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 Post subject: Non-agricultural empires
PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 2:11 pm 
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I've been thinking about a conland which grows into an empire without inventing agriculture. What would help make this more plausible? As always, I'm not the most zealous when it comes to realism, but I do like to get by without too many blatantly unrealistic details if possible.

Specifically I'm planning to put it in central America, if that makes any difference.

As Zomp explains in his book, hunter-gatherer cultures are less likely to develop larger nations, because there is nothing that a ruler can take from them or give them. But perhaps it's possible to think of some commodity that rulers might offer to the people, thereby building up their economic power? How about salt, for example?

Another problem is that such cultures tend to be a lot less dense, which makes it harder to support cities. So let's assume, to begin with, that this culture is at least relatively dense for a hunter-gatherer culture. It should presumably be possible for some of the people to become sedentary - they might for example live near a lake with lots of fish providing their immediate food needs. Then perhaps they can develop some slightly more advanced tools than the nomadic peoples, which they can also offer to trade. And if there are a few other things which the nomads want to trade with each other, a city will obviously act as a trade hub.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 3:00 pm 
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I don't know if a full Aztec or Roman style empire would be possible without any agriculture, but it's possible for a fairly complex civilization to grow without any farming. One good place to look at would be the Andes civiliations and the work of Mike Moseley. The chiefdoms from the Pacific Northwest would also be a good example. If you want to have little to no agriculture just make sure there is an abundance of natural resources that make it so it's not required, like a ton of fish. Fishing may even be the easiest route, just make sure your culture begins to develop along the coast.

But if you're planning on putting your empire in central America you'll probably need at least a little agriculture. I don't know if the land had enough hunting or wild plants or good enough fishing to support that kind of cultural development, since all of the Mesoamerican cultures I'm familiar with had farming.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 4:29 pm 
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Chuma wrote:
I've been thinking about a conland which grows into an empire without inventing agriculture. What would help make this more plausible?

Specifically I'm planning to put it in central America, if that makes any difference.

As Zomp explains in his book, hunter-gatherer cultures are less likely to develop larger nations, because there is nothing that a ruler can take from them or give them. But perhaps it's possible to think of some commodity that rulers might offer to the people, thereby building up their economic power? How about salt, for example?


Salt would work.

though maybe a mountain tribe (headhunters, or the lowlanders think they are) gets an inspirational leader, ala Temujin, who leads them to conquer key cities in the lowlands, thus becoming the ruling class.

would that work?

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 5:12 pm 
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Rodlox wrote:
though maybe a mountain tribe (headhunters, or the lowlanders think they are) gets an inspirational leader, ala Temujin, who leads them to conquer key cities in the lowlands, thus becoming the ruling class.

would that work?

Does that really count? I mean, if the civilization they conquer is agricultural, the assumption would be that the invaders would eventually assimilate to that, right? They wouldn't just pick up everyone and force them to stop?


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 5:20 pm 
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roninbodhisattva wrote:
Rodlox wrote:
though maybe a mountain tribe (headhunters, or the lowlanders think they are) gets an inspirational leader, ala Temujin, who leads them to conquer key cities in the lowlands, thus becoming the ruling class.

would that work?

Does that really count? I mean, if the civilization they conquer is agricultural, the assumption would be that the invaders would eventually assimilate to that, right? They wouldn't just pick up everyone and force them to stop?


likely not, true.

it was more a thought as to how to skip from hunter-gatherer to empire, without stopping for agriculture along the way. but yeah, after the conquest, its just a matter of time before they adopt the agriculture of their subjects.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 5:28 pm 
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Nomadic empires, aside from the famous Mongols and Huns, are entirely possible. In fact, there were shitloads of large nomadic empires even before the Mongols, and many of them didn't even really conquer that much of agrarian civilizations. For instance:

