Join 3,558 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Keep the lolxtian talk to a minimum
June 11, 2008 9:22 AM   Subscribe

"I wanted to ask for survival tips in case I am unexpectedly transported to a random location in Europe (say for instance current France/Benelux/Germany) in the year 1000 AD (plus or minus 200 years). I assume that such transportation would leave me with what I am wearing, what I know, and nothing else. Any advice would help." How to rock the Middle Ages with your bad 2008 self.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders (233 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've looked at the first dozen or so comments, and it's interesting that most assume that the 21st century time traveler is at an advantage relative to the people he will encounter. Really, guys? Despite not speaking the language, not having any farming or construction skills, not having any real means of self-defense, etc.? I don't see "Teach them Bayes's Theorem" as realistic advice here.
posted by prefpara at 9:28 AM on June 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, according to the Outlander series, Step 1 is to "Spread'em as wide as possible for the first brooding Scotsman you encounter."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:29 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


From the link, about 10 comments down or so:

"Hasn't anyone heard of Mark Twain?"

Yes.
posted by ZakDaddy at 9:31 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Burned as a witch within a week. If you're lucky.
posted by three blind mice at 9:31 AM on June 11, 2008


...not having any farming or construction skills

Speak for yourself. I would think a modern engineer, particularly mechanical, civil or architectural could do very nicely even back in Roman times. These people had good empirical knowledge of a lot of things, but it was hardly thorough. For instance, cathedral building. They figured out about flying buttresses and the like, but only by watching many cathedrals crumble and crack. How much money would a town save by having a knowledgable engineer predict what would and wouldn't work ahead of time?
posted by DU at 9:35 AM on June 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


How much money would a town save by having a knowledgable engineer predict what would and wouldn't work ahead of time?

And how do you know he is a witch?

He predicted what would and wouldn't work ahead of time.
posted by three blind mice at 9:37 AM on June 11, 2008 [8 favorites]


Please, this is the definition of hypothetical chatfilter. Wait, where am I?

Let's see, I'm wearing inexplicable textiles decorated with arcane runes, I'm wearing lenses made of yet another unprecedented material on my face in a manner that that's a few hundred years ahead of it's time, I'm speaking some bizzarro version of Anglo-Norman or whatever (I'm not a linguist) and I've somehow contrived to give a number of my teeth visible metal cores. Yeah, I'm going to get burned at the stake.
posted by nanojath at 9:37 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


This was the plot of the Dutch 1981 childrens book 'Kruistocht in spijkerbroek' ('Crusade in jeans').
Fun to read as a kid.
posted by jouke at 9:37 AM on June 11, 2008


Well I'll tell you what -- I have few technical skills to speak of, but I do carry along a sophisticated set of artistic skills. I can draw, paint, sing, play several instruments, and tell stories. I have a feeling that someone like me could do pretty well wherever and whenever s/he lands, assuming basics like language capability, clothing, access to a pool of patrons, etc. I'll hazard the guess that creatives might make good time travelers.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:38 AM on June 11, 2008


Build shelter out of stone. Don't keep livestock inside shelter. Keep rats out of shelter. Avoid plague. Win.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:38 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


First, you would need a chainsaw for a hand.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:39 AM on June 11, 2008 [40 favorites]


And here's an idea I've never even seen mentioned in the many books on ancient engineering I've read: What if the Romans had had a heat engine (steam or stirling) hydraulic pump? A phalanx of Newcomen engines, possibly operated by slaves, could have eliminated some of their needs for aqueducts.
posted by DU at 9:40 AM on June 11, 2008


These people seem to have very little understanding of what life was like in 1000 AD.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:40 AM on June 11, 2008


I'd call up John McCain and see how his childhood was going.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:41 AM on June 11, 2008 [12 favorites]


Scribe? I would find the nearest monastery and hope (by which I mean pretend to pray) for the best. I can speak and read French, and with any luck at all could grok Old French and Latin quickly enough to make a go of it.

That and I can totally rock System V unix.
posted by everichon at 9:41 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


And how do you know he is a witch?

Meh. Don't be big and obvious about it. "Listen guys, I've build MACHINES THAT FLEW IN THE FACE OF GOD!" No. Just make some simple suggestions, build some clear, non-magical models and build up a reputation for being good, but not devilish.

Arts, that's a good idea. One could get a lot of mileage out of "stories from a distant land" based on truth from the future.
posted by DU at 9:43 AM on June 11, 2008


YE STORIE OF YE STARRE-BATTAILES...

Yeah, bard.
posted by everichon at 9:45 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Or a chemist. I don't remember the prerequisites, so this may not be possible in 1000 AD, but if you can make nitrogen fertilizer from the air and triple agricultural output, I don't think anyone is going to object to a little possible necromancy on the side.
posted by DU at 9:48 AM on June 11, 2008


Timeline.
posted by ericb at 9:49 AM on June 11, 2008


You can get rid of the language issue -- say it's a hundred years past the catastrophe (end of oil or whatever) and the carefully hoarded pre-apocalypse machines are gone. Voila, you're back in medieval Europe!
posted by phliar at 9:53 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


nitrogen fertilizer? Bah! I'd use my chemistry skills to make lots of hard liquor. Should make me popular right?
posted by uandt at 9:55 AM on June 11, 2008


The elephant in the room that the comments on that page consistently ignore is that approximately 51% of people that this happens to are shit out of luck no matter what they do. I saw a total of one comment acknowledging that a woman this happened to would be in huge trouble no matter what skills she possessed. I suspect it would simply be a race to see what horrible fate befell her first.

The most likely result of this happening to anyone, man or woman, skilled or incompetent, is a relatively quick and painful death. For those who manage to survive, scraping by for a few years as a peasant and then starving to death is not unlikely.

Oh, and congratulations, you've probably caused the deaths of millions of people what with all your modern diseases and such. Not "New World" dieback levels, but it wouldn't be pretty either.
posted by Justinian at 9:56 AM on June 11, 2008 [10 favorites]


Build shelter out of stone. Don't keep livestock inside shelter. Keep rats out of shelter. Avoid plague. Win.

'Cause the year 800, or 1000, or 1200 are all the same as the mid 14th century! It's all OLD!
posted by Justinian at 9:57 AM on June 11, 2008


See also Connie Willis' Doomsday Book
posted by poppo at 9:58 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Besides the language issue and the "burn the witch" problems, the two best ideas I've seen yet on that list are:

* Become a bookkeeper, because you'll know more math with Arabic numerals than most.

* Boil water and sell it as a medicine. If you cured cholera in your region, I imagine people will start to like you.

Then again, I'm 6-foot-4, 280 pounds. They'll probably want to make me into a gladiator or something, and I'd get my ass kicked.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:58 AM on June 11, 2008


Most of the replies seem to follow this same basic logic:

1) Arrive in past. Know you are awesome and handsome because of your better diet.
2) Use your awesomeness to meet king. If threatened, breakdance.
3) Impress king with awesomeness/breakdancing skills. Become Chancellor.
4) Perhaps build something awesome, you know, with gears and shit.
5) Seduce queen (see: breakdance), sire many half-royal, half-awesome progeny.
6) Upon death of king, rule country as regent through children.
7) Inscribe a message to your future self on clay/stone/metal tablets alerting yourself about your impending timetravel and the need for adequate breakdancing skills.

When what's more likely is:

1) Arrive in past. Know that you are awesome and handsome because of your better diet.
2) Die horribly due to malnutrition, exhaustion, disease, animal attack, Viking attack, stake burning, eating the wrong mushroom, eating the right mushroom, parasites, or lack of internet access.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:58 AM on June 11, 2008 [60 favorites]


Why would such time travel leave you with what you're wearing? I think we all know that time travel requires nudity.

I don't think you'd have a good time today showing up nude randomly somewhere. Probably wouldn't be so swell a century ago either. Especially since, even if you landed in England, you'd probably still have a bit of a hard time understanding the locals.
posted by jammy at 10:00 AM on June 11, 2008


I would think a modern engineer, particularly mechanical, civil or architectural could do very nicely even back in Roman times. These people had good empirical knowledge of a lot of things, but it was hardly thorough. For instance, cathedral building. They figured out about flying buttresses and the like, but only by watching many cathedrals crumble and crack. How much money would a town save by having a knowledgable engineer predict what would and wouldn't work ahead of time?

I know two very distinct types of engineers. One is much like you describe, very practical, very adaptable. The other type is really good at working systematically through calculations and step-by-step processes, but without their computer modeling programs and graphing calculators and books of stress values couldn't engineer their way out of a wet paper bag. My sense is that engineering educations vary wildly, from extremely good to impressively bad, and that engineers vary at least as much.

From working on development projects in the third world (hardly the same as 1000AD, but still an example of working in a constrained environment with few tools, no or irregular electricity, communications difficulties, etc, my experience is that most first-world carpenters, engineers, architects, etc, have great difficulty providing anything of value when you take away the things they rely upon (computers, electricity, skilled workers, etc). Engineering (and architecture and all of the skilled trades) are really easy in a resource-rich environment with a lot of regulatory oversight, but really hard in a constrained environment with little structure. "Working from first principles" sounds good, but is really hard to do in practice.

My experience is also that the more you remove those first world resources, with the extreme being off-the-grid subsistence farming without the possibility of selling your produce at market, the more skill and knowledge is required. Any idiot can run a photocopying machine -- if you can push the glowing green button, you have every skill needed for the job (an assertion I can make with the experience of an entire summer pushing that damn green button). But to know what to plant, when to plant it, and how to plant it, with the knowledge that if you fuck it up, your family will not eat, takes a great deal of sophistication and experience.

Me? If you dropped me into the year 1000, I'd probably be kept in a cage and displayed as a curiosity. If I was lucky I'd hook up with a monastery and quick learn Latin and hope that some of the skills of being an intellectual now translate into being an intellectual then. I'd be relying on the fact that the basic structure of how teaching and universities operate has changed little in the last thousand or so years, although the subjects taught have changed greatly.
posted by Forktine at 10:00 AM on June 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


Oh, and congratulations, you've probably caused the deaths of millions of people what with all your modern diseases and such.

Where do you think the Black Death came from?

