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  1. - Top - End - #1
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    Default How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    I've been playing minecraft survival and between dying to many blocky enemies as I try to remember how to play the game, I wonder how hard it would be to build a civilisation up from a state of no technology in real life.

    Let's say we have 2,000* people aged twenty to forty, in good health and the majority of them are able-bodied and fit to work. Each of them is an expert in at least one STEM field, biological or period of human history, or at surviving the wilderness: between them they have a reasonably thorough knowledge of all technological knowledge of the present day and all of them have taken a crash course in basic survival. If there's enough room in the collective brains, we'll include some experts in art, social sciences and other non-hard areas of knowledge, as having some cultural identity is probably important for morale.

    Now, let's drop them in an uninhabited replica of Earth, around the Mediterranean area. This is a planet that has no resources depleted by humans, and all the creatures that were driven off or hunted to extinction roam freely. The new arrivals have nothing but their bodies and their brains: no clothes, no technology. For the sake of fairness, nobody in our small army has any condition that will render them helpless or dead if deprived of modern medicine. The deaf, bipolar and those in need of glasses and other such things are out of luck, however.

    If the first generation works in reasonable harmony, how far can they get in rebuilding the world they left behind?

    How long and how many generations will it take this civilisation as a whole to build back up to Mid-twentieth century levels of technology?**

    What are the likely problems for these pioneers beyond day-to-day survival?

    What should Generation one prioritise creating first?***

    And, for fun: Are there any alternative technologies that you would like to see given more attention this time around?

    *According to a brief look around the internet, 1000 people is enough to avoid serious inbreeding problems, but I decided to double that just to give them some breathing room in case a lot of people get eaten by bears.

    **Beyond that, I feel like we'll need space flight, as a lot of our modern communications depend on satellites?

    ***I feel like farms and preserving knowledge for later generations and better infrastructure should be high on the list?
    Last edited by Durkoala; 2020-02-28 at 10:58 AM.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Does anyone have an idea of how long it takes to domesticate animals? I would think that getting something equivalent to horses or oxen to help with work, and things like chickens, pigs, and cows to help with food production, would be critical. I'm rather ignorant on this, but I've heard that some animals are easier to domesticate, but it still takes time and perhaps generations to really get them like that. So even if there were chicken-like animals, it might be hard to get them such that they could be raised for food and eggs easily. (Assuming that having them domesticated yields greater food quantities than hunting and gathering. Might not matter early on, but could as the population grows.)

    Horses or oxen to help with work and travel seem more important as a limiting factor. A lot of things take a lot of manual labor.
    Would domestication of plants (e.g., breeding over time to get them with the traits desired) be needed to make good fabric? I'll assume our group includes folk with knowledge of how to make cotton and wool (and similar) clothing, so either plant or animal sources work. As well as a leatherworker.

    I would think it wouldn't take long to make shelter and, through hunting and gathering, start getting enough food and get the basics of a farm going. First priority should likely be securing food, shelter, and clothing. But you could probably get set up how most folk probably picture a colonial era village in the Americas: some wooden houses, a few community places, barns/grain storage areas, and workable farms and maybe some animals held in pins.

    Longer-term, hard to say. I'd think the need for survival would dictate what technologies develop. With a small population and (thus presumably) relatively small area to inhabit for the few several generations, there's no need to develop something like a car.

    Disease, of course, is an issue. But the bacteria there wouldn't have penicillin-resistance, so one of the medical experts should be able to replicate antibiotics that work pretty well.

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    The first generation might get to the iron age, but from then on it would be slow. Knowing how to do modern stuff is fine, but it doesn't translate that well into doing old stuff. Ploughing is done by tractors these days, making horse or bullock ploughs would be a problem because there is no such thing in the modern areas of the world any more. If the sample of people was more representative of the population of the whole world they'd do better, but the top end of their knowledge wouldn't be so high. There's no telling what would happen socially either, from Rome to the middle ages there was the period known as the dark ages, where knowledge kind of fell apart, that can't really be anticipated.

    My guess would be 500 to 2,000 years, depending on several random factors, which are inherently unknowable.
    Last edited by halfeye; 2020-02-28 at 12:10 PM.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    This reminds me of playing Civilization, but starting with all the technologies. ;-) Alternatively, you might look at "Island in the Sea of Time" by SM Stirling, which posits much the same... the island of Nantucket, and a chunk of the ocean around it, are tossed back 4-5000 years. They have a library and many professionals and experts... but they're bereft of a lot of the infrastructre to make things they need.

    The big issue for this group is going to be acquisition of raw materials... getting enough stuff to do things with. They're going to need to record massive amounts of information, and will forget a lot of it.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    QQ: did the 2k sign up for this willingly or were they plucked & dumped naked and afraid in an alien wilderness?

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Let me plug the book How to Invent Everything. Disclaimer: I am not Ryan North, nor do I profit in any way from the sale of his book - other than the fact that having a more-informed population benefits me, and this book can contribute to that.

