On a world I am building, the defining feature of the world if that the days last 9 years instead of 24 hours. This means that the species' living on the world must always migrate to keep up with the short band of habitable land. They would live on the poles, but at the north pole lies the largest ocean and at the south lies an area of inhabitable dryness.

Other features of this world are its 0 degree axial tilt, many small moons, and a ring going around the equator.

How do the people of this world manage to achieve the effects of the agricultural revolution, without agriculture? That is, how can they gain the vast population and technological increase?

For the sake of simplicity, assume that the animals living there are just like earth animals.

  • $\begingroup$ Just let them come from a different planet, which had the agricultural revolution way back in the day. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 '17 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @StegaxKhenacc the animals evolved on this planet $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Jun 8 '17 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't the atmosphere freeze out? $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Jun 8 '17 at 19:36
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "agricultural revolution without agriculture"? Isn't that by definition impossible? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jun 8 '17 at 19:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Mołot I thought they were one in the same, I'll edit to clarify $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Jun 8 '17 at 19:54

11 Answers 11


To get a agricultural revolution in your setting would be difficult.

The climate of your world would require constant migration making any cultivation time either very short, in the amount of time available to cross the habitable zone, or very long stretching across the uninhabitable regions.

For short you would need to move very quickly to the hot edge of habitability plant crops and harvest as the cold dark approaches, or use advanced planting groups and follower harvest groups, but you would need a means of moving goods forward to feed and support the planters. For this to be effective you would need faster modes of transport and very fast growing and maturing crop species.

For the long haul you need to find what species, if any, survive in place all year long. Hopefully some of them are edible, these could be harvested as you pass, something like a string of orchards. Encourage these plants to spread and care for them as you migrate past, anything you can do to get them to spread or improve their odds of surviving through the entire 9 year day.

For both strategies you would want a fixed migration path which would allow you to take advantage of long term improvements. Set up farming areas and orchards along your migration path. Every time you pass you make slight improvements and perform upkeep of the areas. The ultimate goal would be a series of farm like settlements and storage caches all the way around the world giving the society a buffer of food to allow for innovation and cultural development.

This would be long term generational investment and would require constant effort and a culture to protect the improvements. A raiding party burning a farm would not just be immediately harmful, but would continue to cause harm on a recurring basis as you came back to the devastated area every 9 years.


depends on the species, some simply grow at a rapid pace (like wild rhubarb) others plant hardened seeds to survive the night, some "hibernate" and some actually just "move" along the planet like wild vines.

If that's how plants work, why can't you have agriculture?

  1. Plant the fast growing seeds at the leading edge of the habitable area. Harvest at the trailing edge. Ship food forward to the planters and any weeders.

  2. Plant hardened seeds at the trailing edge. Harvest tomorrow (nine years from now). Harvesters leave underground caches of food for the planters.

  3. Protect the vines from predation. Plant new ones and protect them as needed.

That sounds like agriculture to me.

Build dark houses (rather than greenhouses). They would keep the blazing sun off the plants so that plants could grow during the day.

Build mirrors that redirect the hot sun from the light side to the dark side, extending both growing periods.

Plant seeds in pots. Carry them with you. When you get to the leading edge, plant them and wait for them to mature.

An underwater people might develop. As the day grows hotter, they drop lower in the water. At the trailing edge, they migrate across the poles to the other fields.

Not to mention that part of agriculture is about managing herds of animals rather than plants. For example, in Mongolia, they used horses for food and drink as well as transportation. This was part of the reason why they were so successful in invading Russia in comparison to Napoleon and Adolf Hitler. They brought their agriculture with their army and did not rely on fallible supply lines. The idea of migratory herding is well established.

Once they figure out electricity and start building solar panels, they can add air conditioning and artificial lights. With space flight, they can build mirrors that darken one side of the world and brighten the other.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes. You can grow a lot of stuff in 9 years, especially with no dark. People move off fields anyway after several crops to leave fallow and let the soil regenerate. The movement paths would all be well sorted out. Property rights would be a very different thing in a society like this. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jun 8 '17 at 23:27

If the plants are only active in the same time of day that the people live the choice to shape plants' life-cycle is similar to Earth's peoples'; they notice what kind of plants they like and promote them.

Your people's ancestors must have had scouts. And the farther ahead of the main body they are the more sure the route chosen is the easiest path in the long term. Eventually they might be most of a life-cycle of a usable plant ahead and things they drop will be noticed by the main body. If everyday watermelons are gathered from where your scouts camped months before you might ask them to plant some flax while they are at it.

Whatever the survivable window if the plants and people have similar ones this method works if the people organize themselves with scouts and main body as far apart as possible in a continuous moving plan. If they have a hurryup and wait plan you might just have normal agriculture since you can wait for a whole window which is at least one plant life-cycle.


Shouldn't be too hard, this happens already, it's called slash and burn agriculture which is still used today in places. Probably one of the first and easiest methods of agriculture. Along with transhumance such as nomadic people still practice. Both of these are low tech and intuitive for primitive peoples.