Goddamn time travelers.
posted by brundlefly at 10:01 AM on June 11, 2008 [8 favorites]


Go to Iraq.
posted by swift at 10:01 AM on June 11, 2008


And by Iraq I mean Mesopotamia.
posted by swift at 10:02 AM on June 11, 2008


Speak for yourself. I would think a modern engineer, particularly mechanical, civil or architectural could do very nicely even back in Roman times. These people had good empirical knowledge of a lot of things, but it was hardly thorough.

Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague DeCamp. As I recall, one of the first things he invented after being transported to late Roman times was brandy, which this page says was not seen in Europe until the 12th century. A compass (12th century) would have been welcome, I'd think. De camp had his hero introduce double entry accounting, too.
posted by jamjam at 10:04 AM on June 11, 2008


The amazing part of this is that not only are so many of these absurdly far removed from reality, but they're absurdly far removed from reality for wildly disparate reasons. I mean, even ignoring the fundamental problems of language, foreignness, suspicion, serfdom, et cetera.

Due to having played Call of Duty, "you should be sweeping across Europe like an avenging god in no time"?

"Train as a master mason"?

"Teach them Bayes' Theorem"?
posted by Flunkie at 10:05 AM on June 11, 2008


The elephant in the room that the comments on that page consistently ignore is that approximately 51% of people that this happens to are shit out of luck no matter what they do.

Unless you landed on the doorstep of a convent, maybe. Actually, some sort of monastic order, particularly one with rules of hospitality, might be a good option regardless of gender. If they thought you were insane (babbling some unknown language, wearing weird clothes), they might take care of you. On the other hand, you'd have to hope they didn't decide you were communicating with evil spirits.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 10:06 AM on June 11, 2008


Forget me infecting them with the black death. I suspect they'd infect me, and I'd promptly die from some minor immunodeficiency that they'd built up a tolerance.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:07 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think we all know that time travel requires nudity.

Does that mean no glasses? If so, I would wander off a cliff within hours and die.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 10:09 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


These people seem to have very little understanding of what life was like in 1000 AD.

I'd like to rephrase my previous post: people seem to have very little understanding of what life was like in 1000 AD.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:12 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oooh, I should check out that De Camp book. He also wrote this, which is one of the books I'm basing my comments on.

...most first-world carpenters, engineers, architects, etc, have great difficulty providing anything of value when you take away the things they rely upon...

This is true, but I have to believe that after a few frustrating weeks of trying to point and click a hunk of chalk, they'd start hitting their stride. Keep in mind that they won't have to build something at the cutting edge of 2008, just something ahead of 1000.

The fact of the matter is that some contemporary person had to invent all this stuff the first time, and they didn't have the benefit of foreknowledge, correct paradigms or tidily summed up education of the hard-won knowledge. (Although the hard-winning of knowledge is often of value itself...) That proves that the idea of a modern person being dropped in and doing the same isn't really infeasible, for at least some people.
posted by DU at 10:12 AM on June 11, 2008


Oh, and congratulations, you've probably caused the deaths of millions of people what with all your modern diseases and such. Not "New World" dieback levels, but it wouldn't be pretty either.

You better hope it ain't your ancestors that die off.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:13 AM on June 11, 2008


Since I'm over 6ft tall i'd be a giant. Hire myself out as a mute enforcer.
posted by xjudson at 10:14 AM on June 11, 2008


When what's more likely is...

Well, duh. But that makes for a less entertaining ChatFilter.
posted by everichon at 10:20 AM on June 11, 2008


The thing that always comes to my mind is to go in to business making compasses, assuming you could scrounge up a lodestone. They weren't introduced until 1300 in Europe, so you'd have a sure monopoly. Of course, convincing everyone that you're not a witch would most surely be the first order of business.
posted by noble_rot at 10:21 AM on June 11, 2008


Wasn’t there a thread recently about how the engineer-hero-going-back-in-time-making-steamengines tyoe story was beginning to form it’s own distrinct Sci-Fi sub genre, and how the people writing it are usually full of all kinds of right-wing twaddle?

Still, I quite like Charles Strosses Merchants books, which deal with similar themes, though cheat and sidestep the “dying instantly” problem by giving the world-jumping heroine a set of relatives in the 11th century style parallel world she visits.
posted by Artw at 10:22 AM on June 11, 2008


What's really more likely is that YOU DON'T TRAVEL BACKWARDS IN TIME.
posted by everichon at 10:23 AM on June 11, 2008 [7 favorites]


And how do you know he is a witch?

Warlocks! Apologies to Benny Hill. Witches are female.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:24 AM on June 11, 2008


In all the comments here, on Boing Boing, on the original blog, I can't believe that I appear to be the only nerd who's read Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard novels. Engineer goes back in time to medieval Poland, changes the course of history?
posted by padraigin at 10:27 AM on June 11, 2008


OK folks, we're talking about 100 AD here, not the times of plagues and urban blights. This is a fairly well fed, sparsely populated rural culture here. Yes, there is no public sanitation, but the population is sparse enough to get away with pooping in the fields and drinking stream water. The people are fairly tall, so tall mdern people wouldn't be complete freaks. This is because they have a good, dairy and meat filled diet and lack many of the diseases that come with urbanization, some 200 years in the future.

You would probably get people you did encounter sick with foreign strains of colds and flu from Asia and America, but not many, since, as I said, the sparse, rural population doesn't lend itself to epedemics like the 1200's urbanization does.

These aren't the most educated lot, but they aren't complete dolts either. They'd probably take you for a foreigner rather than a witch or briggand. You could probably convince folks that you are a foreign priest.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:28 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Artw, Eric Flint's 1632 novels are exactly along those lines - libertarian West Virginians get sent into the middle of the 30 Years War and kick German ass. It's politically ridiculous but pretty fun, and free on the Baen Books website.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 10:30 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


...go in to business making compasses, assuming you could scrounge up a lodestone.

You can make a (weak) magnet by heating and striking a metal rod, IIRC. (And you can definitely do it by heating a metal rod and exposing it to a magnetic field, such as an electromagnet.) But a compass isn't quite as useful as you might think, in a world where everyone knows the sky and long-distance travel is uncommon.

...the people writing it are usually full of all kinds of right-wing twaddle...

It's definitely easy to fall into various kinds of racism, "acceptable" sexism and the lure of the Ayn Randian superhero with this kind of thing. Which, now that I think about it, makes the Connecticut Yankee's setting up of engineering schools kind of interesting.
posted by DU at 10:31 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Cool Papa Bell, I'd say boiling water is the best skill a time traveller would have. Even if you can't remember how to make soap, reverse engineer anything useful, make weapons or have any applicable survival skills you definitely know how to boil water. Sanitation skills will not only win you friends but also save yourself from dying off quickly. I feel bad for anyone with glasses because the likelihood of them breaking or getting stolen at some point in the rest of your life is quite high. I was paranoid as a kid about losing my glasses and all I would have had to endure is bumping into a few things and trying to figure out which bus is mine so I could get home.
posted by Hugonaut at 10:32 AM on June 11, 2008


Step 1: Introduce Europe to the ganja
Step 2: Whatever
posted by smackwich at 10:32 AM on June 11, 2008 [17 favorites]


This event described in the BBC series Inside the Medieval Mind, Episode 1" Knowledge might be closer to the reality of this little thought experiment than anything else ...

At the end of the 12th century, Ralph, the respected abbot of the monastery of Coggeshall, recorded an extraordinary story involving the capture of a wild man who lived in the sea.

"It happened that the fishermen there were fishing out in the sea caught a wild man in their nets. They brought him to the castle as a wonder. He was naked and presented a human appearance in every part of his body. When taken to church, he showed no signs of reverence or belief. however often he saw holy things. He did not wish to utter a word, even when hung by the feet and subject to dire and frequent torture."

What is striking to us today about this strange and rather sad tale is that the abbot is less concerned to determine whether the story is true that to work out exactly what category of creature this might be. 'Was he a mortal man?' he asked. 'Or some fish in human form? Or a wicked spirit, lurking in the body of a drowned man?' The wild man eventually escaped back into the sea. His tormentors and Ralph of Coggshall are left to wonder what kind of creature this man was, and were there others like him, sharing their world?

posted by Dave Faris at 10:33 AM on June 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


Go to Iraq.

Yep. Or get to Cairo. Or Khorasan - the young Avicenna would be intrigued by your notions of medicine and might pay for a little tutelage. Hell, any middling city in the Middle East would boast a few faylasufs willing to hear you out on mathematics, geology, optics, physiology, chemistry, etc. If you were clever enough and knew Arabic well, then you could go into the natural philosophy business for yourself.
posted by Iridic at 10:33 AM on June 11, 2008


Just how easy would it be for a complete stranger to gain access to a nobleman? I also get the feeling most of the commentators don't realize that traveling through Europe is easy now, but a thousand years ago how long did it take to go from Paris to Rome, for example? The vast majority of people then would never have visited beyond the next village in their lifetimes.

As for the suggestions about acting "Christian"... hell. How many different sects were there back then? Every region would have had its distinctiveness of belief, bordering on outright heresy.

Recreating a watch? a steam engine? the printing press? You can get the time from a sundial and work from peasants, and who would read anything you had printed? Give me something from 1025 or 1050 to copy instead, something the locals could recognize without freaking out, that gave them an advantage.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 10:33 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd probably spend a lot of time chanting the very little latin I know - mostly fragments of the Lord's Prayer - and hope to God I make it to a convent before I get eaten by bears. I'm literate. Of course, if I arrive naked, the pagan tattoos may be a bit tricky to explain...
posted by Jilder at 10:36 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wasn’t there a thread recently about how the engineer-hero-going-back-in-time-making-steamengines tyoe story was beginning to form it’s own distrinct Sci-Fi sub genre, and how the people writing it are usually full of all kinds of right-wing twaddle?

Ah. It was the John Ringo thread, starting here.

Recently I saw what I assume was the latest John Ringo paperback prominently displayed in what I usually think of as a rather sensible bookshop, which was a bit weird. When I first heard of the guy and read samples of his stuff I'd assumed he was just some internet flake.
posted by Artw at 10:37 AM on June 11, 2008


Thou might feek to conftruct from the limbs of the birch an INTER-NETTE of fuch proportionf af to rival the FTREETF and FEWERF of ancient ROME in com-plexity and magnificence. Then thou might fofter the development of a myriad of myriadf of FITEF acroff thine internet, which FITEF would be dedicated to the EXHIBITION of IMAGEF and TEXT both FACRED and PROFANE. Moftly profane though.
posted by Mister_A at 10:37 AM on June 11, 2008 [31 favorites]


1) Arrive in past. Know you are awesome and handsome because of your better diet.
2) Use your awesomeness to meet king. If threatened, breakdance.
3) Impress king with awesomeness/breakdancing skills. Become Chancellor.
4) Perhaps build something awesome, you know, with gears and shit.
5) Seduce queen (see: breakdance), sire many half-royal, half-awesome progeny.
6) Upon death of king, rule country as regent through children.
7) Inscribe a message to your future self on clay/stone/metal tablets alerting yourself about your impending timetravel and the need for adequate breakdancing skills.


