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Old 04-12-2018, 07:30 AM   #1
thrash
 
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Default Pre-human civilizations on Earth

The Silurian Hypothesis: Would it be possible to detect an industrial civilization in the geological record?

Despite referring specifically to the Dr. Who episode, this is a serious attempt to determine what the geological evidence of an industrial civilization like our own might look like from millions of years in the future. The short answer: very similar to multiple events in the current geological record, though it should be possible to devise tests that would make the distinction.

From a gaming perspective, the events the paper lists are prime fodder for the origin of Out of Place Artifacts and Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.
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Old 04-12-2018, 09:28 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by thrash View Post
The Silurian Hypothesis: Would it be possible to detect an industrial civilization in the geological record?

Despite referring specifically to the Dr. Who episode, this is a serious attempt to determine what the geological evidence of an industrial civilization like our own might look like from millions of years in the future. The short answer: very similar to multiple events in the current geological record, though it should be possible to devise tests that would make the distinction.

From a gaming perspective, the events the paper lists are prime fodder for the origin of Out of Place Artifacts and Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.
I've seen this debated heavily back-and-forth for years on SF and science oriented web sites and Usenet forums.

I think it all depends on a few things. Just how far back the pre-human civilization, how technologically advanced it was, how long it lasted, how big it was, in areal terms, and just where it was.

A civilization that lasted a few thousand years in the Triassic, operated at around GURPS TL 4, and was limited on part of one continent might be almost invisible in the fossil record. A civilization at TL 7-8, that operated all over the planet, and lasted for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, in that same time period, might be quite noticeable.

(Though whether we'd accurately interpret the oddities is another matter.)
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Old 04-12-2018, 09:34 PM   #3
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Default Re: Pre-human civilizations on Earth

One problem is that not only that technological species would have to be unknown. All of its other high intelligence relatives would as well. For humans, all other primates would have to be missing from the fossil record.
There really aren't any non-mammalian animals on par with primates other than cephalopods. And I don't think it's possible for purely aquatic creatures to progress past middle stone age.
Of course stone age soft bodied invertebrates could have evolved and disappeared from the oceans many times without leaving anything we would identify as proof.
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Old 04-12-2018, 09:56 PM   #4
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One problem is that not only that technological species would have to be unknown. All of its other high intelligence relatives would as well. For humans, all other primates would have to be missing from the fossil record.
There really aren't any non-mammalian animals on par with primates other than cephalopods. And I don't think it's possible for purely aquatic creatures to progress past middle stone age.
Of course stone age soft bodied invertebrates could have evolved and disappeared from the oceans many times without leaving anything we would identify as proof.
True, but I'm not sure how big a barrier it actually is. The fossil record is a lot sparser than we often think of it as being, or than it is sometimes portrayed as being, esp. as we get further back in time.
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Old 04-12-2018, 10:10 PM   #5
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One problem is that not only that technological species would have to be unknown. All of its other high intelligence relatives would as well. For humans, all other primates would have to be missing from the fossil record.
There really aren't any non-mammalian animals on par with primates other than cephalopods.
It's somewhat unclear with cephalopods. The most recent book I looked at that mention it had them smarter than fish, but fish aren't brilliant; they might be no smarter than the average mammal or bird.

On the other hand, if you look at the ratio of brain mass to body surface area, the passeriformes (loosely, songbirds, though the category also includes corvids) are a match for most primates. And parrots seem pretty impressively smart.
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Old 04-13-2018, 05:14 AM   #6
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We might not recognize it -- anyone else see the discussion of the invisible gorilla effect on SETI.

http://www.techtimes.com/articles/22...ark-matter.htm
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Old 04-13-2018, 05:31 AM   #7
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One problem is that not only that technological species would have to be unknown. All of its other high intelligence relatives would as well. For humans, all other primates would have to be missing from the fossil record.
There really aren't any non-mammalian animals on par with primates other than cephalopods. And I don't think it's possible for purely aquatic creatures to progress past middle stone age.
Of course stone age soft bodied invertebrates could have evolved and disappeared from the oceans many times without leaving anything we would identify as proof.
For a pre-Mesozoic civilization, yes, your statement discards most scenarios. As bill pointed out, Corvids would challenge your statement, and that means some dinosaurs are valid candidates.

Radical modification of the basic primate form is in human's recent past, and while we've found fossil evidence of such things, its fairly incomplete, fairly recent, and we had a good idea of what were looking for. So a basic form could quickly change to something suited for technology without leaving many intermediate fossils.
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Old 04-13-2018, 06:12 AM   #8
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We might not recognize it -- anyone else see the discussion of the invisible gorilla effect on SETI.

http://www.techtimes.com/articles/22...ark-matter.htm
I'm a little dubious about the connection between their results of a perception experiment and their conclusions for SETI.
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Old 04-13-2018, 01:21 PM   #9
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For a pre-Mesozoic civilization, yes, your statement discards most scenarios. As bill pointed out, Corvids would challenge your statement, and that means some dinosaurs are valid candidates.

Radical modification of the basic primate form is in human's recent past, and while we've found fossil evidence of such things, its fairly incomplete, fairly recent, and we had a good idea of what were looking for. So a basic form could quickly change to something suited for technology without leaving many intermediate fossils.
All apes have opposable thumbs. Point to the dinosaurs that had them such that hypothetical human handed level dexterity could have come from and just never been discovered. Most I know of have too few and non-agile digits to qualify. My knowledge could be out of date, so I'd like to know if I'm wrong.

It's not just a single species that would have to hide. It would have to be at least an entire order which is unlikely. Not technically impossible for the pre KT event, but exceedingly unlikely.

Last edited by Flyndaran; 04-13-2018 at 01:35 PM.
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Old 04-14-2018, 01:26 AM   #10
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In one of Niven's Draco Tavern stories, an ancient chirpsithra (a species that operates interstellar passenger and trade liners that travel just under the speed of light, so even the youngest humans have met have been around for centuries) reminisces about the last time she came by Earth, some 780 million years previously, and the advanced civilization of anaerobic life forms dwelling in the young planet's shallow seas. Sadly, there was nothing the chirps could do to save the planet from the threat that came, so slowly and subtly - a green scum floating at the very edge of the land, that sucked in precious carbon dioxide and spewed forth toxic, highly damaging oxygen...
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