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Scenario:

  • An Earth that is identical to our own (for the sake of being specific let's say the environment is the same as it was in 1 BCE)
  • The planet is uninhabited by humans (and no there aren't giant creatures like dinosaurs - basically it's exactly like our Earth was, only without humans).
  • Suddenly a group of 10,000 seven year olds are "dropped off" in the wilderness to either survive or perish.
  • Before being dropped off, the children were raised in a space ship that mimicked earth (they know all about plants, animals, food, etc.) and received advanced survival skills training since they could walk.
  • They are unaware of TV, radio, computers, and electronics in general (besides lighting). However, they listened to a variety of music (live) and had access to musical instruments if they wanted. They can read & write and could color and draw if they wanted to. (All of this is to say they were not denied human pleasures, only denied knowledge of and access to electronics).
  • They are aware that they would be dropped off in a new world and that they should try to survive.

My questions:

  1. Can they survive without adults or any sort of outside help/instruction/tools?
  2. I would like to know the likelihood that they would perish vs. survive.
  3. If their survival is preposterous, would increasing the starting population from 10,000 to say 50,000 change things?
  4. Would they have to be placed in smaller groups spread out over the globe?

Without revealing my greater story, let's just say the reason they are placed on the planet is for long-term monitoring of human evolution by an outside source. I would like to create a feasible situation where they would not just instantly die off. Maybe I should be asking... what is the minimum age wherein this situation would yield something besides immediate disaster?

I know you will ask, "why seven?!" I chose age seven because from what I've seen some kids can be pretty advanced at this age and it seemed an interesting premise to me...but is it totally ridiculous?

For the sake of discussion, feel free to compare it to a society of adult-kid mixture being dropped off in the same scenario.

Are there other things I should consider? (Also please feel free to ask anything to clarify if I missed something) Thank you so much for your time!

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, @SarahBurns, you have thought through the situation you have set up. I suspect bigger numbers would help their survival. Good thing they are prepared to be dropped off. It would help if the children were trained to deal with planets, animals and the environments they will have to cope with on the Earthlike planet.being off in 1 BCE Africa would be different from North America or South East Asia. Knowing your environment will definitely help. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 27 '17 at 2:41
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    $\begingroup$ Also, planting, harvesting and threshing of grain takes a lot of strength, and more height than a seven year old has. Hunting, fending off predators, chopping wood, etc also take a lot of strength and mass which males only get around age 15. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 27 '17 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ By earth without humans do you means were cheetah and lions live all of north america, and large predators in general were more common becasue humans hadn't killed or out competed them. If so then NO, those children would be easy prey. $\endgroup$ – John May 27 '17 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ @SarahBurns "Peter And The Wolf" was written long after 1 BCE. Mountain lions, tigers, bears, wolves, hyenas, (along with poison snakes & insects, malaria, dysentary, etc) were all serious threats until less than 200 years ago. Heck, in India, tigers still eat a few children every year. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 27 '17 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ Lord of the Flies? $\endgroup$ – Sonvar Jan 26 at 1:57
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Children the age of 3 can be trained to recognize dangerous vs acceptable vegetable foods. At age 3 they can be in kindergarten and learning. They can also learn to acquire berries, honey, and to recognize and harvest edible insects like ants.

Presuming 90% of their training is survival skills and we don't mind the occasional injury or death of children in training, around age 5 they have the mental capacity to learn making fire, using knives, knapping flint into tools like spears, etc. They can already learn to throw, they could learn to make and use atlatl and slings:

A slung rock can have the impact of a 45 caliber bullet; and an experienced slinger can hit a bullseye (or a forehead) from a hundred feet: it is an under-rated hunting weapon, far easier to construct than a bow, and can use projectiles easily found. Further, it does not require the muscular strength of drawing a bow; the slung stone can be less than an ounce and the strength is just that required to swing it in a circle a half dozen times.