Here's a different way to think about the problem: the past is a foreign country. People do things their way, even if they're doing it wrong by your standards. Imagine suddenly arriving in a place where you don't speak the language, understand the culture, or identify with the people.

I think the best reasonable comparison would be the European missionaries who started going abroad to convert people beginning in the 18th century. These people studied for considerable lengths of time to try doing what you're all proposing, and in the vast majority of cases, they all failed. (Remember, they weren't just trying to spread the Good News; they were hoping to teach valuable skills to change the lifestyles of their adopted populations.) It took the strength of an imperial power backing them to bring about a fraction of the changes they hoped, and in all cases it was a matter of centuries before they were able to engineer the "become the king of the castle" scenario people in this thread are optimistically hoping will take a few days.

On the other hand, assuming you arrived in a friendly area (remember, just as now, not all places, even in the same country or geographic region, have the same cultural outlook), and assuming you kept your mouth shut, looked lost and lonely, and had some good luck, you might work out alright.

At the risk of being too academic, I think there's a large amount of "past colonialism" going on here, where people presume that showing a crowd of gullible idiots a few baubles, you'll be able to control them.

One last thing. I'd like the engineers in this thread to imagine themselves going about their business, happily engineering away, when a crazy foreigner wearing very odd clothes arrives, shouting at you in a totally foreign language that you're doing things all wrong. How would you respond? Honestly?
posted by awenner at 10:40 AM on June 11, 2008 [15 favorites]


Hmm. Learning Chaucer-speak or death... I think i might go with death.
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on June 11, 2008


the past is a foreign country

What a novel concept!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:43 AM on June 11, 2008


I would like someone from the future to come and show me how to breakdance give me a learn-breakdancing pill.
posted by everichon at 10:43 AM on June 11, 2008


...a crazy foreigner wearing very odd clothes arrives, shouting at you in a totally foreign language that you're doing things all wrong. How would you respond?

Call the police.

But what if a polite, subdued foreigner showed up and watched what I was doing for a while, then made a couple of mute suggestions that worked better?
posted by DU at 10:44 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I suppose blowing bubbles would be out of the question for lack of refined soap. Too bad.
posted by jamjam at 10:50 AM on June 11, 2008


There's one thing so many people overlook about the past:

OMG THE SMELL! THE SMELL
posted by drezdn at 10:51 AM on June 11, 2008 [5 favorites]


I think I'd try to find some rural people who might interpret my fine-woven fine-(machine)stitched fitted clothes as a sign of wealth and foreignness, pretend to be lost, and hope the concept of "show this guy some hospitality and maybe we'll get rewarded when he's back with his rich friends" occurs before the concept of "This dude is so bizzare - he must be one of those Eurasian/Heathen/whoever-we're-at-war-with dudes the priest was telling us about. He's probably a noble too - maybe we'll get rewarded if we...".
Hopefully that can be stretched out long enough to buy enough time to learn some pidgeon language and come up with a Plan.

Funnily enough, even just one of our wristwatches (I still wear one, doesn't need batteries) would be a military device sufficient to build empires on - but the chances of this ever being recognized as such, even if you tried to make a point of it, are next to nothing. And if it was recognised... well, better hope it's not my wrist in the watch at the time, 'cos some might think that the watch is worth more than I am. :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 10:52 AM on June 11, 2008


Well, good sir, I am trained in journal-ism and the science of politic. I have some ideas on how to properly instill democratic values and inform the peasantry…

No, no, wait! I also know how to make entertaining lawn bowling games! They're the precursor to pinball!

Did I mention that I'm a vegetarian?

Well, really, I'd prefer if you just crushed my head with a rock or something. But if burning's what you've got…
posted by klangklangston at 10:53 AM on June 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


And how do you know he is a witch?

Warlocks! Apologies to Benny Hill. Witches are female.


Wrong. No such thing as a warlock, among real witches. Male and female, a witch is a witch.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:54 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to think of a woodworking thing that wouldn't have been invented in 1000 A.D., but that wouldn't be so out there that I'd be burned for witchery. Maybe a treadle lathe?
posted by drezdn at 10:55 AM on June 11, 2008


But what if a polite, subdued foreigner showed up and watched what I was doing for a while, then made a couple of mute suggestions that worked better?

I get freaked out when people I know stand mute and watch me work (and ticked off when they try and meddle in what I'm doing), so I imagine that the silent foreigner in the shiny silver jumpsuit wouldn't fare any better.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:55 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's an interesting thought exercise. Thinking that any sort of machining would be difficult, especially with out much knowledge of mineral location/extraction, I thought an electrical motor might actually be easier to make in 1000 AD than a steam engine, but then I wondered how to get the wire (would they have had wire?).

If you were trying to ingratiate yourself, some knowledge of woodworking history might come in handy as many of the techniques don't require especially advanced technology, but just the cleverness to have thought "hey let's do it this way."
posted by drezdn at 11:00 AM on June 11, 2008


First step: carve or otherwise fashion a cross out of wood and hang it around your neck. Given the religious environment at the time, this may buy you time to implement other plans, especially if your first encounter was to show up at the door of a monastery as a pilgrim from a foreign land.

Monasteries often allowed pilgrims lodging as a matter of course, the language barrier wouldn't be as critical since some language difference would be expected, your different appearance would be less an issue for the same reason. The monastery would be a relatively safe place where you might learn basic Latin if there a while. You might be able to get local clothing (a simple robe) there, as well.

Regarding Latin, even if you don't speak it, there are probably many phrases that many folks know that could be helpful. Aside from the many mundane phrases in common usage today, there are some religious ones that could be useful. For example, "Gloria in excelsis Deo" is known by many folks today from the Christmas carol. "Kyrie eleison" may not be too familiar to many folks outside of the Christian faith, but it was even part of a popular rock song 20 years ago.

Using these phrases would clearly indicate at least partial education and your belonging as a Christian. Sing them repeatedly and you may even get the reputation for being a particularly devout member of the community. The monastery is a good first step because it is a more protective environment until you get on your feet, culturally and otherwise. It's the best place to get sick, too, for that matter.

If you can, try to start contributing to the monastery life in some way to become a longer-term resident. Help out the hospitaller, the cellarer, etc. After six months or more, you should have been able to pick up basic Latin as well as the religious culture of the time. You could stay and help improve the hospitaller's effectiveness (boil water, wash hands, isolate patients) or cellarer's efforts (accounting practices, etc.) or work on your own projects after you've proven your value (i.e., invent an inkpen that doesn't require quills and inkpots, make simple dyes that can be sold by the monastery for a lot of money, etc.).

Or, if you feel comfortable enough with the Latin and have made some contacts outside of the monastery, you could strike out on your own using these contacts as a support network. Work as a clerk for a local merchant, etc. With your Latin and religious culture understanding, you could pass as a wandering priest and be generally protected from violence as well as being able to prevail upon folks' hospitality. Or, you could set yourself up as a scribe/scholar, which would pay the bills while you worked on inventions. Eventually you may catch the attention of a noble, who may want to become your patron, especially if you're inventing some useful or valuable items.

But the key is surviving those first few days, weeks and months. I think the monastery may be the best option for that.
posted by darkstar at 11:01 AM on June 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think we'll all have to buy some gold, and keep it on our person at all times, from now on.
Just In Case.

And just to be safe (in case the time travel works on Terminator physics), keep the coins with you via the Pulp Fiction wristwatch method.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:02 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't believe that I appear to be the only nerd who's read Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard novels

I can't believe that you admitted it.

Leo Frankowski: as far as I am aware the only author ever dropped from Baen's stable because of the quality of his writing.
posted by Justinian at 11:09 AM on June 11, 2008


At the risk of being too academic, I think there's a large amount of "past colonialism" going on here, where people presume that showing a crowd of gullible idiots a few baubles, you'll be able to control them.

Well if it worked the past, why wouldn't it work in the past?

And if the baubles don't get their attention, shoot a few. That worked in the past too.
posted by three blind mice at 11:11 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


No such thing as a warlock
That sounds suspiciously like something a witch would say. Burn him! Burn him!
posted by aramaic at 11:11 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Learn lots of slight of hand magic, and other "street" entertainments. Ventriloquism, sword swallowing, juggling, etc. Those don't require language to make a living.
posted by Ragma at 11:12 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


No such thing as a warlock

My in-depth knowledge of wiccan etiquette should serve me well... oh noes! Fire! Fire! Burnings!
posted by Artw at 11:14 AM on June 11, 2008


I'd coin Oddman's Razor (screw Occam). Then write about the Oddmanist Veil of Ideas (screw Locke). I'd convince everyone to be an Oddmanist about causation (screw Hume). I'd write Oddman's Meditations on First Philosophy (screw you Descartes). I'd tell everyone about the number zero. And I'd invent the coordinate system (once again, screw you Descartes).

I'd likely go down in history as one of the world's greatest thinkers.*


* Or I'd die in like a week. Half-dozen of one, six of the other.
posted by oddman at 11:16 AM on June 11, 2008


Invent Champaign:
This may or may not take-off right away.


I find it hard to believe that most of these people can survive in the present day.
posted by ND¢ at 11:18 AM on June 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


Go associate with the Shaftoes & Waterhouses. They are badasses throughout the ages.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:19 AM on June 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


Instead of stowing gold in my private places, I'd store the instructions for making saltpeter.
posted by drezdn at 11:22 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I would invent the tree-limb-with-a-nail-in-it, assuming there were nails. If not, I'd invent the tree-limb-with-a-rock-tied-to-it. Either way, I would be well equipped to flip out and kill people.
posted by Mister_A at 11:22 AM on June 11, 2008


I'd coin Oddman's Razor

Sadly Oddman, you did invent a time machine and invent Oddman's Razor, it's just everyone's been mis-saying it all these years.
posted by drezdn at 11:24 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


For those still invisioning some plague-filled, filthy feudal society in 1000 AD, here's a book for you.