    The idea I get is that it would take a few hundred years to get the industries and infrastructure up to current levels. I suspect if you could bring more textbooks with you, you might be able to speed things along a bit. And generations of future electrical engineers will praise your name if you reverse the charges of the proton and electron, so that the electrons actually flow in the direction of positive current.

    The sooner you can create precision manufacturing processes, the better.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    So - they have all the knowledge, but none of the tools? I'd say they'd have a working computer, internal combustion engine, source of fuel, electrical generator ... all inside the first month. Maybe half a year, if I'm being slightly less exuberant about it.

    Getting to the point where they have a society able to provide everyone with a smartphone, a home entertainment module and a car ... much, much longer. But nothing like generations of time.

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    If they are trained in advance, they can immediately reach neolithic levels of technology, except for a lack of domesticated plants and animals. Bronze or Iron age requires that they can locate and obtain ores in the time they aren't spending keeping themselves fed. I think the first year's computer will be a human with an abacus.

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidSh View Post
    If they are trained in advance, they can immediately reach neolithic levels of technology, except for a lack of domesticated plants and animals. Bronze or Iron age requires that they can locate and obtain ores in the time they aren't spending keeping themselves fed. I think the first year's computer will be a human with an abacus.
    All depends on their location. If they're in a place where you can beat ressources out of the ground, they can get up and running really fast. If they have to start in the Sahara, then they might not survive at all. But any sort of even slightly advanced ressource like bog iron would enable them to do all sorts of things, right off the bat. Simple iron tools quickly pave the way to advanced iron tools, which pave the way for machining, then precision tools, then actual machines running on steam, or some sort of combustion - then computers, and all that jazz.

    Admittedly, you need to burn quite a bit of peat to get any significant amount of metal.

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaptin Keen View Post
    So - they have all the knowledge, but none of the tools? I'd say they'd have a working computer, internal combustion engine, source of fuel, electrical generator ... all inside the first month. Maybe half a year, if I'm being slightly less exuberant about it.
    Assuming that by computer you mean something somewhat resembling a modern computer, instead of the mechanically machines they had during WW2 to crack codes, then I think your estimate is way too optimistic. You're drastically underestimating the amount of precision tooling necessary to create processing units and/or the ease with which such tools can be created.

    That having been said, assuming that these people have all the necessary resources within a couple of hundred kilometers, and enough manpower to get to the first proper step of tools and automation in a reasonable time, and that they'd all get along and focus on rebuilding over their own personal ambitions, I'd reckon they'd have steam engines inside a decade, and be back up to 1940-1950's tech within another 3-5 years. After that, things would probably slow down for a bit as a lot of globalization is needed to get all the stuff you need for rockets and advanced computers. That's my estimation,a t any rate, but I'm hardly an expert myself XD
    Last edited by DeTess; 2020-02-28 at 06:23 PM.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    We have to remember that 'civilisation' basically depends on 'surpluses' - of food primarily, but from critical labour in general. The rule of thumb is simple; the less people having to sweat their guts out to ensure everybody's got the bare essentials [food, shelter, clothing etc] means more people can do non-critical things; the thinkers and the planners. Our Year Zero folks will be amazingly lucky if they merely avoid starvation; there will be no time to focus on anything except their immediate needs - as they lack all kit or access to even domesticated animals or plants to produce a surplus.

    This issue was spoken of in the novel Day of the Triffids; when the MC and another were talking about the long-term prospects for humanity. This problem was discussed; was pointed out that as the kit From Before increasingly wore out, there would be a slide of living standards and into barbarity. From using the tractor to plough for grain to repairing the tractor and scrounging fuel, then having to breed/train horses to use as traction, finally needing to find a source of iron to smelt to make ploughs. In a situation like this, a small, insular society could slide very rapidly - something the MC increasingly broods on as the Triffids close in on everything.

    That's the critical issue with our Year Zero folks. The people we'd think as 'critical to civilisation' are in fact not only expendable, but actually decrease the survival chances of the entire group - after all, theoretical sciences have almost no immediate use, and they'd be basically relying on the others to provide enough food/etc to support them. For what? So they can teach the children as much as they remember. In effect, each of these folk we put on the team is a bet they'd eventually pay off - yet their very presence means the odds of long-term survival lengthen a bit.

    However, there's one exception to this; the more practical ancient historians, as well as archaeological engineers. They're often familiar with how things were done thousands of years ago and might be able to provide some handy short-cuts.

    With the 'applied skills' folks, we'd have to scrutinise every carefully. Take a modern farmer. While knowledgeable in their field, they're schooled in the realms of mechanisation and specialisation. In this, the swidden farmer from some uncontacted tribe may be more productive in a Year Zero group than the award-winning corn-grower from Iowa.

    One other aspect we'd need to consider is that the Year Zero folk's morals would have to change, hard and fast. Diet squeamishiness. What to do with our aged or sick members. Family planning. The values of 'worth'. The stupidity of individualism. And so on. We don't want to admit it, but much of our habits, actions and worldview are borne from being born/raised in a very safe, prosperous and advanced society [well, relatively to our ancestors].