Note that the world's youngest sharpshooter (with a gun) is only six: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/shooting/6009319/Worlds-youngest-sharp-shooter-aged-six.html

I provide that as evidence of the skill level achievable by seven-year-olds if they are trained.

I presume the children will be able to hunt small game (birds, squirrels) or even deer; will have (in class) butchered and cleaned these, and will know how to make fires and cook both the animals, and the vegetables they find.

Also, note six-year-olds are already playing baseball, they can be taught to use basic clubs, and presumably in training have already killed and eaten animals.

Likewise, they can be taught to build shelters (IRL they are already building themselves forts), find water.

On a coastline or river or stream, they could build nets to fish, or make basic fence traps: Sticks sharpened and hammered into a stream bed in a 'comb' pattern, to divert larger fish (those that won't fit between the sticks) into a longish channel that ends near one of the banks in a pen, or net. Rocks can be used, but you want the fence tall enough that fish can't jump it. My point here is you don't need hooks or knives or anything else; if necessary a stick can be sharpened by grinding it against natural rock, and some vines are suitable for tying into knots to make a basic net that lasts long enough to catch some food.


Bigger problems:

I don't think survival would be an issue for trained 7-year-olds; other than injury from falls and some predation and illness (viruses, infections).

To me the bigger problem is political organization; how they are supposed to cooperate. You will also have the problem, in about four years, of impending puberty and gender separation: In actual grade schools in the USA, fifth grade is the year (just before actual puberty for most) that girls and boys start separating themselves by gender; that boys start "showing off" and becoming aggressive and girls start whispering cliques. By sixth grade, gender issues are so rampant they routinely disrupt both classes and learning.

So in year 5, how your (now 12-year-old) children manage to deal with puberty, sexuality, the violence of competitiveness, rape, etc will be interesting to see (and hard to keep plausible and realistic).

That is what could kill them by droves, indirectly. The solution for chimps and gorillas is a combination of fight and flight: Some young males are disabled or killed challenging an alpha male; other young males exile themselves (and sometimes get a young female to go with them), but there is a low chance of that resulting in a new tribe.

In humans, the males will fight for mates (and the resources to attract a mate and support a family) and kill each other over it; in hunter-gatherer tribes, warfare between neighbors can be frequent and lethal, in fact the chances of being killed by another human can be far greater than the chances of being killed by the jungle!

That's the big problem. For these kids, survival may depend on tribal socialism (our natural state) in which everybody contributes to the community stew pot, sharing the results of their hunt and gather, helping to build common shelters and fires, tool making, etc.

When sexuality enters the scene, without any culture (taught and enforced by adults) to put restrictions on how to transform from a child into an adult sexualized person, a mother or father: That new twist (for them) could break up successful tribes into factions. The sharing stops and the parts become less than the whole: They may all die out.

I am also not so sure any of that could be taught to seven-year-olds before dropping them off, or if they would care, five years later. That would seem like a lifetime to them without any adults, and with no punishment or admonishment of anybody.

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  • $\begingroup$ These are absolutely great comments, thank you. I have little understanding of societal development, most likely I'll need to do far more research, especially the psychology. $\endgroup$ – Sarah Burns May 27 '17 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ The issue of the children "coming of age" (without established conventions or adults) and all the complexities that develop could pose a huge problem. $\endgroup$ – Sarah Burns May 27 '17 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. It looks like you are new; so FYI ... You can vote for it! $\endgroup$ – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica May 27 '17 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn "...that seven-year olds just don't have." Simply not true. A 1 ounce stone from a sling, to the head of a lion, can kill a lion. A ring of sharp sticks braced against the ground can protect the children against predators; not to mention a ring of fire --- They can certainly gather firewood; a common task for 4 year olds in HG society. Do not ignore the premise; these seven-year olds have about five years of survival training and can be taught all of this; they aren't typical American seven-year olds. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica May 27 '17 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn : Learning to sling isn't that hard, and the OP only says the spaceship "mimicked Earth": so you don't know how big it is, and the OP sets no limit: That is your own prejudice. I assume it is big enough to provide a lake, a river, a forest, a desert, a mountain, a grassy plain, an ocean shore. It can certainly afford a few dozen acres of practice pitch for slinging. You are being overly argumentative. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica May 27 '17 at 19:51
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Before getting to the issues of the question proper, this answer will first consider the following aspect "the reason they are placed on the planet is for long-term monitoring of human evolution by an outside source."

