GURPS alternate histories and stuff
- What if metalworking had spread to Mexico sooner?
It had been common in Peru and Ecuador for a long time before it
spread to Mexico. So the Mexican Indians pick up metalworking
starting around 450 BC. By 250 BC, gold and silver become very
common. From then on, if a ship from the Old World reaches the coast
of Mexico and then gets back home, the discovery is going to be
followed up. Let's say that one or more ships from Carthage reach the
coast of Mexico in our time-line and in this one. In our time-line,
nothing important comes of the discovery. There isn't a compelling
enough reason to make the long voyage. In this time-line, Carthage
starts doing a brisk glass beads and trinkets for gold and silver
trade. Lots of ships participate in that trade.
The first Punic War comes along and trade is disrupted to some
extent, but Carthage needs that gold and silver to help it fight the
war, so the Mexican trade continues. Trading posts become more
numerous and slowly develop into towns. Let's say that the Mexican
gold and silver is not enough to keep Carthage from losing the first
Punic war. The trade continues to grow through the years until the
second Punic War. By that time, the trading towns have become small
trading cities, with a reasonably complete package of technologies,
domestic plants and animals and diseases from Carthage.
The second Punic war comes along. Hannibal does his thing and almost
but not quite defeats Rome. Carthage ends up totally defeated and
stripped of her fleet. Hannibal and those loyal to him are on a Roman
hit list. They eventually flee to the new trading cities along the
Mexican coast. Those cities get their self-sufficiency tested because
they are totally cut off from the Old World.
The innovations and food sources, and diseases of Carthage diffuse to
the surrounding Indians, and gradually the entire arc of the Gulf of
Mexico begins to look like somebody took the native cultures and
morphed them with that of Carthage. The New World gets to jump past
around 2000 years of development and arrive at the level Europe was
in as of around 200 BC. Then it develops in isolation for some number
of centuries. The Romans may get wind of the Mexican settlements and
may even send an expedition or two, especially since they think
Hannibal is there. The Romans aren't that good as sailors though, and
after losing a fleet or two they find other ways to use their time.
Hannibal wants to develop the Mexican coast into a base to attack
Rome, but that is the task of more than one lifetime, and his
descendents are more interested in local affairs.
So, the two hemispheres develop in isolation. What are the two sides
like when they meet again? Which side starts the contact?
The Great Australian Rain Forest
An issue of Scientific American has an interesting article on the
animals of Australia as of about 5 million years ago. It says that at
that time the continent was pretty much covered by rain forests and
had a much more diverse mammal fauna, especially in terms of
predators. Eight to ten species of Marsupial Lion have existed at
various times in the last 25 million years, ranging from almost the
size of a lion down to the size of a large house cat. Six species of
giant, partly carnivorous Rat Kangaroos have been found so far. There
was also a large flightless bird which may have been partly
carnivorous. It probably weighed over 1200 pounds.
As the Australian climate changed, most of these animals died off.
When the Aborigines arrived around 40,000 years ago, they found only
a remnant of each of the major lines of carnivores surviving in a
harsh, dry Australia.
What if the Australian climate hadn't changed? Maybe the plate
tectonics work out a little differently and Australia doesn't go
quite as far north as it did in our time-line. As a result, Australia
is still largely rain forest. Now assuming that doesn't change human
history over the rest of the planet-a major assumption I know-things
start to really change as the Aborigines don't make it to Australia,
and the continent is first settled by Polynesians around the start of
the current era-maybe 50 AD.
The Polynesians have no large-game hunting tradition when they land,
but they develop one as time goes on. Consequently some of the more
exotic animals have died out by the time the first European settlers
arrive. Others have become very rare. The Polynesians aren't there
long enough to totally destroy the mega-fauna though. Australia is
colonized by a series of European powers starting not long after
1500. The Portuguese and Spanish fight over it, then the Dutch and
French and English try their hand.
What kind of an Australia emerges?
Bugs vs Reptiles
New Zealand had an ecology where flightless birds like the Moa took
over most of the roles that mammals normal play. It also had two
species of bats that spent most of their time running around on the
ground or in trees rather than flying. Numerous islands had dwarf
elephants, giant rats and one even apparently had a highly
carnivorous hedgehog almost as big as a fox. Cuba had a two-foot-tall
flightless owl that apparently hopped around the Cuban countryside
playing the role that foxes and cats do on the mainland. In the age
of the dinosaurs, islands could have harbored pygmy dinosaurs,
flightless versions of the various flying reptiles, and so on. There
actually is an area of what is now Romania which was an island for a
time in the age of the dinosaurs and which did develop a distinctive
island fauna of dinosaurs. Go back further-to before the time birds
and flying reptiles could fly, and you might be able to find remote
islands where insects and spiders have taken over some of the niches
normally held by mammals and reptiles. There are limits to insect
size, but I suspect that you could see insects as large as a rat or
slightly bigger. (Actually, that happened to some extent in New
Zealand in our time-line. Some of the larger insects did take on some
of the niches that are held by rats and mice elsewhere.) If the
island was remote enough and large enough, you might even see a
second independent emergence of life from the seas. I'm not sure how
you work any of this into AH-maybe an alternate geology where dwarf
dinosaurs survive on an island not far north of Antarctica? What
about an alternate geology where there are two blocks of continents,
each with an ecology that emerged from the ocean independently, and
they collide in a colossal ecological `war'?
Plow vs Spear
Thoughts on emerging agriculture based societies: Populations would
rise, the culture would become more complex, then, farming would
exhaust the soil of an area and populations would crash. And even if
the soil were not exhausted, the depletion of forest resources-- both
wood and game-in the vicinity of settlements would likely become a
serious problem in a few generations. Before that happened, sometimes
pieces of the chiefdom would break off and create simpler chiefdoms.
Even a fairly devastating collapse wouldn't necessarily be the end of
a culture in an area though. Most sites would be located in the flood
plains of a river, which gives their land an annual fertility boost,
but in many areas that boost would not enough to overcome the soil-
depleting effects of farming over the centuries. As a result,
chiefdoms tend to crash after a couple of hundred years, then rebuild
after the land had a chance to build back up. Only really large
rivers would provide an annual fertility boost large enough to
sustain an agricultural life-style indefinitely. The local people are
a mosaic of groups in various stages of this cycle, with full-blown
flourishing agricultural societies along major rivers and in some
other areas where the local tribes happen to be at the high end of
the cycle, In other areas, simpler cultures prevail.
Spreading the Faith
New diseases brought in purposefully with priests of disease gods
seeking converts and sacrifices.