A World Without Metal

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by corditeman, Jan 12, 2011.

  1. corditeman Well-Known Member

    Aug 24, 2008
    Unintentionally misread steven24gordon's thread, then got intrigued. Would we see tempered glass and ceramics replace metal and warfare adapt accordingly?

    Seems odd, but metal smelting may have come later than pottery and glassmaking. How far can one go in duplication of the Industrial Revolution, using only glass and ceramics?

    I look forwards to reading your comments...
  2. Nymphaion Member

    Dec 17, 2010
    What about money? Clay coins? Bartering continues?
  3. Sovereign12 Well-Known Member

    May 1, 2006
    Mostly in deep recesses of my mind.
    Well there would need to be some amount of metals around or life itself wouldn't exist. Life needs trace amounts of many metals.

    As to the glass and ceramics many of the more durable forms actually need metals added, or already contains metals as part of the ingredients, to strengthen them. Metals also give color to glass and ceramics.
  4. Errnge You don't throw ranch

    Sep 20, 2010
    Atlanta, GA
    i find this thread sadistically appealing

  5. RookieHistorian Banned

    Jan 11, 2011
    Gallaharan Empire
    Life on earth would likely no exist without metal.

    Now, what you could do is revise it to be a world with sparse amounts of metal. It would raise the value of what metals were on earth, and likely drive warfare even further over various countries fighting for the small traces that they find.
  6. Nymphaion Member

    Dec 17, 2010
    How about metal on the earth's surface, but still below?

    Without metal in the core, there is no magnetic field, and Earth ends up like Mars.
  7. Cyrano Well-Known Member

    Jul 11, 2010
    Well, let's assume there is metal enough to maintain the status of life on the planet, but no more. That is to say: the core is stable, there are trace ammounts available to fuel life itself, but not for any use as tools or weapons, what then?
  8. mojojojo Member

    Sep 9, 2006
  9. Emperor Norton I Calbear's Love Child

    Oct 27, 2008
    New Netherland
    The alien bats of space need to intervene to make this possible.
  10. von kressenstein Banned

    Jul 9, 2007
    Tropical, Minsk Belarus
    no zep or the who or Danzig? or Metallica? or slayer?!?!?!:eek:
  11. corditeman Well-Known Member

    Aug 24, 2008
    Emperor Norton, I didn't intend this to be ASB...

    ...The point I was looking at is where metals are supplanted by other materials. Errnge's Aztec obsidian weapons were a case in point. Metals are present as ores and 'native' metals, but (religion? culture?) are used only for coin or jewellery.

    In other words, no metal tools, weapons, armour and so forth.

    Thought a bit, realised that gunpowder could be made using wooden tools and that the fougasse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fougasse_(weapon)) was a possibility. So, too, are gunpowder or nitrated paper rockets, maybe (Pratchett, bless you!) a wooden cannon with a narrow bore.

    There have been wooden submarines, padded leather suits of 'armour', pottery, glass and wooden pipes and taps, but I've not yet found replacements for wiring and engine metals.

    Ideas, folks?
  12. Keenir Banned

    Jan 28, 2006
    why duplication?

    though in answer....look at Pohnpei, with the "log cabin" design of the blocks of lava.

    bridges made of grass (rope), ie Incans.
  13. corditeman Well-Known Member

    Aug 24, 2008
    Bridges made of grass...


    Bridges as high as a kite? Yayyy...:D

    Seriously, though, we need an Industrial Revolution to raise the standard of living and to advance technology. Large ships need to be built of an alternative to wood - possibly some kind of timber-reinforced concrete? York Minster was built on a raft of pozzolanic concrete reinforced with oak beams.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 12, 2011
  14. Telemond's_Lamb_Chop Banned

    Nov 3, 2010
    I seem to remember this lack of metal was a central idea in P J Farmer's 'Riverworld'?
  15. zoomar Curmudgeon

    Jan 5, 2004
    Occupied Sequoyah, CSA (Okla)
    The is a geological PoD, not ASB. Presume a world (or a center of civilization) in which ore deposits are not sufficiently common on or near the surface to be effectively exploited by the technologies available to late neolithic cultures. In this instance, metals might never be collected except as sparkley oddities, and the labor-intensive technologies to mine, smelt, alloy, and cast them would never make sense This does not require cultural/religious prohibitions; it would be a natural outgrowth from the raw materials readily available.