This means putting on our scientist hat and thinking how this would work as an experiment in human evolution. Most definitely long-term monitoring would be both necessary and essential. However, from the first this looks more like an experiment in human survival rather than evolution.

The good thing is the children receive training in environments that are Earthlike. Hopefully, their training environments will be similar to the environments they encounter where they are landed on the planet. They do have advanced survival skills, but it is essential they have an understanding of the planet's plant and animal life.

It is important in any experiment that too many experimental organisms are not wasted unnecessarily. This means it is essential that wherever the children are placed on their destination planet that they are reasonably well adapted to its environment. They must be capable of gathering food, building shelter, making tools and garments, and making sure they don't get lost.

It is possible that an experiment of this kind might not get past a properly constituted ethical committee. Bad experiments still do happen, but they should be severely discouraged. This experiment might need more consideration about how it tests human evolution instead of plain old-fashioned human survival.

Now for the questions:

  1. Can they survive without adults or any sort of outside help/instruction/tools?

Possibly, yes, taking into their training and preparation prior to their landing. However, they may need to land equipped with tools and appropriate clothing. Perhaps, even having shelters made in advance. These can be thatched huts of the sort found in African villages.

Outside help and instruction would certainly greatly facilitate their capacity to adapt to their new world. This may depend on how difficult it is to settle into their new environment(s).

  1. I would like to know the likelihood that they would perish vs. survive.

I would expect a high death rate. This is the sort of thing that makes this as an experimental protocol a bit of a worry. Preparation and any outside assistance may need to be maximized to ensure their survival. This is contingent upon the level of hazards they confront in their new world. later on they will need to cope the difficulties of child birth. Midwives and other mothers were usually essential to assist with this.

Survival can be difficult. Their training should ameliorate this.

  1. If their survival is preposterous, would increasing the starting population from 10,000 to say 50,000 change things?

It will improve the probability of their long-term survival. However, if they prepared well enough then they have good chances of survival.

Increasing the initial population to fifty thousand will definitely improve their survival. It will also increase their genetic diversity.

  1. Would they have to be placed in smaller groups spread out over the globe?

To improve their chances of survival it might best to place the children in small groups over a region where conditions are most hospitable for their survival. Placing ten thousand children in too small an area they will soon deplete its resources. They should be dispersed across an area where resources (food and the materials for tools, shelter and clothing) are abundant and their density is low enough that they don't consume those resources voraciously. Having enough resources with exhausting them too quickly will enable them to, hopefully, thrive and expand into the surrounding environments.

The initial small groups should be bigger than one hundred and twenty or so. Say, one hundred and thirty and upwards because groups of this size have enough genetic diversity to obviate the dangers of inbreeding. This can be also be fixed by selecting test subjects with innate levels of high genetic diversity. Africans, for example, this does mean persons from the Dark Continent itself, have higher levels of genetic diversity than persons from the rest of planet Earth. A high percentage of test subjects who have an African heritage will guarantee this provision.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the comments! I did plan on having them dropped in the most hospitable regions to help their survival. Indeed, their genetic diversity would be important. Regarding the ethical dilemma of the experiment, it certainly is part of the larger story (which I didn't go into). This one part of the story is my biggest problem and I'm trying to find out if it's plausible. Even I keep asking myself, WHY only children? I don't know but it seems fascinating from a disturbed experimental perspective. The beings who drop the children are not concerned with the ethical dilemma. $\endgroup$ – Sarah Burns May 27 '17 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ @SarahBurns A possible backstory for WHY only children: Somewhat callous Aliens want to know if human culture will evolve the same way as it did on Earth, from scratch. So they kidnap 10,000 infants and raise them, themselves, to ensure zero culture is imparted from any adult humans. They believe 7 years of intensive training is enough. They are very long-lived, thousands of years. The kids don't have to know, or maybe they learn this later, or some disaster kills the aliens so they never come back. Maybe after kidnapping them, the aliens wiped Earth clean. Or, Earth finds their experiment. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica May 27 '17 at 14:58
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I think a book like this has been written before... Lord of the Flies?

