On the world i am creating, the lower hemisphere is dominated by what i am currently calling 'Sphinx's' due to that being the initial inspiration for the design. (current concept idea below) Current concept idea They are based off of Marsupial Lions (Thylacoleo carnifex), Which were Ambush Predators, and are believed to have used the large claw on their semi-opposable thumb-like appendage to kill their prey - which I will be adapting to become fully opposable and more dexterous. The Planet they live on orbits a binary system, with a axial tilt of 60 degrees, so the climate itself is prone to shifting (which i had intended to promote long-term problem solving).

Because of a few reasons, i'm unsure to how they'd advance technologically at all (one reason being that as they walk on all fours they don't always have limbs 'freed up' to use/make tools easily). How could they develop the tools they need for animal farming (as they are obligate carnivores), settlements or even for just cultural items such as jewellry?

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    $\begingroup$ They either have free limb, at least some of the time, or do not. Your requirements are contradictory. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Jul 22 '17 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ In a word: catnip $\endgroup$ Jul 22 '17 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ change them to make them knuckle walkers, or make them bipedal, they need free limbs to develop as tool users. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 23 '17 at 1:27
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    $\begingroup$ Give them prehensile tails or tentacles inside their cheeks.. $\endgroup$ Jul 23 '17 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ Beautiful artwork. Nicely done! $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Jul 23 '17 at 13:24

Given that you admitted in a later post that these are slow creatures and do not move with big cat speeds, this problem becomes easier to solve for you. But first, lets understand why throwing evolved in man: As stated, it's a difficutl skill to come by in the while. The next closest creatues to use this skill are other primates. Comapare our closest cousins, Chimpanzees and Gorillas, Humans can throw with on average three times the force of apes. Our best baseball players can easily clock in five times that speed. It's easy to go from grasping at branches and moving our arms for motion to keeping our bodies stationary and throwing things... given proper evolutionary incentive.

Now, as ambush predators, your creatures would like not develop hunting tools like humans, but rather, things to ambush. And if the prey cannot be reliably ambushed, you get better at building the traps. And since they would have no desire to cultivate plant consumption, they would almost all focus on constructing their traps. The simplest being barriers to guide the prey into the trap proper. Among your most primative of techs is not the spear, the sword, or the sling, but instead, the wall, the gate, and construction. The rock small, hand held rock would be seen as a symbol of construction to the Sphinxes, rather than ammo as humans see it. Agriculutrue would develop first, along with construction. Nomadism could still persist if the heard wintered in better climates, so driving them would be a principle goal. You would need a shepard's crook of some sort to keep the animals from going astray. They'd possibly take the shape of flexible sticks and certainly ornamentation would likely be used to designate as "mine, not yours".

Agriculture is likely to take longer, but some Sphinxes might get tired of leaving homes during the harsh season and realize that working on some way to cultivate excessive food for the heard will allow them to feed their food during the winter. Clothing will likely develop to help keep warm in winters similarly to humans in that "fluffy animal is not shivering... I shall wear its fluffy to recieve it's warmth" but specialized clothing for the hands will develop (any species with dexterous hands is going to be most vulnerable to pain there due to all the nerves). As they are barrier minded, wheels could easily develop as the observe that rounder stones are larger too move and roads would probably be perfected much they were like here. They'd probably have little use for range combate and would be rather useless at it compared to humans. As physics and maths develop, it will probably be to facilitate structures and monuments more than artilary, though as the saying goes, civil engineers build targets.

Unlike another post, writing would have to develop as society becomes complicated. While advance societies certainly florished without them, its difficult to say much about them beyond they happened. We know very little about many native American Cultures because they by and large had no written language. That doesn't mean they weren't advanced. The Inca had a complex road network comperable to Rome... but wheels never evolved beyond children's toys. And while European and Arabic societies, some of the most innovative of their time had weapons and armor and naval capabilities that the Inca and Azteks never approached, these MesoAmerican cultures had Brain surgery with 90% surivial chances when they first made contact with Civilization from the old world. Euro-centric society would have nothing close to that until the early 1900s, some 400 years later.

And writing should be clarified to stored knowledge, as it would be quite possible for a creature lacking sight to develop a knowledge storage system intended for access of thoughts and ideas when the original creator was unavailable, but not writing, as they couldn't use a visual medium. In this respect, humans are not exclusive among Earth Life in this development. Ants and Termites use complex chemicle mixtures to communicate the path to food to their colony. While it's not as permanant as written word, it requires no meeting between the original scout and those that follow his message to the meal.

Tools and intelligence are developed to meet the needs of the user and the society to facilitate needs that they cannot meet on their own.


Technology is coming but slowly

As they are now, your sphinxes are a long way from using technology of any kind, though moving in that direction. Opposable thumbs is a great first step but lots of other things need to happen too.

Remember that all things are hard until they become easy. Developing tool use is really hard.