Here is your geo-political map for reference.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:24 AM on June 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think a more interesting question is what is a minimum number of modern people, with what specific knowledge and skills between them, with how much and what specific equipment that they could bring with them, that, if magically transported to 1000 AD Europe, would have a decent chance of being able to sustain and defend themselves, as a community, indefinitely.

And also, a modification of the same question: "eventually become a dominant power" rather than "sustain and defend themselves".

I think the answer (to both) is a hell of a lot more than "one person with the clothes on his back". Maybe several hundred people with a wide range of knowledge and skill, and enough firepower and ammunition to be completely dominant (locally) for several years (until they've built their infrastructure to a degree sufficient to replace their modern stuff on the fly, which will take a long time).

One difficulty is that the knowledge and skills will have to not only include stuff like "electrical engineering", but also a hell of a lot of knowledge that's in short supply today, which will be required to actually bootstrap the infrastructure to a point that "electrical engineering" becomes in any way remotely relevant.
posted by Flunkie at 11:24 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


[Note: semi-tongue-in-cheek]

To be perfectly honest the very first thing I would do if transported back to 1000 AD would be to walk to the nearest fairly remote village, wait in the woods outside of it until midnight, creep into one of the smaller houses and use whatever was handy (knife, dagger, rope, etc.) to quietly murder the occupants before taking their clothes, food, a knife, wineskin, flint, bowl, and if they have anything like a knapsack, that as well.

It's not as if there's much in the way of rapidly responding law enforcement, and I'm probably in better shape as far as running long distances go if I bungle things. There's always the next village.

After the initial murder/theft I would spend the rest of the night walking alongside (but not on) the most visible dirt path to the nearest settlement, and if it was closer than five miles, the one after that. Clean getaway and thank heaven for non-existent communications infrastructure.

Most human settlements are near a water source, so I'd fill the skin with water from that, grab some local dried leaves, twigs, and branches and use the flint to start a fire. Pour water in the bowl, boil, drink, repeat to fill wineskin.

Now that I pass the first-glance check due to local garb, aren't in danger of starving, and nobody in the immediate vicinity has reason to suspect that I'm the source of a local murder, the next job is to learn the local language and accent.

The answer here is again a small village, again following *alongside* the network of dirt paths. I need to spend some time chatting with the villagers. This is tricky and may involve running away a few times - fortunately there are a lot of small villages. Walk up around noon, raise hand, say "hail" and pray they're friendly. Break bread with them at the first available opportunity. Try to get them to put me to work (I'm probably taller/stronger) doing manual labor for several weeks while I undergo the initial acclimatization.

Worst case, I may have to pull the murder/theft drifter routine a few times.

Once I have enough of the speech and customs down that I can pass as human in towns and larger settlements, we start getting places.

Time for assessment: what are the most valuable skills I have, from their perspective?

a) I know math better than any person living - up through intermediate calculus
b) I know physics better than any person living - Newtonian laws of motion, forces, etc.
c) I know some of the easier parts of chemistry better than any person living
d) I (as of five minutes ago, thanks Wikipedia) know how to make blackpowder from resources available in 1000AD (namely, manure and dank root cellar walls)
e) I know of the concepts of the heliograph and morse code, and I know of lodestones

I also have a bullshit detector about 10x more accurate than anybody living, I'm driven, ruthless, and most people of every era and locale are not.

With immediate survival assured, and the ability to perform at least basic social interactions, pursuit of broader goals becomes a possibility. Demonstrating the compass, the heliograph, and gunpowder to the wealthiest individual I can gain access to (this may have to start with a village leader or town mayor) and working my way up the chain is one route. End goals include court mathematician, merchant, or a senior military position focusing on developing tactics for units equipped with gunpowder and exploiting the heliograph for strategic purposes.

There's a lot of room for growth here, and I think I'll fare reasonably well once the initial rough period is over and if I can manage to get some toilet paper manufacture going.
posted by Ryvar at 11:26 AM on June 11, 2008 [8 favorites]


I'd try to accumulate knowledge of as many head slapping, retroactively obvious inventions that don't require prior arts. Then set myself up as a quiet genius somewhere.

Stuff like the crochet hook which wasn't invented until the 18th century yet lets anyone make cloth from yarn. Stone age peoples could make a crochet hook if they knew what it was.

Also the crank/cam and connecting rod weren't used for anything in this time period. Quite a bit to be done in the area of water pumping with simple tech converting rotary to linear motion.
posted by Mitheral at 11:33 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


One last thing. I'd like the engineers in this thread to imagine themselves going about their business, happily engineering away, when a crazy foreigner wearing very odd clothes arrives, shouting at you in a totally foreign language that you're doing things all wrong.

You've just described a consultant.
posted by joaquim at 11:33 AM on June 11, 2008 [45 favorites]


My answer there yesterday was
If you've managed to survive your arrival you might ingratiate yourself with the locals and then their lords by ameliorating their gout. Because people drank fermented beverages to avoid illness from bad water, gout was common. Colchicine, the extract of the meadow saffron, a common and easily recognizable purple-flowering plant, is effective in preventing and treating gout; it was known by the Romans but was not commonly prescribed in Europe until, I think, the 1400s. (Watch your dosage though - colchicine binds to tubulin and inhibits mitosis, so it can be lethal in high doses.)
but the interesting other answers - where by "interesting" I mean "what does the average geek today know that they could use to impress people in the year 1000", not "hey let's point out for the 1000th time that you wouldn't survive long, aren't I clever?", were: stirrup, compound bow, vanishing point and artistic perspective, prussian blue, hot-air balloon.
posted by nicwolff at 11:38 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Stuff like the crochet hook which wasn't invented until the 18th century yet lets anyone make cloth from yarn.

That's rather odd since they find them in prehistoric archeological dig sites made from mammoth bone.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:39 AM on June 11, 2008


"What ye fucke is a beowulf cluster?"
posted by Artw at 11:41 AM on June 11, 2008


No such thing as a warlock
That sounds suspiciously like something a witch would say. Burn him! Burn him!


I'm not a witch, I'm not a witch!

I, uh, got better.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:42 AM on June 11, 2008


That's rather odd since they find them in prehistoric archeological dig sites

There is no example of crochet from prior to the 1800s. Dig site ones are probably gutting hooks or the like, as crochet requires a great deal of thread and therefore reasonably advanced textile production.
posted by aramaic at 11:44 AM on June 11, 2008


Question for all the medievalists in the room: would our traveler fare better were he dropped into the Byzantine Empire?
posted by mdonley at 11:44 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


and quietly murder the occupants

Here's to the hope that fate doesn't put you on the doorstep of great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great Grandma and Grandpa Ryvar.
posted by Dave Faris at 11:45 AM on June 11, 2008


This thread is getting really crochety.

[click]
posted by Mister_A at 11:46 AM on June 11, 2008


Dave: the probability of that event is zero.
posted by Ryvar at 11:47 AM on June 11, 2008


hot-air balloon

How would you make the balloon part?

That's rather odd since they find them in prehistoric archeological dig sites made from mammoth bone.

THE TIME MACHINE IS ALREADY WORKING!
posted by drezdn at 11:47 AM on June 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think it's pretty much a given that causality is fucked.

Still, dropping a note to great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great Grandma and Grandpa to kill ye Hitler might be an idea.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I hope someone messes with the time-space continuum and turns me and my family into dragons.
posted by Mister_A at 11:51 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dave: the probability of that event is zero.

Oh, so you're willing to believe that a time machine could teleport you back to the year 1000, but you're not willing to believe that you'll run into your ancestor?
posted by Dave Faris at 11:52 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well Dave, he's got a Wikipedia link on his side...
posted by Mister_A at 11:54 AM on June 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


Dave: meet an ancestor, sure. Kill an ancestor if they haven't already procreated, no, I couldn't do that even if I wanted to.
posted by Ryvar at 11:56 AM on June 11, 2008


I would arm myself with a stout stick, then venture into dungeons with low-level monsters (giant rats, kobolds) and kill enough of them to buy simple provisions while outfitting myself with better armor and weapons, continuing until I reach the upper bounds of level 12, kill the local dragon and live comfortably for the rest of my days.
posted by klangklangston at 11:57 AM on June 11, 2008 [30 favorites]


AHA! WHAT ABOUT THE GELATINOUS CUBE KLANG? IT WILL EAT RIGHT THROUGH YOUR LEATHER ARMOR!!!
posted by Mister_A at 11:58 AM on June 11, 2008 [7 favorites]


Assuming I arrive fully clothed and with everything in my pockets.

1. Overcome language barrier.
2. Locate local blacksmith.
3. Display and explain Zippo (hastily renamed Jaredo) lighter.
4. Profit!
posted by JaredSeth at 11:58 AM on June 11, 2008


Kill an ancestor if they haven't already procreated, no, I couldn't do that even if I wanted to.

Why not? Are we positing some kind of causal protection that will physically stay your hand?
posted by Artw at 11:59 AM on June 11, 2008


Fascinating.

OK, theoreticians - how many of you could actually put these plans in action in the 20th century? That is, can you make a working steam engine, nitrogen fertilizer, et al, using first-millenium tools & resources (but without the burden of surviving in a first-millenium society)?

Ryvar's sociopathic plan (at 2:26 PM) seems about the most likely to work, although he may be underestimating the ability of a town to protect itself from strangers. Of course, he has the advantage of surprise... as long as no sleeping livestock nor dogs notice his approach (livestock will awaken dog, etc).

I spend a fair amount of time studying the medieval period, speak 2-1/2 medieval languages, have the survival skills to identify edible plants & mushrooms in the wild & build emergency shelter, and wouldn't give myself more than a small chance of survival. FWIW.

My best piece of advice: if you knew you were going, memorize the Lord's Prayer in Latin. That will save your ass in court... or at least get you a cleaner execution.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:00 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


You've just described a consultant.

No, I think Ryvar better described a consultant.
posted by peeedro at 12:00 PM on June 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


crochet requires a great deal of thread and therefore reasonably advanced textile production.

More than weaving?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:00 PM on June 11, 2008


Ryvar's sociopathic plan

In my own defense, the question was how to survive, not how to survive and be a nice guy.
posted by Ryvar at 12:05 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


If I fell through a wormhole to 1000 AD, first I'd go on my iPhone and twitter that I've been sent back to 1000 AD and could everyone email me how to do stuff in 1000 A.D. Then I'd start taking pictures of cool shit and post them to my flickr account. I'd update my facebook page to let every know that I've been sent back into the past and so I won't be able to make the Vampire Weekend show tomorrow.