    So, what alternate materials might also lead to some sort of industrial revolution?

    Stone is out of the question. The ability of stone to be used as tools had pretty much reached its end-point by the neolithic (in both hemispheres). Quarrying, "preforming", heat-treatment , and blade making could have been (and effectively were) "industrialized" in MesoAmerica, and elsewhere but, unlike metallurgy, stone technology would not spur many associated indistries, and stone has too few uses. Iron can be alloyed and cast to fullfill all sorts of functions - obsidian can't. One might consider concrete as an outgrowth, but even with its ability to be poured and cast, its use would be limited. Not too many concrete airplanes and cars.

    Possibly wood, if this was accompanied by an early introduction of scientific forestry, a better understanding of selective breeding, and early understanding of preservatives/solvents/glues and other methods to create composite wood products from harvested wood.

    As has been suggested, ceramics is the best bet. There is a regular evolution from early fired pottery, to glazed potery, to porcelain. Advanced ceramic industries require efficient use of high heat not unlike that needed for metallurgy, and this would drive a number of related technologies needed to produce and contain super hot fires, etc. Glass making is a related technology. Both ceramics and glass have the same ability to be cast, which reduces the need for individual craftsmanship in mass manufacture. The one possible drawback is that, unlike metal, ceramics cannot be traded except as raw materials (sand, clay, shell etc) or finished artifacts. There is no way to reduce the raw materials to "ingots" for this purposes. Nonetheless, I believe a sufficiently developed ceramic/glass technology could support a transition to use of steam power, and possibly even electrical generation. Both technologies are amenable to mass procuction.

    Possibly, once these technologies had arisen and the limitations of ceramics and glass known, industrialists might start to reconsider the value of metals. Metallurgy would eventually occur by readapting the existing advanced technologies used in ceramic/glass technology to metals, just much later and in a society that was already "modern" in some aspects of its social and economic structure.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2011
  16. fortyseven Mastermind

    Jan 1, 2004
    Empire of the True North
    Diamond .
  17. corditeman Well-Known Member

    Aug 24, 2008
    Good post, zoomar...

    The lack of ingot-processing means that glass cullet would be the only really transportable way of trading raw materials. For currency I'd wonder about artificial wampum or tempered glass discs.

    Could steam engines be built with tempered glass and ceramic?

    Synthetic diamond and buckyballs/buckminsterfullerene need more knowledge and energy than would be available in the early Industrial Revolution.
  18. TurkishCapybara Footstool Empress

    Aug 28, 2010
    Land of Maps and Conlangs
    Its not Plausible with a Geographic POD for there to be little to no Metal Reserves. If an type of large mountain were to form there would be metal.
  19. Flocculencio Fabian Socialist

    Jan 12, 2004
    Also Kelewan in the novels of Raymond E. Feist. Basically the humans there were latecomers to a world that had already hosted numerous civilisations and most of it's accessible metal deposits had been exhausted. Metal is around but difficult to find and extremely valuable- only the richest noble families have metal artifacts and a steel dagger might be a prized family heirloom. The humans adapt by using highly developed ceramics and wood products- making swords by laminating strips of a bamboolike plant, for example. Not as durable as metal but relatively easy to produce in bulk. Of course there would be a limit to the level of development possible but for a pre-industrial society it might be possible.
  20. tormsen Well-Known Member

    Apr 19, 2008
    대한제국, 한성
    I can't imagine industrialization would get underway without metal, at least not as we know it.

    Looking at Maori technology may be instructive in this case. They are considered one of the most advanced non-metal using societies in our history, as far as I am aware.