I am creating a fictional universe where humanity's evolution followed a different path that it did in ours (evolution might not be the best word, but bear with me).

Long ago, in said universe's equivalent of what we call the prehistory (i.e. when the first humans started appearing), there was already another intelligent species roaming the planet. This species, who, at the time, had already advanced to a similar point where modern-day humans are (speech, culture, industry, technology, you name it) and decided (for reasons that are beyond the scope of this question) to help the humans (who were little more advanced than cavemen) to develop speech, culture and the rest.

The question here being: how long would it reasonably take before humanity would be able to get from prehistoric level to, say, the Industrial Revolution under this species' guidance? Decades? Centuries? Millennia?

Additional info:

  • You may assume that the planet is Earth when it comes to measuring time; 365 days of 24 hours (in layman's terms).
  • There is no need to take into account the state of planet Earth in our prehistory; you may assume that the state of the planet at that time was roughly similar to present-day Earth.
  • Humans had not encountered this species before, despite living on the same planet. However, humanity was generally not afraid of this species, but would accept their teachings from the first meeting.
  • Humans in this universe are otherwise pretty much completely identical to real-world humans; there's good ones and bad ones, smart ones and not-so-smart ones, people that would gladly accept the teachings and those that would not, etc.
  • Said species had different vocal chords than humans and could thus not teach humans their own language exactly like they spoke it; it would be either an approximation of their own language or an entirely new language designed specifically for human vocal chords. At this point, I'm inclined more towards the latter, especially because of the next point.
  • Another difference between humans and this species meant that their writing system was difficult for humans to read and write fluently, too. They could read/write it when taught, but it would take them longer to read it compared to a writing system aimed at humans and even longer to write, even after they become fluent.

Edit: there seem to some misconceptions going on about the level of humans before this meeting. When I say they had 'no language', I mean they had no structured language with grammatical rules; they could speak among themselves by using sounds such as grunts and such and by using body language. They had some basic tools and could probably create fire already. But they had nothing in the way of culture or civilization.

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    $\begingroup$ Is there any actual evolution that needs to happen? Or is this purely technological advancement? $\endgroup$
    – Pyrotrain
    Jul 31, 2017 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ You're going to need to describe what you mean by prehistoric. That's everything before the development of writing. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jul 31, 2017 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Lars! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Jul 31, 2017 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ Also, this refers purely to technological advancement; in Darwin's meaning of the word 'evolution', they are already humans. $\endgroup$
    – Lars
    Jul 31, 2017 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ If they can't speak then they would likely not even be members of the genus homo, much less humans. Which means they are significantly less intelligent than is needed. you may want to research human evolution a bit so you can decide where you want to start from. If they have to alter human anatomy its a very different question than if it is just a question of transmitting knowledge. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 1, 2017 at 5:29

4 Answers 4


If the humans had the same intellect as they do now, it would take 1 generation of raising a human from birth with education from these people to get to the same knowledge as them. Simply raising an independent group of humans and providing education would be enough to get them to the same tier of advancement as w/e the initial species was.

Think of if you took a bunch of babies from bushmen (hunter-gatherers today) and then put them in foster homes a western country, disregarding the ethics of the situations, you'd not be able to tell that their parents haven't developed past hunter-gathering society.

  • $\begingroup$ You seem to be missing the point about "different vocal chords". If humans have no adequate language, it has to be somehow created. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jul 31, 2017 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander I just presumed the other species can reproduce the human language they want the human's to use at will since we can pretty much do the same today with speakers and sound editing. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2017 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ But if human language is non-existent in the first place, how do they go about it? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jul 31, 2017 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander is correct; there was no human language yet. And since the two species had never met, the other species also would not know without first studying humanity what kinds of sounds they were capable of producing. $\endgroup$
    – Lars
    Jul 31, 2017 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ If there is no human language than your humans are not at "caveman levels" they are at chimp like levels, humans had language before we were human, we likely had it before we mastered fire. Your "humans likely do not have the brain power necessary to learn what the aliens want them to learn, so your aliens have to alter them or wait a few million years. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 1, 2017 at 5:21

Basically no time at all. The prehistoric humans are already modern humans. They will have language, art, basic social organization, and a capacity to make stone tools. They will be able to learn written language. This may require giving them an alphabet to transcribe their speech into the written word.

Effectively they are a native population whose lives have been interfered with by a bunch of colonists. Except unlike European settlement of the Americas, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand they're not trying to usurp their territory and occupy it.

The Neolithic humans only need education and some basic tools to set them on the path to building their own technology and creating the necessary economy to support it. Besides the humans would soon want to catch up to their intelligent co-inhabitants.

The real secret of succeeding here is not getting in the way of the human's development pathways and accommodating the human's cultural beliefs and social traditions to the changes necessary to advance themselves.


