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Industrial revolution before the Iron Age?

  1. May 23, 2017 #1
    Lets suppose for a stroy, that a time traveller arrive in a civilization that hasnt reached iron age yet. He isnt a well qualified engineer or doctor, but he becomes a king.
    How much he could help their development by simply telling : with really hot fire, you could produce iron, not just shape gold and cooper? By injecting weak microbes you could immunize yourselves against epidemics? You could build watermills?
     
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  3. May 23, 2017 #2

    mfb

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    Lewis Dartnell: The Knowledge - how to rebuild our world from scratch

    The scenario considered in the book (>99% of the population suddenly dies, how to restart) is different, but many things apply to a time travel scenario as well.

    You could probably help a lot, but the most important help would be "there is so much you can learn" and scientific methods.

    The key point to making iron is not making a hot fire. It is the question how to make a hot fire, how to get the carbon content right, and so on. They don't know. Unless you happen to be an expert in medieval metallurgy, chances are good you don't know either. You would need groups of people working on it to see how you can do all these things. They don't produce much useful while doing research, so you first need enough surplus working time.

    Crop rotation would be a very useful thing to introduce. That also needs some research what to rotate how, but it can improve food production a lot, and free time to work on iron and so on.

    Some basic fertilizers can be made out of wood and other materials you might find in the environment.
    I don't see how you could produce weak microbes in that environment, apart from the few cases where animal infections can help directly. But you can introduce the concept of germs and improve the sanitary standards.
     
  4. May 24, 2017 #3

    Ryan_m_b

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    Can you tell us more about this story? What's the plot, the limitations etc? It might work better if it's spread over multiple generations rather than one time travelling protagonist recreating the victorian era in mesopotamia.

    Do you know how to find iron? How to build a kiln? What about the pottery/ceramic tools needed? Do you know how to safely open a vein? How to source pathogens that wont kill you? Do you know how to shape stone? How to build pulleys, scaffold, wooden joints etc? It's not enough to know that a technology can work, if you don't know the manufacturing techniques (or even the manufacturing techniques for the tools to begin manufacture, or the tools for that etc.) You're probably just going to waste time and resources that an early agrarian society cannot afford.

    You'd have to set your sights way, way lower than the industrial revolution. It may have been possible for it to happen earlier elsewhere (like in China) but it's not likely possible without a large organised society with access to plenty of natural resources and an economic system that can support engineers, scholars, students etc.

    I agree with mfb that instituting different practices and ways of thought would be the focus over a random grab-bag of technology. Basic ideas of agriculture that give rise to a food surplus allowing for greater economic specialization would be an absolute must. followed by the adoption of the scientific method. But even beyond that you face the problem that natural resources are often very spread out. So you're going to need a way for your fledgling tribe to grow, explore, trade and maybe even conquer.
     
  5. May 24, 2017 #4
    That society would be on the level to build pyramids so enough workforce, but not yet given up human sacrifice, and they wont unless a serious development happens, that would be the goal of the time traveller. That ancient society could already learn mining shape gold and cooper, maybe have experiments with bronze.
     
  6. May 24, 2017 #5

    Ryan_m_b

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    This kind of society still fits with the feedback so far. Unless the time traveller knows specifics he doesn't have a lot to teach the locals other than the fact that such things are (supposedly, they might not believe him) possible. Focusing on developing the economy to support an academic class is still the best strategy.

    Incidentally the short story Adaptation by Mack Reynolds is concerned with a similar idea. It's an old story and is a very heavy handed poke at the cold war but it's quite interesting. The plot revolves around a space ship sent from Earth in the far future to "modernise" two fallen colonies. One planet has recovered to a feudal city-state like status, the other to a level of technology akin to the Aztecs. The team has 50 years to develop both the planets by any means necessary.
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24749/24749-h/24749-h.htm
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2017
  7. May 24, 2017 #6
    Thanks i'll read it. :)
    My story is pretty fluid now, maybe hostile time travellers also appear with proper equipment.
    What is the minimal equipment, infrastructure needed to produce vaccination?
    That one, and redirect manpower to experiment until they can build an iron smelter instead of a pyramid were a great start to development.
     