Required Attributes

  1. Community of some kind - Unless there are other sphinxes around to communicate tool use to, overall tool development as a species isn't going to happen.
  2. Raising of young - You'll have to choose where on the spectrum between precocial and altrial you want these cats to be. By raising the young, there's a substantial opportunity for the young to pick up the culture and language of their parents.
  3. Language - Remember that without the ability to convey ideas, knowledge gained by a single individual doesn't survive beyond their own death. Language permits the survival of tools, techniques and general best practices.
  4. True opposable thumbs - The human hand is capable of six tool using grips. If your cats can't do some of these grips, it will stunt the kinds of tools they are able to make. Not to say they can't develop tools, it will just take longer.

Types of grips

  1. Fire - Post stone tool development involving any kind of melted metal will require mastery of fire.
  2. Tool-making Posture - While not entirely comfortable for modern house cats, this posture would permit your sphinxes to at least start making tools. Over many generations, their skeleton would adapt to the tool using hunch. Crouching tiger, tool user

Helpful Attributes

  1. Cooking - Cooking unlocks a great deal of nutrition in food. Normally, the body needs a lot of time to break down all the connective tissue in uncooked meat. For us humans, that would mean lots and lots and lots of chewing. Cooked meat has more available nutrients and it easier to digest than uncooked meat. If you aren't spending your time eating or chewing, then you can spend your time doing something else, like talking, telling stories or making tools.

Not required

  1. Bipedalism - As long as your sphinxes have the dexterity to crouch down and hold the work piece in front of them, they should be able to craft tools and other artifacts.
  2. Written language - Humans did very well for a very long time without written languages. We certainly progressed from simple stone tools to agriculture without it. Your sphinxes can acquire writing later.

Using the power of the Author

Since this is your story, you can make these creatures develop exactly how you want them to.


Many animals begin tool-making without free limbs. Dolphins use found objects (including sponges and shells) held in their mouth to scrape the ocean bottom (in relatively shallow waters) disturbing burrowing creatures that jump up; then they drop their tool and eat them.

A mahout (elephant handler) working with his animal to clear out dead forest trees reports that after pushing down one tree, a branch fell on the elephant's back; almost striking him (the mahout) too. Without prompting, the elephant stopped, tore branches from another tree, and propped the log between its trunk and tusks; extending well above its head and across its back. The elephant carried the log with it to new trees, deflecting many dead branches during the day.

Corvids (Crows, other large birds in the family) routinely construct many varied tools using only their beak and feet. They also seem to understand some of the tools of humans: One ice fisher (human) had a particular ice hole that he never caught any fish in, even when his other holes were producing a few fish every day. He set up a camera to film the hole; and sure enough, after some hours of film he saw the line moving. So, apparently, did a crow, because within minutes it landed near the hole; grabbed the line with its feet and began pulling away, flapping its wings; and eventually pulled a fish out. Not only that, but the crow spend several minutes after the fish expired extracting the hook from its mouth; and when it finally did that, put the hook and line back in the hole. Perhaps to catch another fish, or perhaps to conceal its presence (Corvids are known to engage in deceptive and cover-up behaviors with their own kind).

One of my cats, as a kitten, would spend many minutes on its back, even falling asleep that way, batting at tassles on the kitchen curtains with its front paws. Your animals, if they need both hands to fashion something, could do the same: Don't get hung up on the human posture of crouching over something and working on it; that is just body-mechanics for us.

If they do something, they will use their own body mechanics; I can easily see them doing something on their back, in the air, like braiding hair into rope, weaving, carving wood with flint, etc. For operations requiring a "gravity assist" so pieces fall away; just move the arms to the side. Or, they could obviously stand up like my dog or cat; so give them a table chest-high in the standing position so they can rest their elbows on it and manipulate something on it. The same goes for their sitting position; they can sit and prop their front elbows on a platform.

Note they do not have to build a table to discover this is a comfortable position for, say, knapping flint: Just encounter a natural flat rock of the correct height; and then reproduce that idea with found rocks; or logs, or cut a section of tree trunk so the length is the right height, carved pretty flat on both ends; then turn it 90 degrees. You have a flat round table. Slightly higher tech in the next few hundred years and they will be building tables from lumber; using the Mortise and Tenon method with animal-derived glues, as humans have been doing for at least 7000 years, and 4000 years before the iron age.

They can find body positions, slings, tables and chairs to free up their front legs and hands. Birds can stand on one foot and use the other to hold things they are constructing with their beak, like a termite spear.

It is misguided foolishness to think opposable thumbs are needed (dolphins, octopi and elephants don't need them, crows build a few tools using only their beak), or to think that free limbs must be always free. What is needed is intelligence and self-awareness, once those exists the animal will find a way to use its body to turn objects into tools.

added: Watching my cat; he sometimes lies on the floor and plays with a toy using both his front paws and his mouth; his furry elbows slide easily on the smooth wood floor with no trouble.