Communities plant and harvest an area for a few years and then move on as the soil nutrients are used up.


The pre-sapient ancesstors of those people will already be adapted to that 9-year cycle. What do animals do in general? Hybernate, eat stored food (cached themselves or digging up dorment tubers etc.)?

Lets suppose they don’t hybernate and the rise to intelligence is driven by their better ability to plan for the winter. They make caches that are better defended against other animals. They exploit caches from other animals. They find natural plant cache (e.g. tubers) and prey on hybernating animals.

Being “smart” means having a flexible and general approach, being able to apply all the stategies used by other animals, adapting to changing conditions and combining approaches.

So they have a double revolution: not only do they manage the growing of plants during the day (inventing agriculture), but they also improve the storage techniques for use at night.

The long cycle stimulates their intellect: rather than sleeping most of the time through winter with only a few shifts of guard duity and getting up to eat once a week (like their ancesstors), their great breakthrough is to store enough food to remain awake most of the winter. They don’t have crops to tend, but they apply this time to working on their technology. Later, they use it for art and literature. Their original snug dens become warm burried lodges and then cities full of workshops.

Make the 9 year cycle drive their culture in this way, as well as making them different from the dumb animals as a defining characteristic of their existence.


If the day is so long then also plants need to "emigrate" somehow (even if just burying underground till the ice will thaw).

Agricultural revolution is not the real propulsion of bronze-age culture, bronze-age came along because populations become sedentary (agriculture encouraged this).

You can stipulate large underground caves where volcanic activity keeps conditions stable year-around (I should say "day-around :) ) and have there communities of artisans waiting for customers at dawn, doing some agriculture during the day and burying deep in their workshops at night.

It is a bit difficult to manage because You need provisions for several years, but you have a "natural freezer" in the caves near to the surface. Light would be even more difficult to provide, unless you invent something like luminescent plants adapted to the warm caves.

Other possibility is to make the populace waterborne and have a fleet sailing toward the sun. It doesn't need to be very fast, so it can be primitive rafts, even large ones. If they are sailing at the right latitude they could even take advantage of winds and currents for push (trade winds come to mind).

Large enough rafts would support sizeable factories and raw materials could be gathered along the cost.

You can even combine the two and add a fleet of "fast rafts" speeding towards the morning, settling down doing gathering/agriculture waiting for the main fleet, packing everything there and racing ahead again. Something could be left beyond to be used "tomorrow" (mostly stone buildings, wood wouldn't last without maintenance, probably).

Whatever is needed for metallurgy is difficult to attain in a constantly moving world.


For a planet to have a day 9 Earth years long the rotational period of the planet with respect to the stars and the orbital period of the planet around its star will have to be almost exactly the same. This will make the apparent position of the sun in the sky appear to move very slowly.

But for an exactly nine Earth year day the sun would appear to travel 40 degrees per Earth year or about 0.109 degrees per Earth day. So you are going to have to calculate how the rotation rate and the orbital period combine to make such a long day.

Life will not be possible on that world unless the oceans and atmosphere are able to distribute heat around the planet and keep the temperature differences between high noon and midnight moderate. But on the other hand you want to make the day and night temperatures different enough that your people will have to migrate around the world every nine Earth year "day".

Thus they will have to sail around the world on the equatorial ocean and make many stops at various islands and continents every nine Earth year "day". Or they will have to ride on their alien mounts around the world on the equatorial continent every nine Earth year "day".

Having to both ride across land and sail across seas seems like a bad idea. They will never be sure to find riding animals on the next landmass unless they bring them on their ships. And they will never be sure to find ships or be able to build them on the next sea shore they come to, unless they drag or carry their ships across the land with them. Many things could go wrong for them if they have to cross both lands and seas.

The Earth's circumference is 24,901.55 miles or 40,075.16 kilometers. So if your planet has the same circumference of Earth they would have to travel 2,766.8388 miles or 4,452.795 kilometers per Earth year and 7.575 miles or 12.191 kilometers per Earth day, and 0.315 miles or 0.507 kilometers per hour at a steady pace. At the equator.

If they live far north or south of the equator they could travel at a slower rate.

And of course they probably have to stop and rest unless they sail on ships and take watches where some sail while others sleep. Or they can move on land constantly if they have wagons or travois or yurts on wheels or something and half the people and animals rest in the wagons while the other half pull the wagons. If they do spend part of their time resting they will have to travel proportionally faster when they are moving.

Of course the planet could be significantly larger or smaller than Earth, so they could have to travel proportionately faster or slower.

Suppose that a band finds that they have enough seed left to plant a crop and enough food to last them for six more months. They stop and plant their seeds and live off their previous harvest for six Earth months while the sun moves 20 degrees to catch up with them. Then they harvest their crops and travel for another six Earth months twice as fast as the sun until they reach a distance 40 degrees ahead of their previous position. They plant their new set of seeds and cultivate them for another six Earth months while the sun movies another 20 degrees to catch up with them.