Xiongnu
Rouran/Ruan-Ruan
Hephthalites
Gokturk Khanate


There are several more, but I think the thing to notice about these types of nomadic empires in general is that - at least so Wikipedia says - they had confederation type governments, which meant they probably weren't that centralized, which makes sense, considering the fact they probably did not own large population centers anyways. However, some of them did control some powerful trading cities, particularly along the Silk Road, and I think using trade as a way to have cities pop up (cities popping up in the region between Region A and Region B because A and B are trading) is plausible.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 3:25 am 
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Conquering, that's certainly an idea. But what I had in mind was that they would develop civilisation (including cities) and some sort of empire before agriculture existed in the area.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 3:37 am 
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Chuma wrote:
Conquering, that's certainly an idea. But what I had in mind was that they would develop civilisation (including cities) and some sort of empire before agriculture existed in the area.


The examples I showed above functioned for quite some time without conquering much, as they were nomadic confederations. Granted, they didn't really have much of cities or anything, although they may have built up some trading settlements, but I'm not too sure on that. I think your best bet is to somehow have the nomads - or not even nomads, but other groups as well - set up settlements along trade routes, with the trade being the catalyst for growth in those cities.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 7:05 am 
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The trade thing sounds plausible. Another possibility is expansion through colonization. Maybe the nomads crossed a sea and settled in a new land, but contact with the mainland was retained, and a colonial empire was founded. And, if you want cities, maybe the colony had to have a place where the goverment would be, leading to the founding of a city.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 7:35 am 
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cybrxkhan wrote:
Nomadic empires, aside from the famous Mongols and Huns, are entirely possible. In fact, there were shitloads of large nomadic empires even before the Mongols, and many of them didn't even really conquer that much of agrarian civilizations. For instance:

Xiongnu
Rouran/Ruan-Ruan
Hephthalites
Gokturk Khanate


There are several more, but I think the thing to notice about these types of nomadic empires in general is that - at least so Wikipedia says - they had confederation type governments, which meant they probably weren't that centralized, which makes sense, considering the fact they probably did not own large population centers anyways. However, some of them did control some powerful trading cities, particularly along the Silk Road, and I think using trade as a way to have cities pop up (cities popping up in the region between Region A and Region B because A and B are trading) is plausible.
Those are all nomadic herders though, not hunter-gatherers like the OP asked for.

I don't think you can closer than the Pacific Northwest really.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 3:02 pm 
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jmcd wrote:
Those are all nomadic herders though, not hunter-gatherers like the OP asked for.

Yeah, it's not quite the same. And I expect they would appear in different areas.
jmcd wrote:
I don't think you can closer than the Pacific Northwest really.

Don't think you can what?

My general plan, as mentioned in other threads, is that the Americans develop a superior civilisation and kick the asses of the European colonisers. The capital would be around Panama, controlling the trade in all directions, land and sea. I expect it might be hard to get all the way to medieval technology without agriculture, but at least they could get started.

I'm not sure exactly what the climate is like in Panama, but I'm hoping it's the kind where you could live a happy densely populated hunter-gatherer life.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 3:11 pm 
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Mr. Z wrote:
The trade thing sounds plausible. Another possibility is expansion through colonization. Maybe the nomads crossed a sea and settled in a new land, but contact with the mainland was retained, and a colonial empire was founded. And, if you want cities, maybe the colony had to have a place where the goverment would be, leading to the founding of a city.


What would a colony of nomads look like? How would they have the technology necessary to cross a sea?

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 3:23 pm 
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Chuma wrote:
jmcd wrote:
Those are all nomadic herders though, not hunter-gatherers like the OP asked for.

Yeah, it's not quite the same. And I expect they would appear in different areas.
jmcd wrote:
I don't think you can closer than the Pacific Northwest really.

Don't think you can what?

My general plan, as mentioned in other threads, is that the Americans develop a superior civilisation and kick the asses of the European colonisers.


like the Aztecs and Inca did on several occasions, then.
(because no matter how many victories they get, there would always be more Europeans thinking "i will be different, i will succeed in defeating them")

but I wish you all the best in this - it sounds like a fun project.