To get it out of the way

The last point is not needed and rather implausible; humans have used successfully, and are using at present, writing systems utterly unsuitable to the represented language. Linear B for writing Greek; Akkadian cuneiform for writing, well, Akkadian, and Hittite too; Chinese logograms for writing Japanese (not to mention that Chinese logograms are a rotten writing system for any language); the frakking Arabic alphabet for writing Turkish; and many more.

One should assume that the benevolent aliens would have devised a reasonable writing system for the language they had in common with the humans. It is not a superhuman feat after all.

Now for the estimation of timespan

Let's assume that by "prehistoric level" we mean the social and technological level of the people of the Mesopotamia just before the advent of the Sumerian civilization (say, 40th century BCE), the Celts just before they entered into contact with Rome (say, 5th century BCE), or the social and technological level of the peoples of Siberia just before the Russian conquest (say, 15th century CE). That is to say, the humans already have agriculture, animal husbandry, and maybe even some metallurgy.

There are two ways to do it: the quick way and the slow way.

  • The quick way, as practiced and exemplified by the Soviet Union, takes two or maybe three generations. Just build schools and educate the children. Build infrastructure. Develop industry. Electric light. Newspapers. In 50 or 60 years the way life was before the contact will be half forgotten, and two generations later it will be remembered only in legends and fairy tales.

  • The essence of the slow way is to allow the hmumans to develop at their own pace, guiding them but avoiding giving direct orders. In this case, we can start with considering the 30 centuries between the Greek pre-history and our present time; out of those 30 centuries:

    • 6 to 8 centuries can be written off by assuming that the benevolent aliens won't allow the budding human civilization to slip into the Middle Ages; remain 22 to 24 centuries;

    • Another 2 or 3 centuries can be written off by admiting that the benevolent aliens would avoid the Greek Dark Age. Remain about 20 centuries.

    • By fostering innovation and avoiding the trap of cheap slave labor, some 5 centuries may be reduced.

    All in all, I think that about 15 centuries is the minimum time span for a human civilization to raise organically from the Bronze Age to the modern social and technological level. In real history it took twice as long, but in real history we had no guardian angels.

  • $\begingroup$ You mentioned 'the language they had in common with the humans', but that's exactly the problem; the humans did not have a language yet. Also, they're not aliens but a species native to the same planet as humans, but that's irrelevant, I suppose. $\endgroup$
    – Lars
    Jul 31, 2017 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ You also said 'unsuitable to the represented language'. However, this writing system is unsuitable to humans, no matter what their native language. The reason for this is because the writing system makes use of something that this other species has, but humans don't. I don't want to go into too much detail, but is essentially boils down to the fact that in order to write their alphabet, you have to write two different characters with two hands simultaneously, which is something that most humans are simply unable to do, meaning they would write them successively instead... thus taking longer. $\endgroup$
    – Lars
    Jul 31, 2017 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ Most humans are unable to play piano with two hands, unless trained from a young age -- but then they are able to. Same with typing with two hands; it can be learned. My great aunt was left-handed, but in grade school she was taught (forced) to write with her right hand. Now, she can sign her name with both hands, simultaneously, as a mirror image. It's a pretty cool trick! But my point is that writing simultaneously with both hands, if taught from a young age, is a completely learnable trait. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2017 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Lars: You say that "humans did not have language yet". This means that whatever kind of ape thay are, they are not human. The question says prehistoric humans. We don't know anything serious about the mind and abilities of our non-human ancestors. I'm afraid that if the aliens want to start with pre-human apes than the question is much harder. If by pre-historic humans you mean before agriculture then the aliens must first teach the humans to plan ahead. This complicates things considerably. I won't comment on plausibility of the idea that one must write two characters simultaneously. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 1, 2017 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Lars using both hands to write is totally something that can be learned. And anyway, having to write characters successively instead of at the same time wouldn't make your humans unable to use that alphabet, not at all. $\endgroup$
    – Sarkouille
    Aug 1, 2017 at 9:03

thumbs up to a4android's answer.

the key issue is whether you want them to ape behaviour (doesnt seem like your objective) or develop instinctively and intrinsically but faster.

aped / trained behaviour takes one childhood and not just with humans, bomb sniffing dogs are trained not born despite it being a valued skill for 50+ years.

There would not be much ability to develop from aped behaviour though because there is no instinct behind it so reversion (eg dogs turning feral) is basically garanteed without supervision.

You probably want humans to spend a few generations at different development milestone stages to ingrain the technological knowledge and cultural behaviours, fostering the "standing on shoulders of giants" effect within these rapidly progressed human's development as a whole. Avoiding the human's motivation collapse, sometimes called "culture shock" will be harder if the aliens are always just a google query away or you push too fast.

  • my grand parents barely used the telephone, my parents understand but don't really like computers, i grew up thinking of them as just another tool, my children rely on them instinctively.

the final "how long" also depends on how fast humans cycle through generations and how many generations are alive at any point. In a (im guessing) 30 generation project like this, first child at 16-17 vs mid 20s adds up but faster generations probably means you need more generations at many stages while longer lived generations provide for cultural stability but might cause technological drag.


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