The animals will be migrating as well, so you can have the animal husbandry bit of agriculture. Your people can be the equivalent of nomadic reindeer herders, cattle herders, Mongolian tribes with camels, horses and sheep, and so on. They'll have a guaranteed source of food on tap (and draft animals to do the work of transporting them and their stuff), so their population will be bigger than nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples.

What makes this lifestyle possible on Earth is milk. It can be drunk fresh, or processed into butter, curds, cheese, etc for longer storage. You say your animals are like Earth animals - you'll have to make them mammals, or invent some other milk-analogue which can be harvested from them on a daily basis. (e.g. they are giant 'aphids' which produce honeydew).

Can't really think of a way to solve the metal-working problem. Especially since tin, copper and iron ores are very scattered and rare resources - unlike grass for your herds, which you can find almost everywhere.


A planet with a 9-year long day would have half of the planet in daylight, and half in night. Depending on the size of the planet, and how close it is to its sun and the amount of power put out by the sun, this would determine how hot midday on the equator gets.

Such a long day on a planet with an atmosphere is likely to result in severe atmospheric storms, with the hot air on the sunny side rising and drawing in colder air from the night side. This air would descend on the night side as catabatic winds, possibly forming rolling cells. The large northern ocean would help distribute the heat from the day side, and might keep the entire northern shore of the continent viable for life, even during the deepest of nights. Hadley cells will result in banding of climatic and atmospheric conditions by latitude.

All of the lifeforms on the planet would have evolved in this system, so would have a variety of mechanisms to deal with the long day and night cycle, from having entire 9-year lifecycles, to surviving the night by laying eggs for the next generation before dying, to cocooning or hibernating, scavenging, or finding friendlier environments underground and living in the sea.

Assuming that the people are in tribal units, those on the northern coast would do pretty well, and might develop something like normal agriculture, along with fishing, growing different crops over the day.

Those further from the coast can stay in one area for a season, before moving on. This would allow them to do agriculture and mining, and they may trade with the coastal peoples. They may even establish cities that are abandoned after the season. If there are several groups following each other, each may stay in the cities for a growing season before moving on.

Those closest to the equator would probably be more nomadic, given the imperative to keep moving, and might raid the agricultural cities further north or south. They might shelter underneath the shadow cast by the ring for shade.

Those south of the equator may develop agriculture in a similar way to their northern brethren, though they would not have a continual stream of coastal communities to trade with.

All of this would depend on the continents that exist on the planet, of course. A standalone continent that doesn't straddle the planet will produce unique lifeforms that can survive both day and night cycles, and peoples who have evolved to live very differently from those on the continent that straddles the planet.


If the natives built a large number of wagons on wheels to provide small garden plots, then the farm becomes portable. There would probably also be an outhouse incorporated into these mobile farm platforms for fertilizer benefits. Whatever serves as the draft animal would be hitched to the gardens to move them periodically. While this would work well for berry vines and smaller vegetables, it would not be a complete solution.

But it does provide enough food that an advance group could be planting in the "dawn area" so that there is a large supply of food for the main group to follow. We can also assume that at the tail end of the procession where harvesting occurs, that a certain amount of caching of food stores occurs. This would minimize the need for as much back and forth travel to distribute food stocks.


I would like to simply Point out that, whilst people are coming up with great ideas for agriculture, the most efficient being Portable Farms pulled by creatures, and a rather nice idea about utilizing the native fauna and promoting growth of edible species, I would like to point out that there's a massive blazing forge that these Nomads are fleeing from every "day", the Sun is more than capable of refining even Advanced Alloys at the temperatures that surface would reach!

Retrieving the material Ores is actually rather easy to accomplish, in 3 Months alone, a small group of 10 people with nothing better to do can dig a rather sizable hole, complete with a covered Entrance to both keep creatures out, and keep the Sun (or lack thereof) out, and it's perfectly possible to have it be completely stable to prevent cave-ins, made even more possible when you factor in that this is something they require to withstand the violent changes the temperature difference creates, they'll be gone for most of the "Day" (9 years / 0.25 years, they're only there for ¼ of 1 year, the rest is prep work), so they won't be able to "maintain" the Mine, it must stay stable whilst they're gone.

Also, whilst Milk is digestible Raw, it's not very agreeable with most Digestive Systems these days, I'm not sure how much that's translated to here, but there's a possibility of Allergic Reactions, which is why we Process our Milk (Lactose Intolerant people are more common otherwise, as a wider variety of people are unable to drink it or risk Death), but as these are Alien creatures, they could produce Lactose Free Ice creams if you so desired! That's the best part of World Building, it's your World, you get to Build it! Although I'm going to guess that you are aiming for more "hellscape nomad" type, not "the Cow has Ice Cream coming out of it's Udder" lol it would be fitting though if said Cow could survive that Night.


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