When I got a spare moment, I'd compose a livejournal post about how it's depressing to be in the past, and that I was depressed. Next, I'd check metafilter to see if anyone had linked to my flickr account. Then I'd try to trade bead and blankets for native crafts to sell on etsy.

Later, I'd rock out to Hawkwind MP3s because Hawkwind rocks.

Finally, I'd ride a dinosaur, because I always wanted to, and now I'd finally have a chance to.

Easy Peasy
posted by drezdn at 12:05 PM on June 11, 2008 [15 favorites]


build a boat, discover the new world!!

(or die trying)
posted by mannequito at 12:05 PM on June 11, 2008


On posting, I discovered that klangklangston at 2:57 PM already posted the real shizznizz. So, ignore my advice. Go with the K.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:05 PM on June 11, 2008


>Ryvar's sociopathic plan

In my own defense, the question was how to survive, not how to survive and be a nice guy.



Why do you need a defense? The plan is sociopathic. That doesn't make it unworkable, or even inadvisable.

posted by IAmBroom at 12:07 PM on June 11, 2008


"He did not wish to utter a word, even when hung by the feet and subject to dire and frequent torture."

That's it, time travel is right out. Pity, I know some Latin and everything.
posted by languagehat at 12:08 PM on June 11, 2008


Seriously, I do not understand statements like "I also have a bullshit detector about 10x more accurate than anybody living."

The 20th century did not invent con artists and bullshiteers. People in the past were not bumbling around like big trusting babies.
posted by prefpara at 12:08 PM on June 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


Kidding aside (???) I think some basic horsemanship would help out. Also, one should know how to slaughter and butcher animals, build a decent fire, etc. Boy Scout stuff would really come in handy in the year 1000.
posted by Mister_A at 12:09 PM on June 11, 2008


prefpara: The 20th century didn't invent critical thinking, either, but it greatly increased the supply. My parents have this encyclopedia-style tome from the late 1800s, and you would not believe how ridiculous some of the bullshit in there was.

That aside, the question here is really - am I more likely, in the event of being whisked away to 1000AD, to become the snake-oil salesman or the snake-oil buyer? The charlatan magician or his duped audience? The priest or the petitioner?

I already know those things are bullshit. The audience doesn't. This isn't a question of intelligence, it's a question of knowledge - and as a result regardless of my relative intelligence I'm in way better shape to filter out the noise than nearly every man alive in 1000 AD.
posted by Ryvar at 12:19 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


To hell with Europe, drop me in Tahiti in 1000 AD.
posted by Floydd at 12:25 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


More than weaving?
Yes. Some folks think crochet can't exist on a large scale without industrial cotton thread production. Not homespun. Which, naturally, tends to imperil the usefulness for 1000AD.
posted by aramaic at 12:29 PM on June 11, 2008


There was an update to this question today. The new variation on the question is:

"So if the typical person today couldn't hack it in 1000 AD (I agree that we probably can't) What is the furthest back someone from today could go and have a fighting chance to make ends meet?"
posted by bove at 1:09 PM on June 11, 2008


Horsemanship would be very good. Fencing or archery even better. Send back a clever strapping twenty-something male with these skills and he could probably do well. For a woman, the convent is still the best bet.

Floydd has the best idea.
posted by Ber at 1:21 PM on June 11, 2008


Fencing? I think you mean sword-fighting. Or knife-fighting. I don't think a mediæval knight would fence with you so much as crush or impale you, depending on what you were wearing. More likely, you would never see a knight or anything like that. You are more likely to run into someone with a knife and an empty belly than someone who will want to fence with you. But I still think you have the right general idea, esp. archery - you could get some chow, as long as you're not poaching the sheriff's lands!
posted by Mister_A at 1:25 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


If everyone is so interested in prehistoric crocheting, then someone should make an FPP about it already.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:28 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow, sounds like Ryvar's read one too many of the aforementioned nerdgasm sci-fi novels.

I already know those things are bullshit. The audience doesn't. This isn't a question of intelligence, it's a question of knowledge - and as a result regardless of my relative intelligence I'm in way better shape to filter out the noise than nearly every man alive in 1000 AD.

Bullshit. Even assuming you found someone even a little bit interested in your l33t Wikipedia skillz, you wouldn't be able to speak their language (metaphorically speaking). Scientific concepts don't work in a vacuum, without a scientific community willing to accept them; you would need to be able to translate all your knowledge into terms a contemporary scholar could handle. Notice that this is well before the rise even of medieval Aristotelianism, much less the Scientific Revolution. Hence your ability to "see through the bullshit" would leave you lonely, lost, and regarded by any intellectual worth his salt as a deluded crank. Worse, a crank who doesn't have the Book of Micah memorized and isn't able to refer casually to St. Augustine.

Even after gunpowder was invented, it took centuries before gunpowder-based weapons became as effective as longbows--centuries of craftsmen working on nothing but guns. What you take for granted as a gun is the product of this technical development, which is not something that can be known theoretically but has to be developed in practice. To make an adequate gun, you need high-quality metal, facilities for working, mining, and producing that metal, knowledge of ballistics and medieval gunsmithing, and most importantly the ability to effectively teach all of those skills to someone else. Keep in mind that this is not a society where trades are flexible and open about learning new techniques--you were bred to a trade from adolescence and you did almost exactly the same things as your father did.

In short, effectively deploying gunpowder would entail a complete transformation of medieval society. To think that even the most open-minded leader would take on a reform of this kind for the sake of some nasal-voiced outsider who doesn't even know how to joust or hunt, and who would most likely get himself killed while demonstrating his new invention, is just beyond belief.

Compass? Heliograph? Nifty, but unlikely to get you very far in a society that was the very opposite of meritocratic. Even seven hundred years later, during the innovation-obsessed Enlightenment, obviously worthwhile inventions often just withered on the vine and their inventors died in obscurity.
posted by nasreddin at 1:40 PM on June 11, 2008 [10 favorites]


"So if the typical person today couldn't hack it in 1000 AD (I agree that we probably can't) What is the furthest back someone from today could go and have a fighting chance to make ends meet?"

Probably 1980, and only with a decent supply of weapons.
posted by darkripper at 1:41 PM on June 11, 2008 [21 favorites]


Mister_A, I was thinking of fencing skills that could be applied to sword-fighting. Given the size, speed, and strength of a young 21st Century male and with the necessary ruthlessness, you could hold your own. And yes, archery would be even better.
posted by Ber at 1:42 PM on June 11, 2008


What is the furthest back someone from today could go and have a fighting chance to make ends meet?

1956.
posted by Dave Faris at 1:42 PM on June 11, 2008


I reckon I could get by in 1985. I still have my hair.
posted by surfdad at 1:42 PM on June 11, 2008


If everyone is so interested in prehistoric crocheting

I think ND¢ has that covered here.
posted by dersins at 1:43 PM on June 11, 2008


Right on Ber! Saddle up, we got some smitin' to do!
posted by Mister_A at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2008


but only if I could take my credit score with me.
posted by surfdad at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is wanking, you know.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2008


Nonsense, darkripper; I haven't even changed my hairstyle since the Carter years. I'd make it back to 1976, easy.

/... nor my underwear...
// (Sorry for the slashies - thought I was on Fark for a second there)
posted by IAmBroom at 1:54 PM on June 11, 2008


In the year 1000, I think most disposable razors still had only a single blade. My innovation will be revolutionary.
posted by maxwelton at 2:12 PM on June 11, 2008 [12 favorites]


There's one thing so many people overlook about the past:

OMG THE SMELL! THE SMELL
posted by drezdn



Funny you mention that. About 20 years ago, when I was rather less pragmatic, I was taking a course in the Middle Ages at college. In one of the office hours, I asked the prof, Dr. William W. Wootten, "Wouldn't it be cool to have lived back then?" His response was a swift and abrupt "Oh, my God, no!"

I asked him why not. He said "Virtually no medicine, short life span, horrible rule of law, wars, working hard from dusk 'till dawn, no central heat or air conditioning, filth and ignorance everywhere and the SMELL must have been PHENOMENAL!"

He was a great prof and his response was an eye-opening insight for me, someone who had, until then, thought of the Medieval era with rather more romantic and idealized notions.
...

I think we'll all have to buy some gold, and keep it on our person at all times, from now on. Just In Case.

posted by -harlequin-


Or, you might consider a pocket full of colored rhinestones or cubic zirconia that could be sold as gems. Much cheaper, lighter (easy to transport). You can sell them in the larger marketplace as exotic gemstones for a mint. Just hire bodyguards, otherwise, you won't be enjoying your windfall very long.
posted by darkstar at 2:15 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


*working hard from dawn 'till dusk

hehe
posted by darkstar at 2:16 PM on June 11, 2008


With warning, I could get solar panels, & put Wikipedia on my ipod. Per Stross' Merchant Princes, a patent database & possibly geographical surveys would also be sweet. (Oh, that was sorta in TFA.)
posted by Pronoiac at 2:19 PM on June 11, 2008


"AHA! WHAT ABOUT THE GELATINOUS CUBE KLANG? IT WILL EAT RIGHT THROUGH YOUR LEATHER ARMOR!!!"

You use fire on them, or avoid them. They're not very fast.

Oh, and as should be clear from the "max out at 12," we're talking D&D rules here, not NETHACK, where I'd no doubt be killed by giant ants (AGAIN!).
posted by klangklangston at 2:24 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


What is the furthest back someone from today could go and have a fighting chance to make ends meet?

1956.


[Looks down at skin, notices pigmentation, dreads, piercings and tatoos.] Uhh...nope.

I'd be really fucked if I suddenly found myself in 1000 AD Europe. Luckily if I were suddenly transported to that time and place I have some modern technology which would make things a lot easier: a nice, strong leather belt, which I could use to hang myself and just get it over with rather than waiting for stabby, burny, or germy death.
posted by lord_wolf at 2:28 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm just glad to learn I'm not the only one's who's considered this.

I'd get myself to a monastery, act pious, work my ass off and hope for the best.
posted by Kattullus at 2:34 PM on June 11, 2008


Question for all the medievalists in the room: would our traveler fare better were he dropped into the Byzantine Empire?