    Personally, I think the Year Zero folks would fail unless every single member of the team was trained to the absolute hilt in neolithic/ancient technology, at peak fitness, between 20-25, fertile, knew exactly what they were going into, had much ethical/philosophical/sociological training beforehand, were willing/able to junk anything and everything of OldThought which conflict with their new situation and lastly, they all need a binding ethos to help them form as a viable community.

    And even then, the progress after the first generation would slow to a crawl; for it would be a law of diminishing returns knowledge-wise as each generation would forget to pass on more and more knowledge to the next one [as it would mainly be oral in communication].

    I seriously recommend you read not only Day of the Triffids, but also Jared Diamond's Collapse.
    Last edited by Mr Blobby; 2020-02-28 at 07:37 PM.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Durkoala View Post
    I've been playing minecraft survival and between dying to many blocky enemies as I try to remember how to play the game, I wonder how hard it would be to build a civilisation up from a state of no technology in real life.

    Let's say we have 2,000* people aged twenty to forty, in good health and the majority of them are able-bodied and fit to work. Each of them is an expert in at least one STEM field, biological or period of human history, or at surviving the wilderness: between them they have a reasonably thorough knowledge of all technological knowledge of the present day and all of them have taken a crash course in basic survival. If there's enough room in the collective brains, we'll include some experts in art, social sciences and other non-hard areas of knowledge, as having some cultural identity is probably important for morale.

    Now, let's drop them in an uninhabited replica of Earth, around the Mediterranean area. This is a planet that has no resources depleted by humans, and all the creatures that were driven off or hunted to extinction roam freely. The new arrivals have nothing but their bodies and their brains: no clothes, no technology. For the sake of fairness, nobody in our small army has any condition that will render them helpless or dead if deprived of modern medicine. The deaf, bipolar and those in need of glasses and other such things are out of luck, however.

    If the first generation works in reasonable harmony, how far can they get in rebuilding the world they left behind?

    How long and how many generations will it take this civilisation as a whole to build back up to Mid-twentieth century levels of technology?**

    What are the likely problems for these pioneers beyond day-to-day survival?

    What should Generation one prioritise creating first?***

    And, for fun: Are there any alternative technologies that you would like to see given more attention this time around?

    *According to a brief look around the internet, 1000 people is enough to avoid serious inbreeding problems, but I decided to double that just to give them some breathing room in case a lot of people get eaten by bears.

    **Beyond that, I feel like we'll need space flight, as a lot of our modern communications depend on satellites?

    ***I feel like farms and preserving knowledge for later generations and better infrastructure should be high on the list?
    Them being in stem fields is less important then the numbers. If you had 100 stem scientists and 100,000 people you would keep more of civilization then 2000 stem scientists, because you could actually generate the excess resources to let those people do science and not farm, weave clothes, etc. With 2000 people you are looking at nearly 100% of the population farming full time, with the small amounts that don't focused on vital side jobs. The vast majority of the knowledge will be lost because they won't have the resources to put their kids in 24 years of full time school; you might get 10 teachers that can afford to teach the kids until they are 18 and everyone in education farms part time and the kids have school only in summer and winter due to planting and harvest.

    And that assumes that retaining knowledge is the focus and not say iron smelting, making canals, etc. Island communities have abandoned much more necessary specialties like boats when reduced to small numbers.

    Science is in effect the result of rising surpluses meeting rising literacy levels and population numbers. If a person has a small chance of making a contribution you get the most contributions from large number of literate individuals with educations and the resources to explore science. If everyone is stuck farming you aren't going very far.
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    Firbolg in the Playground
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Quote Originally Posted by DeTess View Post
    Assuming that by computer you mean something somewhat resembling a modern computer, instead of the mechanically machines they had during WW2 to crack codes, then I think your estimate is way too optimistic. You're drastically underestimating the amount of precision tooling necessary to create processing units and/or the ease with which such tools can be created.

    That having been said, assuming that these people have all the necessary resources within a couple of hundred kilometers, and enough manpower to get to the first proper step of tools and automation in a reasonable time, and that they'd all get along and focus on rebuilding over their own personal ambitions, I'd reckon they'd have steam engines inside a decade, and be back up to 1940-1950's tech within another 3-5 years. After that, things would probably slow down for a bit as a lot of globalization is needed to get all the stuff you need for rockets and advanced computers. That's my estimation,a t any rate, but I'm hardly an expert myself XD
    I didn't say a modern computer. I said a computer. Something that computes. That might be on the scale of a calculator. And I imagine building an actual display would take longer.

    It's all a matter of exponential growth. Depending on availability - and obviously I'm assuming stuff is available - you could have iron inside a day or two, and some form of steel within a week. Getting to a low level of 'industry' based on steel and coal shouldn't take more than a few months, if you have the knowledge.

    Steel and coal doesn't give you smartphones, but it will give you a atmospheric steam engine, for instance. It's all a question of quickly getting away from doing everything by hand power. Once you have power and knowledge, you can basically do anything with a little time.