Survival probabilities will be influenced by the hostility of the environment; in a benign predatory and parasitic environment with a moderate climate, free availability of water and food, the only risks the subjects will face is accident and interpersonal conflict; kind of like the developed world.

My experience of seven year olds is that they are poor at prioritization, time management, risk assessment and medium- to long-term planning. Basically, they don't see the big picture. But they're on the cusp of being able to do that, and there's nothing like having a bunch of peers die around you to teach you needed skills... if you can take a step back and determine what the big picture is.

If the subjects are being dropped on a Earth-like world, manipulate it so that it gives you the answer you want.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much for your comment! I did not explain the larger story, but this tiny part of it is still very important and needs lots of thought. I do remember Lord of the Flies, and though my story is different, it does of course offer some insight. I have this annoying habit of, even though my larger story includes magic and space travel, etc - I still have to find some way to root it in our reality. $\endgroup$ – Sarah Burns May 27 '17 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ manipulate it so that it gives you the answer you want This is the only viable answer. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 27 '17 at 14:59
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I would recommend watching The Gods Must Be Crazy 2 for an idea how highly survival trained children might fare without adults. Two of the main characters are a pair of children (I'm not sure what age) from the !Kung bushmen who get lost and are trying to find their way home. It could give you some inspiration. I'm guessing that training would help a huge deal, but survival would still be quite challenging.

You have to also consider the psychological impact. Seven year olds are still emotionally quite dependent on adults, and you'd probably end up with near-universal rates of insecure attachment. It's not as bad as if they were younger (toddlers, if by some miracle they survived, would have full blown reactive attachment disorder) but they still wouldn't be the healthiest of people emotionally. Note that this is assuming that each child, prior to being dropped off on the planet, had parents who did their best to form a strong bond. If they had parents who tried to stay detached because they'd have to say goodbye, then they'd be likely to have had insecure attachment even before arrival, and some could wind up with disorganized attachment as a result. And if they were raised communally with no parents or consistent caregivers, then that's basically an orphanage environment and reactive attachment disorder is likely.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the suggestion - I will check it out! And I do agree there is the issue of psychological impacts of being suddenly "abandoned" and the long-term effects it could have. $\endgroup$ – Sarah Burns May 27 '17 at 14:18
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Posted answers so far suggest large numbers are beneficial. I think large starting populations are a recipe for mass death and failure in the short term. No hunter/gatherers live in populations the size of a city. 5 knowledgable people, kids or adults, dropped off on Kauai could easily live off the fat of the land. 100 people would immediately exhaust local resources and have to spread out fast or starve. 5000 is just crazy. Additionally one person with disease (e.g. asymptomatic carrier of cholera or shigella) in a group that dense and it would spread like wildfire.

In the short term these kids will be gatherers or maybe hunter / gatherers. If it is a temperate environment without leopards and with adequate food and water they will be OK. But you need to drop them in groups just big enough that they can help each other but small enough that their needs do not exhaust what the land can immediately provide.

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Seven years old is borderline, but eventually it all depends on their training, their ability to work as a group and whether they have a fair starting point.

Their survival is dependent mainly on their success with dealing with the next issues:

  • Acquiring food: Were they taught how to look for edible fruits, vegetables and mushrooms? How to fish? How to hunt? Kids can be capable hunters and even killers at a very young age, but it depends on their training and on their ability to organize together (more on that later).