Pick a scenario: IANAM

The good scenario: You don't get landed somewhere where a regional dialect you don't understand is spoken and manage to reach the nearest monastery and stay there. Your ability to read and copy ecclesiastical texts and knowing basic Greek prayers/ancient texts comes in handy. You become a scribe and long for copy/paste, photocopies and Project Gutenberg. The monks will know better ancient Greek and Latin than you, but with a bit of luck you can splurge in texts that are lost for us.

The bad scenario: You are forcibly enlisted in the army of Basil II and die fighting the Bulgarians.
posted by ersatz at 2:35 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is wanking, you know.

No. It's this.
posted by Dave Faris at 3:02 PM on June 11, 2008


Ryvar's sociopathic plan (at 2:26 PM) seems about the most likely to work, although he may be underestimating the ability of a town to protect itself from strangers.

Yeah, you know what? They had people with exactly that plan wandering around back then, and they pretty much knew how to deal with them, without even dialing 911.

Also, nasreddin is absolutely correct.
posted by languagehat at 3:02 PM on June 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


What is the furthest back someone from today could go and have a fighting chance to make ends meet

It's not necessary monotonic like that. I feel vaguely like I'd have better chances appearing in the middle of Rome in its heyday, not like they'd be all that great.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:04 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


If I have the compass from my car and my solar powered watch I would invent longitude and be the only person who can navigate across worlds oceans.

When you look at the huge amount of money that successful ocean voyages earned, you could live pretty well off them.

BTW, my French is bad, and my spanish is worse, but, both are probably enough to convince somebody you speak a little bit of latin.
posted by Megafly at 3:05 PM on June 11, 2008


If I have the compass from my car and my solar powered watch I would invent longitude and be the only person who can navigate across worlds oceans.

When you look at the huge amount of money that successful ocean voyages earned, you could live pretty well off them.


Nah. Sailing vessels circa 1000 weren't nearly seaworthy enough for that kind of thing (and you can't haul much cargo in a Viking longboat, even if you could somehow convince them to try). Besides, you'd need a ton of seed money--good luck with that.
posted by nasreddin at 3:17 PM on June 11, 2008


effectively deploying gunpowder would entail a complete transformation of medieval society

As propellant for a bullet in a gun, yes. As the charge in a bomb or grenade, maybe not...
posted by nicwolff at 3:57 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


As a 5'9" woman, I'd have no chance ("burn the giantess!"), but if I were a man, I'd go into the sale of "religious relics": dress as a priest and have handy "wood from the true cross," and other such items, which I think the extremely religious people of the time would be more gullible about.
posted by misha at 4:04 PM on June 11, 2008


warlock, n.1

4. One in league with the Devil and so possessing occult and evil powers; a sorcerer, wizard (sometimes partly imagined as inhuman or demonic, and so approaching sense 2 or 3); the male equivalent of witch (emph. added). Sc. and north. dial.

Frequently used by Scott, whence it has obtained some general literary currency. On the form warlock, specialized for this sense, see the etymology.

13.. E.E. Allit. P. B. 1560 Segges..{th}at wer wyse of wych-crafte & warla{ygh}es o{th}er. c1460 Towneley Myst. viii. 232 Pharao... Say, whence is yond warlow [Moyses] with his wand that thus wold wyle oure folk away? a1585 MONTGOMERIE Misc. Poems iii. 25 That witch, that warlok [sc. Fortune]..Turnis ay the best men tittest on thair bakis. 1685 G. SINCLAIR Satan's Invis. World 45 An eminent Warlock whose name was Robert Grieve. 1689 tr. Buchanan's De Jure Regni apud Scotos 65 No Thief or Warlike will willingly compear before a Judge to be judged. c1730 BURT Lett. N. Scot. (1818) I. 234 He was himself a warlock, or wizard, which they knew by his taking the witch's part. 1795 BURNS Song, ‘Last May a braw wooer’ v, I gaed to the tryste o' Dalgarnock, And wha but my fine fickle lover was there! I glowr'd as I'd seen a warlock, a warlock. 1816 SCOTT Bl. Dwarf v, ‘But you forget that they say he is a warlock,’ said Nancy Ilderton. ‘And, if his magic diabolical should fail him,’ rejoined her sister, ‘I would have him trust to his magic natural’. 1822 S. HIBBERT Shetl. Isl. IV. 576 The warlocks and witches of Thule used, by the same means, to raise tempests. 1840 BARHAM Ingol. Leg., St. Aloys, The gipsy..always sneaks out at night with the bats and the owls,--So do Witches and Warlocks, Ghosts, Goblins, and Ghouls. 1860 LONGFELLOW Wayside Inn I. King Olaf V. x, In their real forms appeared The warlocks weird, Awful as the Witch of Endor. 1865 BARING-GOULD Werewolves 29 In like manner the Danish king Harold sent a warlock to Iceland in the form of a whale. 1882 M. E. BRADDON Mt. Royal I. ii. 51, I am prepared to believe in witches--warlocks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:04 PM on June 11, 2008


Bullshit. Even assuming you found someone even a little bit interested in your l33t Wikipedia skillz, you wouldn't be able to speak their language (metaphorically speaking). Scientific concepts don't work in a vacuum, without a scientific community willing to accept them; you would need to be able to translate all your knowledge into terms a contemporary scholar could handle. Notice that this is well before the rise even of medieval Aristotelianism, much less the Scientific Revolution. Hence your ability to "see through the bullshit" would leave you lonely, lost, and regarded by any intellectual worth his salt as a deluded crank. Worse, a crank who doesn't have the Book of Micah memorized and isn't able to refer casually to St. Augustine.

I'm sorry, but you're pretty clearly more interested in a oneupmanship pissing match to boost your ego than anything, so this is going to be brief-

I wasn't talking about Wikipedia skills or any such thing. What I'm talking about is the tendency of people in that era to fall for snakeoil salesmanship, religion, and other sociological forces used to deflect them from achieving. It's not a question of convincing them, it's a question of how effective I would be at manipulating others by preying on the irrational fears of the era versus how ineffective others would be at manipulating me by the same token. It has nothing to do with trying to impart a scientific worldview on 11th century peasants or even intellectuals - of course that's impossible.

Even after gunpowder was invented, it took centuries before gunpowder-based weapons became as effective as longbows--centuries of craftsmen working on nothing but guns. What you take for granted as a gun is the product of this technical development, which is not something that can be known theoretically but has to be developed in practice. To make an adequate gun, you need high-quality metal, facilities for working, mining, and producing that metal, knowledge of ballistics and medieval gunsmithing, and most importantly the ability to effectively teach all of those skills to someone else. Keep in mind that this is not a society where trades are flexible and open about learning new techniques--you were bred to a trade from adolescence and you did almost exactly the same things as your father did.

I am intimately familiar with the history and internal mechanics of firearms from early China to the modern era, including the limitations imposed upon them by the industrial capabilities of their era. Check my posting history. Specifically what I was thinking of employing were Ribauldequins which were achieved with pre-Renaissance engineering. Even if one could successfully argue that this would stretching the capabilities of 11th century engineering, crude mortars as employed by the early Ottoman Empire are within the grasp of any civilization with metal-working capabilities.
posted by Ryvar at 4:31 PM on June 11, 2008


the male equivalent of witch (emph. added).

Take that, Wizard.

Now let's burn him.
posted by Artw at 4:41 PM on June 11, 2008


If you didn't die of exposure in the first few nights you would be hounded out of every village and hamlet for being an imbecile, mad man, or witch with in weeks of encountering "civilization."

If you weren't locked up you would die of an infectious disease with in a year.

If you didn't and you were small or unskilled fighting with an edged or impact weapon you would be robbed or killed with in a couple of years.

Ask your self would you survive if you dropped on foot in the middle of the most remote places in central Pakistan tomorrow would you rock the Kush? Luckily they wouldn't burn your ass at the stake but thhey would look at you as the pathetic helpless westerner who doesn't have a fucking clue.

I have lived in third word countries and have had all the inoculations... but still... they wont prepare me for 1st century versions of the Flu, let alone Tetanus, yellow or scarlet fever.

I can hunt and fish. I have some fighting skill and I know how to use a knife and some arcane weapons. But I have never killed anybody with them so that would put me at a distinct disadvantage.

Nah. I'd last maybe a year or two tops. Most of you not conversant in dead languages less than that. And all the time we'd be on the bottom rung of societies ladder.
posted by tkchrist at 4:42 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


What I'm talking about is the tendency of people in that era to fall for snakeoil salesmanship, religion, and other sociological forces used to deflect them from achieving.

As opposed to people in this era?
posted by dersins at 4:53 PM on June 11, 2008


> l

You are in front of a small cottage. It is clear that the occupants are very poor people.

> i

You are carrying:

- Your wallet
- A Zippo lighter

> l in wallet

Your wallet contains:

- A ten dollar bill
- Your credit card
- An unused condom purchased in 1983

> l in cottage

Peering through a hole in the cottage wall, you can see a man, woman, and eight children of various ages, all sleeping. The cottage also contains clothes, food, a knife, a wineskin, flint, a bowl, and a knapsack.

> sneak

Where do you want to sneak?

> sneak in cottage

You're not thinking of murdering these poor people, are you?

> yes

Perhaps you should open the door, first.

> open door

You furtively open the door. It creaks, but the sleeping occupants do not seem to notice.

> sneak in cottage

You quietly enter the cottage, and immediately trip over a stool, and crash to the ground, upending a small table in the process. The people wake up, alarmed.

> run away

You are lying on the ground. Perhaps you should stand up first.

> stand up

You stand up, as does the man, woman, and the older children. The woman screams, and the man grabs some sort of long-handled farming tool.

> run away

You announce to the startled family that "Ya can roon rully, rully fester tham yoof!", and stumble out the door.

You are in front of a small cottage. It is clear that the occupants are very poor people.

> run away

You run into the nearby stand of trees, and promptly trip over a log.

> stand up

You stand up. You can hear commotion coming from the small village.

> run away

It's pretty dark. You trip over another log.

> stand up

You stand up. You are surrounded by villagers with torches and pitchforks.

> impress villagers

Impress the villagers with what?

> impress villagers with zippo

You announce to the villagers "Ya im frum der fyoosher, ya im big magic!", and flick your Zippo lighter. You once again notice that the villagers have torches.

> exits

You are completely surrounded by villagers.