  8. May 24, 2017 #7

    Ryan_m_b

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    I'm afraid there's no simple answer to that, it depends entirely on the disease. Take Ebola for example; despite a huge amount of research manhours and money over the past few decades (with a big peak in recent years) we still don't have one beyond the experimental stage. And that's with modern scientific equipment, international organisations, financial institutions etc. On the flip side various groups practiced inoculation against smallpox centuries ago. They simply rubbed scabs from someone with it into shallow cuts of someone without it:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variolation

    Obviously modern methods are a lot better though. Beyond vaccines just an idea of germ theory and hygiene would be hugely helpful. If the traveller knew simple ways of making penicillin (IIRC it was first manufactured with mouldy bread in glass vessels) that would be drastically helpful too.
     
  9. May 24, 2017 #8
    Have your read the Death World trilogy?
     
  10. May 25, 2017 #9
    No. But sounds interesting. :)
     
  11. May 27, 2017 #10
    For preventing disease, you probably can't do a lot of vaccination, apart from the easy stuff like cowpox for smallpox. I'd focus instead on quarantine, sanitation (you can't make a sanitation system, but you can probably get people to dump sewage downriver from where they wash and get drinking water), and treating wounds and infections with easy to access antiseptics like alcohol.
    Other random thoughts of easy to implement modern techniques:
    Rhythm method of birth control
    Not using lead as eye shadow (this is something Egyptians did!) or other things that lead to lead exposure
    Physical therapy for disabled people

    You can actually find instruction booklets online aimed at people in rural areas of poor countries that tells them how to do low-tech medical treatment and therapy here. Those strategies would be extremely useful for your time traveler.
     
  12. Jun 3, 2017 #11
    Probably the time traveller could help with sanitary systems? Savage shouldnt just flow on the streets of the cities, and clean the streets regularly?
    Could they find some way to disinfect, clean drink water?
     
  13. Jun 3, 2017 #12

    mfb

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    Yes, as mentioned in post 2 and 3 already.

    Filtering and boiling water is not perfect, but it reduces the risk of infections significantly.
     
  14. Jun 4, 2017 #13
    I would think that the biggest impact a time traveler could have on an Iron Age culture is basic education. Simple mathematics, a written language, the concept of a legal system, animal husbandry, horticulture, etc., and then let the culture develop from there. They may not leap as far ahead as quickly as say giving them crop rotation, an aqueduct system, or steam powered engines, but they should still advance technologically by several hundred years over a much longer period of time. Assuming some catastrophe doesn't befall them creating the Atlantis myth. :wink:
     
  15. Jun 4, 2017 #14

    mfb

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    The Egyptians had all that in the Bronze Age already, and various other regions had that as well.
     
  16. Jun 4, 2017 #15
    That's why beer was developed. The alcohol made it safe even if it was made from dirty water.
    Not sure if beer is the humanity's biggest invention though... o:)
     
  17. Jun 10, 2017 #16
    I wonder about things that could help maintain time travellers might as king.
    How hard would be to build siege and flaming weapons? Again setting is ancient Meso america.
    (Well, speak about inventions, they didnt have wheel, but i doubt, that only because lack of invention. They didnt have oxes, horses, iron to reinforce wheels, incas had good roads, but mountain terrain, wheels practicality would have been seriously limited.)
     
  18. Jun 10, 2017 #17

    mfb

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    Good roads for animals: yes.
    Good roads for wheels? You probably want stone roads for that. Stone stairs were used in very steep places, that is not very wheel-friendly either.

    You can do a lot with better engineering and chemistry.
     
  19. Jun 10, 2017 #18
    No, but storing it so that it's good for a year or a few might have been
     
  20. Jun 10, 2017 #19
    Reverse time travel is considered to be impossible.
    Because it take more of whatever time is to go backwards than it does to go forward.
     
  21. Jun 11, 2017 #20
    It's still an interesting exercise that makes you realize how little we actually know about all the technology we use every day.
     
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