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    That is assuming that our Year Zero people don't either starve to death while waiting for their agriculture to get off the ground, die from some water-borne disease, freeze to death in the winter or get wiped out by an epidemic.

    Anyway, 'the knowledge' isn't the problem - it's the lack of tools. When you don't have the right tool, the performing of a simple task can be difficult to impossible. You ever tried to fell a tree without either an axe or saw? Or ability to make and use tools is one of humanity's great strengths.

    In this, you can't simply jump a step or ten to get straight to steel. You'll have to start off fashioning makeshift tools out of bone and stone, then work up to crude tools with flint or other hard igneous rock. With these, you'll be able to start some charcoal production, which should allow you to work with pottery and fired bricks. With a kiln made, you should be able to start the production of bronze which will allow the forging of basic tools, such as blades and chisels. Then, and only then can you even consider the possibility of working with iron.

    This, naturally takes into account the Year Zeros will be having to explore a virgin land with no measuring tools whatsover, almost no ability to make geological surveys beyond what they can visually see, with human muscles the only source of power and with the vast majority of the labour slated to food production. They'd be completely screwed if their immediate vicinity lacked any viable ores or even good hard stone!
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Knowledge is the key: You can have hammers, saws, spades, scythes, plows - all inside a few weeks. Days, for something simple like an axe. Unless you want to dictate that the starting point for our fledgeling civilisation is a desert of some sort.

    Clearly, I'm assuming availability. You build an oven, you burn peat, you get bog iron, you're off to a running start. Bog iron is crap, but it can be refined, and it will give you the basic tools you need to get started.

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    And you propose in these few mere weeks to fashion iron tools with... what, exactly? Bare hands? It'll take longer than that to produce the charcoal alone! And what will all the people be eating in the weeks they're slaving away at this task?
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    The first generation might get quite far, but they're on a ticking clock. It's the next few generations that will be a problem. How do you pass on the knowledge of programming in C++ when you haven't even gotten to mechanical calculators yet? It's too abstract. Even if the kids are all little geniuses that would have become just as hyper-capable as their (grand)parents in the modern world, out there most of them are going to grow up as experts in whatever is useful in their current situation. You're not going to be passing on accurate and useful knowledge of nanomedicine, not even if you have the first generation write all their knowledge down. Between the decay of the books, the unimportance of the information in their present day and the changes in language most of that knowledge will be lost.

    And that means that how far these guys will come relatively quickly depends mostly on that first generation. If it doesn't happen in the first generation, it's going to take a while.

    After that things might get more predictable. Now you've just got a bunch of people at technology level unknown who are trying to reinvent modern life pretty much from scrap. They're not going to do that with a few thousand individuals. Especially with no modern domesticated plants and animals around. Most people will be needed for food production, and then there's people building houses and furniture, making clothing... To get progress going again, you need more people. And I feel this becomes the real question (aside from the very good one Jeenleen asks on domestication) when you want to know how long they will take to get to the modern world: how many people would it take being alive at the same time to juggle all the knowledge needed to build the modern world while still keeping everything else running? And how long does it take to get to that number? I figure you're going to need around a hundred million people or so, in an optimal scenario. I mean, I live in the Netherlands, 17 million people, and we always stress the importance of trade and international treaties to each other because nobody here believes we could keep up with the entire rest of the world in every field by just closing the borders and going for it. So it's definitely more than 17 million people sitting on perfectly flat fertile land with a moderate climate.

    So say the population undergoes a proper boom, x1.5 every 25 years, that is 3 surviving children for each woman, and women starting a family in their early twenties. 2000*(1.5^27) is the first one that crosses the 100 million mark. 27 generations *25=675 years. At that point they switch, they stop spending as much time on raising many children, the population stabilizes and they start inventing. Let's be very generous and say the first generation managed to drop them around the year 1600. They might be further ahead in some areas, like steam engines, but they're massively behind in others, like how to organize a hundred million people. So let's say from there on these people can keep the same pace we did, that is 420 more years to catch up to us, plus the 675 years spend on the population boom, and the first 80 years spent on getting to a stable technology level, you can't boom while working your ass off, is a total of 1185 years.

    Or because the question was actually about mid 20th century level of technology for some reason, -70= 1115 years.

    And I'd say that's an optimistic scenario, even when not accounting for anything I haven't thought of yet. (Or for the inbreeding problem that will show up around generation 5 or so.)
    Last edited by Lvl 2 Expert; 2020-02-29 at 04:22 AM.

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Blobby View Post
    And you propose in these few mere weeks to fashion iron tools with... what, exactly? Bare hands? It'll take longer than that to produce the charcoal alone! And what will all the people be eating in the weeks they're slaving away at this task?
    I think I've made no secret of the fact that I assume availability.

    Sure, we can lose ourselves debating the utterly infinite minutiae of everything that might go wrong. But that seems unnecessarily pointless to me. This doesn't seem to me to be intended as an endless theoretical discussion of vaguely different scenarios of 'what if'. It might be, and then I politely decline to participate.