> invent gunpowder

You do not have any sulfur, carbon, or saltpeter. In fact, you're not quite sure what saltpeter is.

> wiki saltpeter

You cannot seem to connect to Wikipedia.

> run away

The villagers grab you, tie you up, and bring you back to the village.

You are sitting on the ground in a small stable, tied up and tied to a post. Also tied to the post is a small donkey.

> untie

What do you want to untie, yourself or the donkey?

> untie self

You squirm a bit. It seems to accomplish nothing. The donkey looks at you.

> l donkey

This donkey is clearly downtrodden by a hard and unforgiving life of heavy labor and poor nutrition.

> wait

Morning comes, and soon thereafter a crowd of villagers forms around you. The crowd parts to allow a monk and a sheriff through to have a look at you.

> pretend

What do you want to pretend?

> pretend to be pious

You say, "Irr fudder wot irr im hebben...." The monk and sheriff look at you.

> pray

"Horrolled be thir nomm...." The monk and sheriff speak to each other.

> listen

You don't understand what they're saying. They continue speaking.

> impress sheriff

You fail.

> pray

"Thir kimderm cone, thir wilber domm...." The sheriff hangs you by your feet.

You are in a small village. You are tied up. You are hanging upside down by your feet.

> teach

Who do you want to teach?

> teach villagers

What do you want to teach the villagers?

> teach villagers bayes theorem

"Terr perberbollity urf A gimmen B isk terr perberbollity urf B gimmen A terms derr perberbollity urf A difornskid berr derr perberbollity urf B." The villagers seem to be piling wood underneath you.

> invent steam engine

You do not have any metal. The villagers continue to pile wood underneath you.

> train as master mason

You do not see any nearby masons who might be willing to teach you masonry. You notice that one of the villagers has your Zippo lighter.

> twitter hanging upside down in 1000 ad

You cannot seem to connect to Twitter. The villagers stuff kindling into the pile.

> score

You have 0 of a possible 0 points.

> speak

What do you want to say?

> say take me to your leader

"TERF MIG TARR YORF LOCKER", you shout. The villager with your Zippo lighter uses it to light the kindling.

> escape

You are not sure how to escape. The pile of wood catches. It's getting really hot.

> invent compass

You don't have a magnet. The flames rise.

YOU ARE DEAD. Your score was 0 of a possible 0 points.
posted by Flunkie at 4:57 PM on June 11, 2008 [111 favorites]


regardless of my relative intelligence I'm in way better shape to filter out the noise than nearly every man alive in 1000 AD.

Ah, but without modern psychopharmacology will you be able to filter out the noise from the voices inside your own head?

Personally, I know I'd use my belt even if I *did* manage to make it to a convent. No way can I survive without modern chemicals coursing through my veins.
posted by marble at 5:01 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


My version of this thought experiment always includes a shipping crate coming back with me, and the pondering is mostly about how to fill said crate. A small library? Solar cells? Weapons? Ideally I'd bury the crate and live in it like some kind of burrow while I consolidated my position, so it'd have to include at least some living space / lighting. HMM. Anyway, I've spent dozens of hours thinking about this and haven't really come to any firm conclusions, so if Metafilter had any suggestions...
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 5:04 PM on June 11, 2008


Hmm, In the meantime, I'm going to work on improving today's technology, so that our descendants can ponder time travel to 2000AD and feel smugly superior to us because they were freely handed from birth the advances that we will create by our toil.

And if some fancy-pants foreign stranger tries to show me a better a way to do it, well, he can start with sweatshop assembly work for me at less than minimum wage. He's got no SSN, no passport, nothing. What else is he going to do? My factory-of-one is the best deal going :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:05 PM on June 11, 2008


a random location in Europe (say for instance current France/Benelux/Germany) in the year 1000 AD (plus or minus 200 years).

That's a huge stretch of time and a huge region of space, so any general advice is impossible. One thing's pretty likely: you'd be dropped into a feudalist bonded society. However, you'd have no oath-takers, you wouldn't be enrolled in a tithing, you wouldn't be bonded to a lord, you'd have no well-defined rank... in short, you'd be an outlaw. You'd be considered wild and probably mad (and madness was thought to be contagious, so no one would even go near you.) Any plan that involves showing up out of the blue or assuming some sort of false identity just couldn't work. The first thing you'd have to do before showing off your scientific chops would be to break into the social structure somehow, and that could be pretty much impossible depending on where and when you end up. Different societies had different ways of dealing with outlaws. If you ended up in England before the Norman Conquest, it would be an offence for anyone to communicate with you and you could legally be killed by anyone.

Being able to read Latin would probably be the skill most likely to save your bacon, but I have no idea how you could deploy it. Darkstar's plan to pretend to be a pilgrim sounds okay, but I'd think the monks would ask questions about the identity of your landlord.
posted by painquale at 5:07 PM on June 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


I wasn't talking about Wikipedia skills or any such thing. What I'm talking about is the tendency of people in that era to fall for snakeoil salesmanship, religion, and other sociological forces used to deflect them from achieving. It's not a question of convincing them, it's a question of how effective I would be at manipulating others by preying on the irrational fears of the era versus how ineffective others would be at manipulating me by the same token. It has nothing to do with trying to impart a scientific worldview on 11th century peasants or even intellectuals - of course that's impossible.

To do this you'd need to have a much more subtle understanding of medieval culture than you seem to be displaying here. Contrary to popular belief, medievals wouldn't have been readily fooled by "Oooga-booga, there's a demon around the corner and he'll eat you right up if you don't do what I say!" Could you give an example of how you could leverage an irrational fear?


I am intimately familiar with the history and internal mechanics of firearms from early China to the modern era, including the limitations imposed upon them by the industrial capabilities of their era. Check my posting history. Specifically what I was thinking of employing were Ribauldequins which were achieved with pre-Renaissance engineering. Even if one could successfully argue that this would stretching the capabilities of 11th century engineering, crude mortars as employed by the early Ottoman Empire are within the grasp of any civilization with metal-working capabilities.


OK. I'm not convinced that given the extremely low rate of fire and high availability of cannon fodder, the ribauldequin would do all that much good--it's the sort of thing that looks cool in a video game but isn't all that practical in reality.

But even assuming it's technically possible to build a mortar, you're completely ignoring the fact that you have essentially no social status. When Vauban rose through the ranks in the seventeenth century to become a high-ranking general in the army of Louis XIV, that was a fairly revolutionary development. In the Middle Ages, it would have been inconceivable. Your literacy wouldn't have helped you at all (monks need a hell of a lot more training than just in the Roman alphabet, even assuming you'd be able to read contemporary writing; nobles were generally illiterate); you couldn't pass yourself off as a nobleman because you would lack all the social and occupational training nobles received from the age of six onward; your dainty modern habits would make a mockery of you throughout the court; and if you, a complete unknown, managed to somehow ingratiate yourself with the local ruler, you would likely get yourself assassinated posthaste by the actual nobility, who tended to be pretty jealous of their privileges. Plus, there wasn't any such thing as an armchair strategist in the Middle Ages. You fought, you made strategic decisions, and the only way to actually gain that kind of authority was to fight, fight, and fight some more. I doubt you'd last very long on the field of battle.
posted by nasreddin at 5:08 PM on June 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


You'd survive as a drafted soldier or a slave, if youre lucky. I think its interesting that we take meritocracy and entrepreneurship for granted.

I also think that depending on the time and culture, you are most likely assumed to be a foreigner, not a witch. That could lead to a shitty slavery gig, but at least you would still be alive. I would think that its either that or a life of crime. Or if youre really, really lucky you would find yourself in a town that tolerated crazies and with a church that might even feed you once in a while.

I also have to disagree with this tough-guy Heinlein/Boy Scout bullshit. I doubt anyone reading this could manage making it in a random spot in modern africa naked and with no cash, let alone in the distant past.

Of course this ignores the very real psychological stress of being somewhere where no one speaks your language, cares about you, loves you, etc. If you did survive you would most likely kill yourself. Humans are pretty delicate.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:14 PM on June 11, 2008 [5 favorites]


Assuming I'd be at worst hunted and killed for any number of reasons or at best live out a miserable life for a few years, going on a homicidal rampage seems about as decent an idea as any.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 5:27 PM on June 11, 2008


this ignores the very real psychological stress of being somewhere where no one speaks your language, cares about you, loves you, etc. If you did survive you would most likely kill yourself. Humans are pretty delicate.

I be hardened to these so called "traumas" by years of nerdom! I eat all that stuff before breakfast, and then ask for seconds.
I am a rock. I am an island. I am nerd. Hear me roar:

Grrr! Raah!!!11!!1

EEEP! Don't hurt me!

posted by -harlequin- at 5:34 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah. The monastery idea is a good one. IF you could find one. They weren't all that common in the 1sr century. Not knowing the language or the geography it's unlikely you would find one. But if you did you might live a few years as the shit shoveler. Likely do better as a cook rather than an "innovator" or engineer. A couple of simple good recipes might wow the locals. But you'd still die of disease soon enough no matter what. Even Kings didn't live all that well or in good health back then.
posted by tkchrist at 6:12 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


All I can say is that if I woke up one morning to find my neighbour and his family dead (and considering I am most likely related to them), I'd rouse up the whole town to search for the outlaw that did it. Finding a rather strange wanderer a few miles over wearing their clothes would definitely brand him as the murderer. Ryvvar would be hanged within a week.

If I were younger I would have used my scouting knowledge to try and become a squire. Today I would go to the monks.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:53 PM on June 11, 2008


Regarding self-defense, leet ninja skillz are better than nothing, but the question of a modern martial artist vs an armed medieval peasant is open to some debate. However, at the very least, the martial artist knows what the peasant is likely to try to do to him, and the reverse is very far from true. My take is, if you're capable of taking on a fairly nasty modern day street kid/gangbanger armed with a knife, you can take on a medieval peasant; they're about equally vicious, practiced, and bent on preserving their life and killing you. If you could teach a black-belt class, or have equivalent skills (eg, could teach military or police combat training; are an experienced soldier, cop, or street thug yourself), you're probably OK as long as you get some warning. Since the customs and social mores are dramatically different, you may not get warning. You may offend some guy so much that he will shiv you, and never realise how you offended him.