Quote:
The capital would be around Panama, controlling the trade in all directions, land and sea. I expect it might be hard to get all the way to medieval technology without agriculture, but at least they could get started.

I'm not sure exactly what the climate is like in Panama, but I'm hoping it's the kind where you could live a happy densely populated hunter-gatherer life.


I don't know about densely-populated...for one thing, its rainforest, so edible plants aren't close together -- and Panama is the sort of place that colonizers go to die (look at the Scots' Darien settlement)


patiku wrote:
Mr. Z wrote:
The trade thing sounds plausible. Another possibility is expansion through colonization. Maybe the nomads crossed a sea and settled in a new land, but contact with the mainland was retained, and a colonial empire was founded. And, if you want cities, maybe the colony had to have a place where the goverment would be, leading to the founding of a city.


What would a colony of nomads look like? How would they have the technology necessary to cross a sea?


there's a (sort of) nomadic people in the Philippines who live 99% of their lives in canoes and boats. (Les Stroud visited them on the Discovery Channel)

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 5:01 pm 
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Chuma wrote:
jmcd wrote:
Those are all nomadic herders though, not hunter-gatherers like the OP asked for.

Yeah, it's not quite the same. And I expect they would appear in different areas.
jmcd wrote:
I don't think you can closer than the Pacific Northwest really.

Don't think you can what?

My general plan, as mentioned in other threads, is that the Americans develop a superior civilisation and kick the asses of the European colonisers. The capital would be around Panama, controlling the trade in all directions, land and sea. I expect it might be hard to get all the way to medieval technology without agriculture, but at least they could get started.

I'm not sure exactly what the climate is like in Panama, but I'm hoping it's the kind where you could live a happy densely populated hunter-gatherer life.

Oops sorry I meant ot add 'get'. I would've said you could have them getting horses and guns from Native Americans further east but with the Europeans staying completely on the east coast but that wouldn't cover the extent of what you want. At which point does your timeline diverge in any case?

Rodlox wrote:
Chuma wrote:
My general plan, as mentioned in other threads, is that the Americans develop a superior civilisation and kick the asses of the European colonisers.


like the Aztecs and Inca did on several occasions, then.
(because no matter how many victories they get, there would always be more Europeans thinking "i will be different, i will succeed in defeating them")
Iexpect they're wanting something which continues to be victorious rather than eventually succumb. Closer to Japan than the Aztecs perhaps, in terms of relation to the Europeans.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 6:26 pm 
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Rodlox wrote:
like the Aztecs and Inca did on several occasions, then.

Maybe a slightly harder kicking. I was thinking they strike back and take over Europe instead.

jmcd wrote:
At which point does your timeline diverge in any case?

Much earlier. I had some trouble thinking of weapons to beat the Europeans without gunpowder, but recently I've come up with a simple idea: Give the Europeans a little help making better ships, and they can start invading long before they have gunpowder.

So they can't get guns from the north. And they have their famed compound bowmen anyway, so that's no problem. But anyway, that's the subject of a completely different thread. This thread is about what happens long before any intercontinental travel.

Rodlox wrote:
for one thing, its rainforest, so edible plants aren't close together

I don't know much about rainforests... I would have thought they had all sorts plants close together. Where would be a better place to find lots of edible plants?

Of course, an alternate history can alternate in ways other than cultural. There might for example be other plants. But potatoes seem like a useful plant - they must have existed in the wild at first, after all.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 8:14 pm 
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Quote:
Rodlox wrote:
Chuma wrote:
My general plan, as mentioned in other threads, is that the Americans develop a superior civilisation and kick the asses of the European colonisers.


like the Aztecs and Inca did on several occasions, then.
(because no matter how many victories they get, there would always be more Europeans thinking "i will be different, i will succeed in defeating them")
Iexpect they're wanting something which continues to be victorious rather than eventually succumb.


ah, the Mongol Empire. ;)

Quote:
Closer to Japan than the Aztecs perhaps, in terms of relation to the Europeans.


that sounds like it would require a change in attitude on the part of the Europeans (and possibly having a large "China" nearby to distract the Europeans for a few centuries).

you only need one Commadore Perry, after all.