Also, I note that I sit most of my work day in a chair that actually holds my body in a comfortable position I couldn't possibly hold for more than a few seconds without the chair; thus an unnatural position without a support mechanism. Trying to think similarly for a cat-like creature; all that is needed is to remove the need for the front arms to support the body: The "chair" for that would be something like a bench it could rest its chest upon, that supported its body. Perhaps most of it; like our chairs support all of our weight but leave our feet touching the ground (for most).

A more sophisticated and comfortable version of that for your creature would be an angled bench-like padded cradle; supporting about from the armpit area back to the bottom of the rib-cage, high enough to support almost all the body weight and leave the back haunches in a natural crouch position; and leaving their belly and genitalia uncompressed. The support would allow them the free use of their arms, hands, and head: They could assemble things, write, look through microscopes, and do anything we do in chairs.

Like our own furniture; the cat chair would be low enough so that if they just stood up they would clear it by a few inches so could back away from it; it would be as easy for them to get into and out of as our own chairs.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Jul 24 '17 at 22:30

The Sphinxes have opposable thumbs which suggests they have the capacity for tool-making. Please remember it took a long time for the human species to develop tools and culture. Neanderthals remained at around the same level of palaeolithic technology and culture and modern humans were only able to progress to the neolithic level once they had acquired language and the ability to cook their food. Cooking ensured they had more energy to grow bigger brains.

Cats and dogs are capable of sitting of their hindquarters. Presumably if they had opposable thumbs, they begin the long process of acquiring the skills and abilities to make things like tools.

This answer recommends your Sphinxes need a capacity for language, to develop the art of cooking, and stronger hindquarters for sitting and working. Any observation of tool-makers indicates they do this mostly sitting down. Otherwise your Sphinxes might reach a Neanderthal neolithic technological plateau and develop no further.


Before asking How they could develop use to tools or advanced technology, you should probably ask Why they would develop it. From your great artwork, Sphinx's seem to be efficient predators and specialized for it. Why would they bother throwing a rock at a target while they have such powerful natural weapons ?

So you definitely must find a rationale putting some pressure on the Sphinx's to do so. The problem here is that de-specialization of body parts is very rare. Specialized traits (sharp teeth, claws) are reinforced over time, because individuals with less stronger traits are less efficient and die quickly.

For humans, the switch from forest environments to plains is believed to have make our initial hands used for tree climbing useless, so that it could evolve in other directions. The same cause made the bipedal behavior an asset to spot predators and food. Our hand allowed several usage, and the related brain capacity was possible due to our standing position. Adding meat and fat in our food gave us the ability to sustain the highly-demanding energy consumption of our brain. Fire allowed food cooking, rendering big jaws useless and giving more room for brain expansion. Social interactions coupled with such brain allowed for more and more knowledge transmission and ultimately language.

Even for mankind, the interactions between all these events are discussed, but most agree that environmental changes were key in the process that today allow you to read this on a high-tech device.

Coming back to your Sphinx's, you could give a try to think in the same way. What render their specialization useless, forcing them to go in another direction ? Were their usual preys replaced by others that could resist to their attack ? Or were too fast ? Or flying ? Note that predators are already specialized in some way and harder to push in another direction, but you're the author ;)

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    $\begingroup$ ... Hrm, Good thought. The primary reason for their intelligence in the first place was due to a high chance of climate-shifts on their world (as they live on a world that has a 60 degree axial tilt and orbits a binary system). My sphinxes are actually ambush-predators, as they are unsuited for fast running, and therefore i thought that those that could learn trapping skills would be better suited, but those skills also require some technological skill, which made me question how they could physically do it in the first place $\endgroup$
    – Hannah
    Jul 24 '17 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Hannah Trapping is indeed complex. Could something like throwing stones be a first use to of tools ? Group-hunting, coordination between individuals, longer range weapons, could constitute future steps for them. $\endgroup$
    – Uriel
    Jul 24 '17 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ First things first, you have to realise that throwing things is actually a really difficult thing for creatures to physically do well (in fact humans are kinda weird by how good we are at it). but i digress, Group hunting and communal behaviour i definitely want to encourage (i've been thinking about social structures) however i have no clue how they'd even come up with long-range weapons due to the throwing issue. $\endgroup$
    – Hannah
    Jul 24 '17 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ If trapping and throwing are too complex, could the use of basic weapons be an option ? Due to change to new preys that the sphinx's natural weapons cannot deal with (super porcupines/armadillon/turtles, or animals with venom or poison). Sounds less strong pressure than a complete environmental change, however. $\endgroup$
    – Uriel
    Jul 24 '17 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ The environmental changes were to give incentive to problem solving abilities/intelligence and creativity - factors i feel are crucial to developing a society. A change in prey would result more in physical adaptations to deal with it (although tbh, environmental change would also cause a change of prey items as well). They also tend to go for large prey that their adaptations are better suited for (remember, large stabby thumb), and are also easier to take down in groups. Maybe easily made traps such as pitfalls or angled broken off sticks in the ground would be a better start point. $\endgroup$
    – Hannah
    Jul 24 '17 at 17:22

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