrated the neighboring tribes. My bad. $\endgroup$ – setun-90 May 1 '17 at 8:51

They would need a culture encouraging creativity and learning and the kind of laziness that makes you search for more efficient ways to solve a problem, i.e. people should first learn everything their tribe knows, then be given free time for creativity. Then they could just be lucky. Most ground breaking inventions/discoveries are trivial in hindsight, i.e. they consist of a single great new idea on top of all the previous knowledge, with a good piece of luck involved in finding it.

I think the easiest justification for this would be some kind of religion. I say religion because this is a good example of how lots of people do things which at the time (or ever, but that is not the point) don't make a lot of sense (in the context of what they know). So have a religion which strongly encourages what I describe above, this could conceivable speed up the advancement of society a lot. Then after an initial success, it would become clear that it's really a good idea, and faith would be supplemented by reason.

This can't work with too much scarcity, they need food security for this, and food security without occupying all of the tribe with it (or even the largest part of the tribe). I don't think this is much of a stretch, in reality people just never had the mindset I described above (not today either), they would waste their surplus on other stuff, like luxuries for their leaders, or churches, or sacrifices for some god, or war.

Then after the first stretch based on luck, each previous invention/discovery would make the next one easier, would make them safer from invasion or hunger and you would need less and less luck.

Of course this is purely speculative and rather unlikely, but what isn't...


So, the biggest problem here is time. In the comments you mentioned that things can happen over a longer period.

Without going into specifics (That I'll freely admit I'd probably get wrong), your tribe would be eclipsed by the rest of the planet, fairly rapidly.

This, however, can be a good thing. Contact with the outside can let them see the negative impacts of (mis)use of certain technologies, and allow them to figure out sustainable methods for them. This allows for most of your points to be figured out fairly easily - They're modeled after the others who figured it out first, and then studied and adapted to make sure they're sustainable.

With modern technology, you can manufacture quite a lot using only a little, provided you have access to a boatload of resources. A small tribe would not, but with outside contact they would be able to bring stuff in from elsewhere.

The biggest issue that I see is having this tribe manage to avoid colonialism and some big empire gobbling them up and exploiting them.


"A collection of tribes" (in modern times such a collection of tribes is called a nation) "with modern-day levels of technological, scientific, medical and mathematical knowledge and complexity" already exists, centered right on the territory of the ancient Fatyanovo-Balanova Culture; you may have heard of it, it is called Russia. It is indeed "a society with our technology, but on a much smaller scale" -- Russia has only 2.5% of the world's population. It is "much closer to an ecological equilibrium" than many other countries -- three quarters of its immense territory are very sparsely populated and quite free of human intervention. And its guiding priciple does seem to be "consume less before doing more" -- otherwise it would be hard to understand why it always chooses to isolate itself from the world instead of engaging fully in the global economy; anyway, for the last few centuries Russians consumed much less then people in other countries with a similar level of scientific and technological development; it may not have been their dearest wish, but under the protective care of various Czars, Secretary Generals and Presidents they surely had no choice but to consume less.

The only snag is that the capital of Russia is a megalopolis and not a small city; but this is just a political choice: most people in Moscow work in services and industry, not in government. If the Czar wanted it so, the capital could move to the Greater New City, Veliky Novgorod, which does indeed have a population of about 200 thousand.

  • $\begingroup$ This is rather inappropriate, but I don't blame you, I was rather vague. Actual Russia has a culture and social structure far removed from the Fatyanovo-Balanovo culture (in fact they descend from Viking and Slavic invaders, can't get more removed and alien than that). I guess I should have made it more clear in the target. $\endgroup$ – setun-90 May 1 '17 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @setun-90: The word "culture" has different meanings in archaeology and sociology. The Russian state was established by Norsemen; the Russian people are obviously the descendants of people who lived there before. We don't know anything at all about the language, culture and social structure of the people who left the Fatyanovo-Balanovo material culture. It is not impossible that they were among the ancestors of the Slavs. In the absence of writing, archaeology cannot say anything definite about the social and cultural superstructure of the people who left the material remains. $\endgroup$ – AlexP May 1 '17 at 16:59

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