Chuma wrote:
Rodlox wrote:
like the Aztecs and Inca did on several occasions, then.

Maybe a slightly harder kicking. I was thinking they strike back and take over Europe instead.


so now, not only are they the military superiors of the Europeans, but they also have better boat skills and navigational ability. one would think the Europeans would open trade with these guys (being closer to equals than all the other Natives) instead of conquest.


Quote:
Rodlox wrote:
for one thing, its rainforest, so edible plants aren't close together

I don't know much about rainforests... I would have thought they had all sorts plants close together. Where would be a better place to find lots of edible plants?


they do have lots of plants close together, many of which have medicinal uses. but nothing grows close to others of its own kind. that's part of why rainforests don't have dense populations of any people.

lots of edible plants? well, there's the agricultural trinity of North America (corn, beans, squash)...or the Peruvian coast's potatoes. or swamps.

Quote:
But potatoes seem like a useful plant - they must have existed in the wild at first, after all.


oh they do. and they did.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 10:34 pm 
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I think a problem that needs to be considered is why large cities would not develop agriculture.

That is, if you have hunter-gatherers living together in moderate to high density, they are going to want a surplus of food which they can develop through trade in addition to hunting and gathering. If any food is of the seed variety, eventually (say a two-three generations on the inside), enough seed will be spilled, lost, thrown out, or intentionally sown that wild patches will grow in that city. Again, eventually, plants and cross-bred plants would appear that grow more food, and from there, the process is almost unstoppable. if a surplus of high-yield plants can be had, it's unlikely for a line to be eaten entirely, and now agriculture is born.

To recap,
1) Influx of seeds through trade from many areas
2) Various sowing resulting wild patch cultivation (which has been evidenced in real-world Hunter-Gatherer societies, some CA Natives e.g.)
3) Higher yield plants whose lines survive shortages
4) Intentional planting (agriculture).

For those who are interested, I take this idea from Jane Jacobs' Economy of Cities.

So, to restate the question, if you don't want an agricultural base (to begin with), why did cities not develop agriculture?


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 19, 2011 7:12 am 
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Well, maybe they should. I haven't decided for how long they should remain non-agricultural. There are various possibilities:
- the hunter-gatherers form a city, the city invents agriculture, they spread it to the rest of the two continents
- the city is tiny and placed on a mountain where nothing grows, so they don't develop agriculture, and only after they've spread some decent civilisation to the other peoples does agriculture slowly develop
- thru biological serendipity they happen to have tons of food and therefore no need for agriculture ever, so when the Europeans arrive they have reached roughly medieval technology without agriculture

Experience suggests that the first would be the most plausible, but then again that might be partly bias; just because something happened in the real history doesn't mean it was the only way.

Rodlox wrote:
so now, not only are they the military superiors of the Europeans, but they also have better boat skills and navigational ability.

Not unthinkable, considering that the area is awfully suitable for naval trading.

Rodlox wrote:
one would think the Europeans would open trade with these guys (being closer to equals than all the other Natives) instead of conquest.

Ah, but the Europeans first reach northeastern America, on the far outskirts of the empire. They see a few scattered tribes, without big cities, possibly still without agriculture, and so they assume that these are just a bunch of savages. Little do they know that there is a highly sophisticated empire down south, so they put down their flags and claim this new land. Once they meet the empire, they have already decided that these are their new colonies, which leads to some heated arguing. The Americans promptly kick out the Europeans, spend a century or so further developing their ships, and then set off for Europe. The Europeans are not in a friendly mood, having already been beaten by these heathens once, and the Americans are used to ruling everyone they find. Over the next couple of centuries there is a mix of trading and fighting, until the Americans finally make the European states a kind of religious vassals (much like the Catholic church did in real history).