    So here's what: You don't need charcoal to heat up a .. well, it's called blæsterovn in danish, an early high oven. It used wood (or coal). What you need to produce iron is peat (with iron content, obviously), clay, and wood. Bam! Oh, and knowledge.

    I do now know how they bridged the gap from having no iron tools to work their ore - but I sure they managed, propably they hammered out their first drafts with stone or wood, and then went from there. Who knows? They managed, so it can be done, and we've already established that knowledge isn't the issue.

    So from zero to iron tools is possible in a very short time if you know how.

    Moving from iron to steel is also simple - if you know how.

    Moving from simple tools to advanced tools - also simple. It just takes time, and knowledge.

    So I maintain, if you know how, and availability isn't the issue, then you can go from neolithic to early industrial in a very short time - provided you know how.

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Blobby View Post
    And you propose in these few mere weeks to fashion iron tools with... what, exactly? Bare hands? It'll take longer than that to produce the charcoal alone! And what will all the people be eating in the weeks they're slaving away at this task?
    As someone who lives in the country and has actually handled wood and charcoal fires, no it doesn't take long to make charcoal.

    If you're setting up an industrial sized charcoal producing furnace to make dozens or hundreds of tons in one batch then it'll take some time for the process to complete and the furnace to cool. But small batches under a ton can be made quite quicky.

    Also, Keen keeps mentioning peat in regard to bog iron. Yes, what's in peat produces bog iron in some bogs. But what you really want is the red soil underneath the bog. Where I am there are non-peaty bogs that have bog iron and also some peat bogs that also produce bog iron. The common factors are iron concentrating bacteria and plants that slow the water to a crawl and provide a good environment for those bacteria to continue growing and dying for many years. Peat forming plants are good for this, but not strictly necessary.

    And like I said, the bog iron deposits proper are red soil beneath the more organic bog layers. Burning the peat itself will net a little iron, but nowhere near as much if you had dug to the red soil a bit below it.
    Quote Originally Posted by Harnel View Post
    where is the atropal? and does it have a listed LA?

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Quote Originally Posted by gomipile View Post
    As someone who lives in the country and has actually handled wood and charcoal fires, no it doesn't take long to make charcoal.

    If you're setting up an industrial sized charcoal producing furnace to make dozens or hundreds of tons in one batch then it'll take some time for the process to complete and the furnace to cool. But small batches under a ton can be made quite quicky.

    Also, Keen keeps mentioning peat in regard to bog iron. Yes, what's in peat produces bog iron in some bogs. But what you really want is the red soil underneath the bog. Where I am there are non-peaty bogs that have bog iron and also some peat bogs that also produce bog iron. The common factors are iron concentrating bacteria and plants that slow the water to a crawl and provide a good environment for those bacteria to continue growing and dying for many years. Peat forming plants are good for this, but not strictly necessary.

    And like I said, the bog iron deposits proper are red soil beneath the more organic bog layers. Burning the peat itself will net a little iron, but nowhere near as much if you had dug to the red soil a bit below it.
    I think it's mostly a translation issue? It's tørv, in danish, and translates into peat - and that's how I've always had the process described: You burn peat to get bog iron. No one ever went into additional detail, but I do realise it's sediment in the soil, not in the plant matter on top =D

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Blobby View Post
    This, naturally takes into account the Year Zeros will be having to explore a virgin land with no measuring tools whatsover, almost no ability to make geological surveys beyond what they can visually see, with human muscles the only source of power and with the vast majority of the labour slated to food production. They'd be completely screwed if their immediate vicinity lacked any viable ores or even good hard stone!
    Not really "explore a virgin land". It's a replica of Earth. The geography and geology of the Mediterranean area isn't exactly a closely guarded secret - once they work out where they are, there will certainly be people in the group who know exactly where to look for iron, tin, copper, all those basics - and who can make better than educated guesses about what crops will grow well, where.

    As others have said, the problem is there's just not enough of them to go straight to anything like a modern society. Steam power - conceivably, within a generation. But beyond that, you need a much larger population and economy to support industry, and that will take many, many generations to grow. And, inevitably, each generation will effectively "forget" a large chunk of the knowledge they began with.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    The first thing they need is something to write with. Without that, after the first generation they have nothing.
    The end of what Son? The story? There is no end. There's just the point where the storytellers stop talking.

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    The enormous problem is calorie extraction. 2000 people is a huge concentration of mouths to feed; it's going to be very difficult to keep that many people fed from the resources you can pull from the surrounding environment. Hunting and gathering is pretty much your only option at the beginning, because even if you happen to find crops you can use for agriculture, you need at minimum an entire growing season to actually produce any food via cultivation, and something to eat in the mean time. You also need to clear land, and build up a sufficient surplus of seeds to be able to plant enough to both feed your population and maintain the surplus to plant next year, which is unlikely to be a task for a single year.