  • Overcoming Nature: Were they taught how to light fire? How to sew fur and wool? How to create tools made from rock and wood? How to build basic shelters?

  • Co existing with other predators: Despite being very young, their small frame is not decisive when it comes to encounters with other predators. There are very few predators which are stronger than children yet weaker than adults (some wild dogs/cats, eagles… the large and truly aggressive predators are stronger than both anyway). Weapons, training and numbers are the factors which are going to be decisive here.

Also, a fair starting point is also obviously necessary: If they are dropped straight into the center of a tundra in midwinter without any tools or appropriate clothing, they are doomed. Beginning this experiment during spring/summer in a geographic area abundant with food will obviously increase their chances. Also, at least a minimal initial food supply will be fair.

As for the size of this population: 10,000 is great. If we take a look at humanity during prehistoric times, we’ll see that despite their developed brain, humans were not better survivalists than Chimps, for example. Sure, humans could create tools which other mammals could not, but they also lacked many natural talents which those animals did have. However, other mammals could not form groups which grow more and more over time - eventually, these groups would break apart into smaller groups. Humans, on the other hand, used language to form large societies which could cooperate on a larger scale and eventually become more successful than other mammal species, despite the latter being stronger and naturally better equipped when compared to humans individually. So, despite obviously not knowing each and every one personally, language will allow these children to cooperate together, and such a large number will allow them to form many large sub groups easily.

The biggest challenge is to survive the beginning - no adequate food supplies, no tools, no social structure, no knowledge of their surroundings… if they survive the first decade or so, it will be more or less just like the pre-historic era of humanity, plus a few myths about an ancient spaceship.

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The answer is most if not all would survive, simply because they have the knowledge. There are real kids that are younger and survive. Yes, without adults. The human survival instinct alone is usually strong enough, not always, but having the knowledge means, yes they would survive. At least most. Remember the number 1 rule.....survival of the fit. Btw. What are you people smoking? Lol I want some :-)

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah I know...just kidding....great imagination! $\endgroup$ – Anyone you want May 27 '17 at 5:27
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I would warn you about infecting a pristine planetary environment with such an invasive and destructive species. The devastating capacity of Homo Sapiens Sapiens is well documented.

It is hard to stress just how unreasonably intelligent this primate is in relation to its cohort of fauna. Even at seven years of age, the cognitive capacity of this species is more than enough to rival any other creature on its native planet. Even its still-immature fine motor skills are impressive. Despite its obvious deficits in physical prowess, the pressing need for water, food and shelter will undoubtedly result in an admirable survival rate, even across the more inhospitable environments you intend for it to encounter.

For the numbers you have proposed for your study, I would suggest that training would not at all be necessary for species survival. There are documented cases of humans as young as three years old surviving in the wild until reaching breeding maturity, and indeed beyond. You have proposed a very large starting number, perhaps you are even tipping the odds too much in the humans' favour.

I would suggest that seven years is a more than adequate age. This is a social species. It is important that they have acquired sufficient social and linguistic skills before being put to the test. It would be unwise to disperse the subjects planetside in bands of more than 30-40 individuals. As clever as they are, it is estimated that even a mature human has only the capacity to function in social networks constituting roughly 100 members.

I do, however, have some concerns over the scientific benefits of this study. Homo Sapiens Sapiens has already demonstrated its capacity for destructive total dominance over its environment. While external factors pushed the species towards the precipice of extinction (to the extent of having one viable breeding pair remaining) at least twice in its short-lived history, it would seem an inevitable outcome of your experiment that your target planet would be rendered inhospitable due to nuclear fallout within approximately 150,000 years, as is the way of this particular animal. This is much too short of a timespan to observe any evolutionary changes.

If you must use an Earth species, I would suggest bonobos as a reasonable alternative.

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