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 19, 2011 2:30 pm 
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Typical hunter gatherer societies have a population density of about 0.1 per square mile (even lower in deserts and other poor environments). Seasonal collections of hunter gatherers today rarely exceed 100 people, and even then it's usually temporary and a result of water shortage. What of sedentary hunter gatherers? Well they managed to approach (but not exceed) one person per square mile in fishing villages, further inland not so much. So let's assume your population density gets up to one person per square mile, which is still pretty damn high for a permanent settlement, and will require some suspension of disbelief.

So how many people can live in your village? Let's set aside the issue of importing food for now, and see if they can get their food locally. Let's draw a circle half a day's walk from the village. That's how far your residents can walk to find food and still get back at night. If a person can comfortably walk 16 miles a day, that gives us a circle of radius 8 miles. The area is 201 square miles, enough to support 201 people. But remember this is stretching it quite a bit, asking our people to walk eight miles to find food in a ludicrously rich environment and then come back to trade at night or something. And bringing the food into the village is going to denude an entire region of food. Imagine you are a food importer who lives two days walk from the village. You gather one man-day worth of food to bring in to the village. You also have to eat this day, and eat the four days it will take you to walk to the village and back. So you have to gather six man-days worth of food in one day to stay in business. During this five day cycle, you've only brought one man-day of food into the village, so it would take five such food carriers to support one non-producing person in the village. This means for each person in the village we will need five people collecting a month's worth of food in less than a week. And that's if all the food can be found only two days away!

Frankly, I don't think this is going to work. You'll never get a population large enough to field an army or even a sizable bureaucracy. Just let them farm.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 19, 2011 2:42 pm 
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brandrinn wrote:
Frankly, I don't think this is going to work. You'll never get a population large enough to field an army or even a sizable bureaucracy. Just let them farm.


And lots of groups in America practiced some type of agriculture, anyways, besides the MesoAmerican civilizations and the Andean ones, for instance. There was a big culture based on the Mississippi river, and various groups, including the peoples of the southwestern US, the Iroquois, and the Amazonian peoples, all practiced agriculture.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 19, 2011 8:37 pm 
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Cyb: Of course, there were lots of people in precolumbian America who farmed. I'm fully aware of that.

Brandrinn: That's a good calculation, but I'm not quite sure.

When your example guy collects one man-day worth of food (let's call it a "unit" for simplicity) to bring to the city, he has an average output of 1/5 unit/day delivered. But that's assuming he only delivers one unit each time, which would be very inefficient. Assuming that he collects six units in a day, he could just forage for one more day before leaving, bringing his output up to 1 unit/day.

The question is, how much can a guy carry? According to Planet Construction Kit, a marching soldier can carry about 70 pounds, and needs 3 pounds of food in a day. So he should easily manage 20 units.

Then we have to take into account that there's not an unlimited amount of food two days away either. Which is when this little exercise starts getting really messy. But let's simplify.
We look at an area five days' walk from the city. A carrier who doesn't do the foraging himself would have a minimum output of 1 unit/day. Someone needs to do the foraging - let's say you can forage 5 units/day. The radius is 10 times what you said, so the area is 100 times bigger, so the maximum population of that whole area is about 20 000. Result: 4000 foragers, 8000 carriers, 8000 city dwellers. That's basically under the assumption that all the food is five days away, so it's a low estimate.
(A more precise calculation should be a pretty neat exercise in calculus. But I'm just not in the mood. :P)

Then there are other modes of transport. If there are some kind of roads, it should be possible to move things a little bit more effectively. Why not invent the wheel? And of course, boats.