    Wikipedia suggests a maximum population density of about 22 people per square mile for hunter gatherers, which let's round to 20 to make the math nicer. So you need to spread out over about 4,000 square miles, or nearly four Rhode Islands under basically completely optimal circumstances. So our lucky 2000 are spread out over a considerable area, with no method of movement faster than their own two feet, and they're going to have to spread out very quickly so as not to starve. Coordination is going to be extremely hard in other words; certainly for people used to instant and effortless modern communication. This is before you get into thorny questions like equipment; i.e. do people have shoes? If not, they're in for a world of hurt, followed by very nasty infections and probable death, because most people don't have feet callused enough to handle long distance barefoot locomotion, and the natural world is full of rocks, sticks, thorns and occasionally nasty stinging arthropods.

    STEM educated people are, as a rule, going to be fairly useless for this. Maybe my Ph.D. program was weird, but it really didn't cover things like how to stalk prey, preserve meat, make microlith tools, fire pottery, construct shelter, and so on. A bevy of experimental archaeologists specializing in prehistory and early agricultural civilizations are going to be vastly more useful than anybody but maybe a chemist or botanist; and you're really not going to need very many of them.

    Now to be sure the 2000 schmucks have some advantages, probably most importantly they'll have a modern understanding of hygiene. But unless you do round up all the experimental archaeologists (and probably even then) they'll be enormously lacking in practical skills. Academic knowledge is often a very long way from being able to actually do something with your own two hands, and hand skills are going to be vastly more important for multiple years. A lot of modern people (particularly the highly educated with money to burn) can barely chop a vegetable in a modern kitchen with a high carbon steel knife on a flat surface; you think they'll be able to knap a blade out of flint or smelt their own iron and forge a blade with a pair of rocks, then use it to butcher a deer they somehow hunted and not get fecal matter all over the carcass? Have the physical endurance to do subsistence agriculture all day every day?
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Expert:

    - That assumes the First Generations would be able to write everything down. Where's the paper going to come from? The ink? Storing the things afterwards? Once again, there's a quite a few steps to get to this point which the First Generation would be able to complete in relatively super-quick time but not skip.

    - To have said population boom, the Firsts will have to do the 'mental shifting' as I said above. To whit; it is every woman's duty to have children. Lots of them. This is going to encounter resistance at the best of times. If they've been mentally unprepared for this, there might be outright opposition to the point where the Second Generation is actually smaller and less genetically diverse.

    - Inbreeding shouldn't be a problem if we genetically pre-screen the applicants and make sure they're as diverse as possible, anybody carrying the bits for genetic disorders are rejected [avoid the 'Founder Effect'] and every single person is both fertile and willing to procreate.

    Kaptin Keen:

    - Yes, we can get bogged down in the details; but not only is the devil in them, yet I seriously think you're underestimating the 'difficulty rating' of the things to the extent we can simply skip a load of steps with no issue. I used ironworking as the example, nothing more.

    Tell me, how you going to get all that wood with no tools to cut down trees? Cut the peat into blocks and then carry them by hand to the smelting site? Don't forget you'll need to fire the clay bricks before building the oven, which if I vaguely remember right requires straw or something as a binding agent or something. At very best, our Firsts will be throwing a lot of their labour into doing this when everything else needs doing too; building shelter, foraging, trying to fashion fishing/hunting gear, trying to work with skins for clothing and so on.

    It's not surprising that the art of metal-crafting only came along to our ancestors once they'd mastered agriculture; the surpluses allowed some labour to be devoted into answering these questions. Therefore, I'd say the best method for our Firsts to survive would be to start by building a viable agricultural base. Get that sorted, and then start climbing the 'hierarchy of tools' - make very crude ones, then use them to fashion slightly better ones and so on. You can't take a handful of sand and magic it into glass, after all.

    My general point was that when we don't have 'labour-saving devices' [and hand tools count as this] the only other option is to simply throw more labour at it - the 'million people with spoons making a dam' approach. Problem is, our Firsts don't have that level of labour to throw at anything.

    As far as I think they'd get in a generation; I think they'd be lucky indeed if they reached the level of the Roman Republic.

    Personally, think we need to loosen - just a little - the definition of 'nothing'. That we allow them to take with them not only their clothes, but also let's say 15kg backpack each of kit - so packets of seeds, basic tools etc are in, but nobody can bring say a lathe. After all, not even our neolithic ancestors tried to colonise with literally nothing.
    Last edited by Mr Blobby; 2020-02-29 at 01:44 PM.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Bricks are a luxury you do not need - not for a first run. The oven I saw when I was a youth in the local stone age village (it was a sort of 'living museum' style thing, I'm not trying to claim I grew up in the actual stone age) was essentially a tall, hollowed out pile of clay.

    You can cut down trees in a number of imaginative ways - personally, I'd suggest you make a maximum effort to muck around with flint for a short a time as at all possible, which I why I'd prioritise getting a oven (is furnace a better word) running as one of the very first things.

    All those things you'd also like to prioritise? Hunting the deer, cutting the trees, tilling the soil - all of that? Easier with iron than stone!

    And I'm not kidding. 2000 people can scrape together clay, firewood (it's on the bloody ground for the taking), dig up some peat - yes, with their bare hands if they absolutely have to - to get iron tools as soon as at all possible, so they can skip the stone age in an afternoon.