On an even less realistic note - you know what would be awesome? Unmanned boats! Suppose there is a river with a lot of little branches. The people place rocks or logs along each stream to make sure the edges of the stream are smooth, and then they have boats that are round, so they don't get caught on anything. The boats could even have like a roof, so they don't risk flipping over... okay, they could basically be barrels. Then the people would send the barrels/boats down the stream, and they would float along merrily all the way to the capital at the mouth of the river.
How come people don't do this? Maybe I'm just too tired to see why it's a stupid idea. Yep, probably time for bed. :)

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2011 12:55 am 
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Look, all of these calculations require a person to be able to collect an absurd amount of food in a day, and that this collection will not deplete the land so much that he can't go out the next day and do the same thing. So we might as well be talking about unicorns. Even sedentary hunter gatherers never achieved food productivity on this level. I'm telling you, the only way you're going to make this work is with farming or magic. Take your pick.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2011 7:18 am 
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Oh, it's just a matter of how much reality needs to be twisted. :)

As for depleting the land - that's what the population limit in the calculation is for. We said that a square mile of land can support one person - that means he can go out and do the same thing the next day, right?
As for how much you can collect in a day, again citing the PCK, the Piraha work 15-20 hours a week gathering food, and a few hours making tools. These people would not need to make tools, as they have a city to do that for them. Gathering five units/day would then require 75-100 hours a week; a rather heavy workload, but not completely unthinkable. With an idealised ecology and a little optimism, it should be possible.
And even if they don't reach 8000, it's still bigger than many of the ancient Greek cities - should be enough to develop civilisation.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2011 9:53 am 
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I think it's very much possible. I'd say that the largest issue regarding how much food one can gather is in preservation, not so much a limit to the amount one can gather. I can't give examples for a tropical climate but atleast in a boreal climate, which ought to be less productive food wise, it is extremely easy to find plentiful food in season. For each of collecting snowberries, bunchberries, pin cherries, ice fishing, dandelion, poulet gras, cranberries, cleavers, currents, shad, cattails, birch syrup, grapes, and many many more things, one person could gather enough for four or more people for a year with one week of devoted gathering. That's quite a bit of unit's worth each day.

Although usually when I work out these types of problems I make the unit 1/9th of a day's rations, and assume that each meal(among three in a day) will consist of three different things. That way each adult in a population must acquire about 3200 units per year, and supposing they only ate 50 different foods they would only need to gather 65 units worth of each food per person. I guess I ussually take one unit to equal about one cup. I can get about 2 gallons of wild strawberries(and those are time consuming to pick, definently worth it though) in a day's worth of work, and that's about 30 units. No, that's definantly off somehow, but still stuff to think about. Irregardless, I think the maximum population density is much higher than 1 a square mile.

The largest problem they would be facing would be having big staple foods like potatoes or wheat from nondomesticated sources, but maybe having a diverse diet they wouldn't need something like that. They certainly increase food production efficiency though. Perhaps white meat fishes are capable of forfilling this function.

I would think the primary development for a civilisation would be metal-working. There's plenty of ore is South and Central America, and those would be great sources of trade. I don't think reasonable maritime technology is possible without the invention of the saw, and that is probably the reason Aztecs never had great ships on the scale of Europe or East Asia. But if they relied allot of the coast first for food and then for trade they would have ample reason to develope ocean capable ships. As for a weapon capable of standing against gunpowder, I'd suggest crossbows. In the 1100s, the pope banned the use of crossbows because they were considered too lethal, and that was one of the biggest reasons that guns were worked on despite being an inferior weapon. Upon looking that last bit up, it looks like it's not true, but they're still capable of piercing armours, and repeating crossbows could be made too.

I think the history of Ulan Bator is something you'd find interesting here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulan_Bator

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:32 am 
Smeric
Smeric
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Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2007 10:45 pm
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Location: Santiago de Chile
polynesians had awesome ships and werent all that into metalworking, so yeah... and you can carve wood without a saw, theres plenty of delicate, precise work that has been done with axes and stuff

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