    You don't get large amounts of useful metal from peat - but you really need only one spade and one axe to be on your way to making more spades, and more axes, faster.

    Again - I assume availability. Not just of the proper style of ground to produce the metal. I also assume our 2000 people can survive for a couple of days on berries, roots, eggs, fruit, rabbits, dodos and whatever.

    But I'm really absolutely serious: Get metal first. Everything else is a mistake.

    Edit: Hey, sorry if I seem ... overly invested. We just cannot keep going over this same point round and round. I have no doubt that I'm right, and if you feel differently, that's fine =D
    Last edited by Kaptin Keen; 2020-02-29 at 04:28 PM.

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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Your point makes more sense if the First Generation a) reside in a location with ample foodstuffs 'ready for the taking', b) they know the location of said raw materials, c) are very close to all of them and d) can easily extract them. However, I don't think that would happen; for example, I know that Cornwall was rich in tin [allowing the making of bronze] but I don't know the foggiest exactly where without a handy map or whatever.

    Which raises the point that the First Generation would not even know exactly they'd been dumped. After all, the world has seen human hands for centuries, millennia and the area would look very different when virgin. An learned person may be able to extrapolate from the viewing of flora/fauna, climate etc but even then they'd find it impossible to distinguish between similar regions. And if they'd gone back far enough in time, even the coastlines etc may be completely different.

    My reasoning is this; you can live for a long time without iron tools. You can't live long without shelter, and even less long without food. Which is why I'd prioritise finding suitable areas for food production/gathering over everything else, and set to work constructing shelter as the first pirority.

    However, with 2k people, it makes sense for them to split into 20 groups of 100 each and to each strike out in different directions. If nothing else, to reduce the strain on the local environment with hunting and foraging.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Getting a source of iron is really only about half the battle for an actual iron tool. Whether you're going from bog iron or smelting ore, you need to consolidate the material, which is sort of a crumbly porous stuff. This takes repeated heating and careful hammering to get a solid piece. At a bare minimum you'll need some form of hammer, anvil and tongs, and probably charcoal and some form of bellows to get a high enough and controlled enough temperature. Then you need more heat and manipulation to turn the consolidated piece into something that actually can be used as a tool. If you're going for something sharp, you'll still need more work and some sort of grinding tools, because you can't forge an edge fine enough to actually cut anything. This is probably multiple days worth of very heavy, and at least moderately dangerous, labor, out of which you will get an item of genuinely dubious quality.

    On the other hand if you've got flint, chert or obsidian available you can get yourself a perfectly usable cutting implement within an afternoon or less. From there you can start bootstrapping your way to hafted tools, more advanced microlithic tools, and so on. And more importantly can begin harvesting food pretty much immediately. Given the amount of labor involved in any of this, you're going to need to rustle up on the order of 2,000 calories per person per day, minimum. This is going to take a lot of person-hours; and in any small area will simply not be possible.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    I'd say the first 2 to 5 years will mostly be creating a stable and reliable food-clothing-shelter-clean water living situation. Probably involving splitting into smaller groups during the hunt/gather phase.

    You may, if leadership and personallities allow, have some small work groups for starting pottery, metal, and paper industries. The Med is a pretty mild climate and shouldn't provide significant survival issues. Barring a mega-volcano and little ice age type stuff.

    Once society is stable you push a full on papyrus production and people start taking turns writing down everything. Don't worry if it isn't useful this decade. Record it and store it in a dry cave.

    The biggest danger is going to be people and personalities.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Well, bog-iron offers purity levels as low as 1%, so you'd have to process a lot of it. So to produce ~5kg of iron from 5% purity bogs you'd need ~100kg of ore. You'd have to use charcoal, as wood doesn't offer high enough temperatures. Wood to charcoal is a ratio of about 4:1, and you'd need (I believe) the ore - charcoal ratios to be at least equal. Therefore, we're looking at needing around half a tonne of raw wood. All produced and transported with no equipment.

    We also need to remember that charcoal requires cured, seasoned wood. Therefore, no green sticks or damp branches from forest floor. In this case, you'd have to expend energy collecting and stacking said wood to dry out before charcoal creation. Naturally, not all wood will cure in an uncovered stack unless you're in a warm, dry climate. And do it in the right season. So the wood needs would rise to perhaps ~600kg of raw wood for our ~5kg of iron. [It's one of the reasons the Med region ended up deforesting so early in history...]

    Goblin - I think you're vastly under-estimating the calorific needs of the First Generation. These people will be doing heavy physical labour on a daily basis and therefore will require a lot more fuel. If they're in a cold locale they'll need even more [as the human body will expend more energy in keeping warm]. '2,000' is meant for an adult woman who lives basically a sedentary life and is neither pregnant or nursing. No such woman would exist for the First Generation.
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    Default Re: How long would it take to bootstrap modern civilisation again from nothing?

    Speaking from life experience plus having been around anthropologists and people still operating as foragers...

    Regional-specific bushcraft is a knowledge discipline on its own that requires years of practice to get to the point that you can thrive, full-time, in an indifferent environment. Kids have to be taught how to function while being protected from lethal failure as much as possible, and as they age to develop skillsets that have to be practiced until mastery is reached. The general principles of this overlap with what hunters and military personnel learn in survival training, but it is the context-embedded logic that are added on top of the first principles that make foraging work long-term.

    And I say that having repeatedly been the dolt that didn't know why something would kill me. Miss a sound cue of danger in a sound dense environment, fail to visually clock a tiny detail in a mass of greenery that surrounds you, eat something in the wrong season, et cetera.

    2000 naked experts are going to have problems because most people in the world operate within the same embedded logic: electricity, fully-enclosed manifold residences, easy transportation, spaces purpose-built for ease of human mobility, ubiquity of basic medications (pain relief, allergy suppression, anti-diarrheal, anti-constipation, vitamins etc). People go to parks and climb up or down not thinking about how easy it would be to reverse the procedure, and get stuck; they get too close to animals because they're in awe; they touch stuff and then touch their mouths.

    There are other, less-universal things that a people that had access to higher-learning probably are used to, like...tools and equipment that are necessary to their work that they cannot construct or repair. Expertise as full time occupation, by its nature presumes a battalion of workers providing support services: technicians and admin worker directly, but also the indirectly the factory labor of every person that builds a machine, prints a book, makes a piece of single-use plastic equipment. Make a plan and begin its execution, but miss an intermediate step that requires labor or a tool not present, and that failure that could completely stop a project that has a hard deadline, even in the human-supportive environment of modernity. In total exposure, it's likely to get people killed.

    Specifically important...and a thing that people get wrong all the time because of the assumption of easy travel (even on foot, because planned human spaces) is logistics. A medic you can't reach can't help you. A resource you can't carry safely because of its bulk, or because of the walking environment, becomes dangerous. Be in the wrong region when the weather turns and you're stuck: no reversing out, maybe no going forward either.

    Which is all to say that these 2K people are going to be extremely vulnerable right at the start, having neither the skills nor the mindsets nor their normal toolset, and the first gate the project would have to pass through would be the inevitable deaths during the first couple of years.

    Which makes the "rebuild civilization" thing a anybody's guess, because who dies alters the arc of development. Even with redundancy, death makes certain kinds of knowledge less available, particularly since memory is fallible.

    And, well, there are a bunch of skills necessary to society that aren't academic, so a random walk of deaths could cripple the less-concrete skills that hold people together. An expert in doing something isn't necessarily a good teacher or good at working cross-disciplinarily, so there's a purely social-structure problem, where if good communicators die then it's not just their knowledge pool that is lost, but their catalyzing effect on necessary ideas exchanges. Caregiving and empathy are also necessary skills, because personal distress and interpersonal conflict in small communities have massive ripples.

    And somewhere in here...belief is also not addressed: two thousand modern people are going to have ideologies, perspectives, and those are going to pop out in strange ways when isolated with no possibility of leaving the band they're in. Maintaining shared values and smoothing out differences of perspectives is a job; culture itself requires maintenance. That many people, there are going to be subcultures...particularly since, as warty goblin pointed out, they're going to have to split up to not starve...plus strong personalities that guide others' thinking, and hierarchies that are not strictly functional (planning group leader, expert) are going to develop.

    And this is dark, but...who a person is embedded in a culture where there's clear consequences for antisocial choices--the law, but also the social norms--is not necessarily who they are when there's less consequences. Intentional communities go bad because of internal debate over supposedly agreed-upon principles and the way that daily practice tends to not match to principles. And any behavior can be normalized if you mix the right positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Cults aren't full of dumb gullible people, but normal people made vulnerable because they're desperate, shifted into an isolated, structured environment where they can be pressured to comply to worse and worse stuff. The community in this thought experiment potentially has all of these problems and no pressure valve.

    Civilization has a lot of vices; one of them is just world theory, and it's going to come out in force in this kind of bottle situation. People are going to die because the situation is random and cruel; there won't always be a lesson to learn. A behavior that was benign yesterday will get you killed today...but there are going to be community members that see fate, or a pattern, or just personal triumph, in the noise. And if that coagulates into beliefs it's going to bend the arc of development into something unhealthy.

    I see people worry about modern folks being too kind in a survival scenario, but I equally have the opposite concern: that they'd be ruthless because they imagine that's the right thing to do--because of a story they've told themselves about how survival works that they've never checked with say, an anthropologist or an actual person who lives that way. The sheer number of dudes I know who have a personal power fantasy of "I'll be the awesome one if society fails, because I'm so primed to fight and be a hard-ass" makes me think about it, especially since it's such comic contrast to the kindness and hospitality of the impossibly tough people I've know living as foragers, pastoralists, and subsistence farmers.

    I'm not optimistic that these people would be rebuilding anything. It's not "they're dumb, lol, they can skin a buck," it's that they're being through into the deep end of both a subsistence problem and a culture problem, simultaneously, with few skills and no resources.
    Last edited by Yanagi; 2020-02-29 at 05:58 PM.

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