Armor makes a huge difference. You have only a vague idea how to fight a person in armor, and are unlikely to get much opportunity to learn. You'll be killed, for social reasons, by guys in chain and leather armed with halberds before you get to try your skills in against knights in tourney. If you get to fight knights, it'll be because you survived and did so well in your first six months, that you're a political power. In essence, you've already won or lost our little game before that question comes up.

Those guys are your second-worst threat: halberdiers, pikemen, and the like. Few modern martial artists, and fewer modern police or soldiers, can fight halberdiers effectively. We've gotten used to the idea of never facing that threat. Police/soldier training tends to assume that you can pull a gun at some point. First word of advice: make yourself a quarterstaff. Forget swords, you're not allowed to have one. If you happen to have trained in a martial art that includes quarterstaff fighting, you are way ahead. But they will still probably be able to beat the crap out of you one-on-one; they have trained with their halberds, and used them on people.

Your worst threat, in terms of self-defence: archers and crossbowmen. They're roughly as dangerous as a modern handgun. Do not pick a fight with archers; you will be shot. They hunt pigs with them, and pigs run faster than you.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:05 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Latin? Bah. I know the eternal and universal language of dance. A little MC Hammer and I'd be in. Or dead. Probably dead.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 7:06 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting question. There seems to be a whole subgenre of science fiction devoted to this question. A couple that I've read that were good included "Island in the Sea of Time", except instead of the year 1000AD, it's set 3000 years ago and the whole island of Nantucket and the surrounding sea is sent back. It looks at survival from a more community oriented point of view. Amazon link.

Also, the Belasarius series by Eric Flint/David Drake is pretty fanciful, but one good idea he comes up with is primitive gunpowder grendaes thrown by slingstaffs. That might be somewhat impressive.

Depending on what you had with you, you might survive, but you would have to be extremely lucky. You could impress a travelling tinker or merchant with your leftover chocolate bar and get some protection, or you could meet an outlaw and be killed for your jacket.

Aeschenkarnos's comment is another interesting point to ponder - how would judo or some other common martial art work against someone from that time? Did they routinely use any wrestling and you'd get your butt pounded in short order or would you be like the second coming of the Gracies?
posted by concreteforest at 7:43 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


PS I've also read Leo Frankowski but just found his personal website...... and now hang my head in shame
posted by concreteforest at 7:45 PM on June 11, 2008


If Captain Kirk could build a crude gun out of a stick, some rope, some shiny dust, flint, and mansweat to kill the Gorn in that episode where they get beamed to that planet where they have to duke it out, then I think I could do it too. "Alright, you primitive screw-heads, listen up!"
posted by Zack_Replica at 8:44 PM on June 11, 2008


The first and only thing I would so is find a cave as distant as possible from any other humans and not occupied by creatures larger than myself, and live there. I say that as someone who has studied that time period extensively, have a passing familiarity with the languages, cultures, and life of that time period, and as someone who is capable of surviving in the wild on my own.

Avoiding people is going to be the only way to survive, because I don't think a great many people here or at the link realize just how very foreign the languages back then are going to be compared to anything we know now. Without language and an understanding of the cultures, you'd be lucky if all they thought of you was that you were insane. Even then, they didn't treat insane people very well either.

Even avoiding people, my life would be miserable and likely very short.

Though, I might at some point, after fashioning myself some animal skin clothing and carving myself a proper rosary, I might try to make my way to a monastery, nunnery or church and attempt to pass myself off as some sort of religious wild woman with my ability to sing medieval Latin hymns and recite liturgical poems, but it would be a final act of desperation, and I wouldn't expect it to end well for me.
posted by Orb at 8:59 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


this ignores the very real psychological stress of being somewhere where no one speaks your language, cares about you, loves you

No problem. I already live in Los Angeles.

Rimshot
posted by Justinian at 9:04 PM on June 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


aramaic writes "Some folks think crochet can't exist on a large scale without industrial cotton thread production. Not homespun. Which, naturally, tends to imperil the usefulness for 1000AD."

I wasn't really thinking of industrial scale, just as a gift to make people's life easier. Assuming yarn was available (I know that's a lot but they did have rugs didn't they?) people could make blankets and cloth pretty simply and as a down time activity in winter under low light conditions.

MetaFilter: stabby, burny, or germy death.
posted by Mitheral at 9:07 PM on June 11, 2008


I'd like to point out that the middle ages had a lot less witch burning than the Early Modern Period.
posted by jb at 9:32 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Delivery boy? Not again!
posted by ryanrs at 9:55 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


1000 AD in Egypt or Baghdad would've been a fine place to be, with the Islamic Golden Age going on. China's Song Dynasty was fluorishing. If you were dropped in 1200 AD you could hook up with the Mongols, who had a very bright future at that point.

The world was so varied back then that your fate would really all depend on where it was that you landed. Some places might welcome a strange person with open arms, while others would kill you on the spot. It probably wouldn't be that bad to be dropped into any ancient city where there were different groups of people mixing. In a city people would be less surprised to see someone strange. In the countryside you'd likely be subject to more scrutiny, and people would probably be more skeptical of strangers.
posted by mullingitover at 11:30 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Consolidating various ideas of other posters, my version would be something like:

1. Fashion crude cross from sticks and strips of cloth. Shredding my clothes would also help to disguise their complete oddness.

2. Find people. Pretend to be mute. Act super super super pious.

3. PROFIT!

No, actually, I don't know what comes next. My whole survival strategy simply depends upon being taken for a mute, wandering pilgrim/holy fool. I won't be able to hide my extreme oddness, so this is the least threatening (hopefully) sort of figure that I can present. With any luck, I will be fed.

Eventually I may be able to hook up with a monastery, and make myself useful and be left alone.

Perhaps I'd eventually be able to acquire some language skills and drop the mute act (a "miracle")?

Perhaps one or more of my average modern skill sets would turn out to be super useful enough that I'd eventually increase my social standing and maybe make some money.

But I'd be pretty impressed with myself if I could just get a bunk in a monastery.

And manage to avoid nasty diseases.
posted by flotson at 11:47 PM on June 11, 2008


I doubt anyone reading this could manage making it in a random spot in modern africa naked and with no cash, let alone in the distant past.

Of course this ignores the very real psychological stress of being somewhere where no one speaks your language, cares about you, loves you, etc. If you did survive you would most likely kill yourself. Humans are pretty delicate.


I'm not sure where the "naked" part came into the discourse, but aside from that, I've done exactly what you propose. As a field sociolinguist, I traveled extensively in Africa and elsewhere, often alone, in very remote villages where I knew no one and had limited ability to communicate. It's stressful at times, but the thought of killing myself never occurred to me.

Moreover, the whole "seek out a monastery" suggestion above is a variation on a theme Ive employed more than once. Find the religious folks and ask them to provide hospitality. It's often a key entry into the society on many levels.

Yeah. The monastery idea is a good one. IF you could find one. They weren't all that common in the 1sr century. Not knowing the language or the geography it's unlikely you would find one.

I'm assuming that's a typo, as the Middle Ages were not the 1st century but several centuries after that. And while monasteries were not on every street corner as churches are in some parts of the US today, once you hit the 12th or 13th Century, pretty much every town throughout most of Europe had one nearby. If it wasn't a full abbey, then there was at least a priory, friary, hospice, grange or other smaller monastic gathering where a pilgrim or other person in need might find hospitality and other assistance. Indeed, if folks in the Middle Ages were destitute, homeless and friendless, or just plain foreigners who didn't have a place to stay while on pilgrimage, they also made their way to these places to receive help. I'd take advantage of every bit of it.

As for being able to find one when not being able to speak the language, the Latin for "monastery" is "monasterium". The Latin for "monk" is "monachus". Those should help. :)
posted by darkstar at 11:50 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry guys, but your likely dead, even those with a good survival plan. Your vaccinations will only save you from diseases that have not been eliminated. But the W.H.O. choses to virtually eliminate deadly diseases when possible. Smallpox killed 400,000 Europeans per year in the 18th century. I doubt you'll give them any deadly diseases, except for maybe a flu or two.

If you go back even further, you will usually encounter less deadly variants, which improves your chances. If you are not sick, then you may be accepted by some group, and have a chance. At that point, you can become a doctor by remembering to boil the water. I'd personally prefer being dropped among north american indians because their variants didn't kill many Europeans.

Ryvar's plan seems naive, rumors about new people still travel. If your back far enough that disease doesn't kill you immediately, then people are not bumping into one another as frequently. So just try to make friends by helping people.

p.s. You've all got it wrong about women vs. men. A modern women has very good skin quality, so she can find a powerful mate easily, and will survive longer. However, she's quite likely to die in child birth, without access to birth control, so know your cycle and give blowjobs! :)
posted by jeffburdges at 12:42 AM on June 12, 2008


and give blowjobs!

Bring soap and water.
posted by maxwelton at 3:09 AM on June 12, 2008


Of course this ignores the very real psychological stress of being somewhere where no one speaks your language, cares about you, loves you, etc.

You've never been to France?

When I was younger, I did the whole "backpacking around Europe" thing for a few months, and could not speak any of the local languages, (as is the custom for an american). I didn't eat in many restaurants, as it was summertime, and there were plenty of fruit and street vendors who didn't require much communication beyond me pointing and holding up money. And now that I think of it, that might be the key -- I had enough of the local currency to get by. If I didn't have that, I guess I'd have to ... as other have suggested ... begging or stealing.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:54 AM on June 12, 2008


argh. "as others have suggested... resort to begging or stealing."
posted by Dave Faris at 4:58 AM on June 12, 2008


Smallpox killed 400,000 Europeans per year in the 18th century.

Yes, 800 years later and only 200 years before the present. In 1000 people didn't live in dense cities and therefore didn't face epidemics like they did 200 years later when the Black plague entered the scene. Think of the difference between the lifestyle we live today vs. the lifestyle in the 1700's, that is the sort of radical differences there were between the 1000's and the 1200's that allowed for mass disease to sweep through.

Of course plagues were occurring in 1000, but in the denser populated Asia, the place where people are proposing they'd flee to for safety. It's one of the several reasons the Mongols and Turks could do so well against the advanced walled cities. On the steppes they were spread out and without the disease of density.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:24 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


1. to 4. yada yada yada, what everyone else said.
5. Invent MetaFilter.
6. ???
7. PROFIT!!!
posted by not_on_display at 5:35 AM on June 12, 2008


I imagined Ryvar's plan being said by Dwight Schrute, and LOLed.
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:43 AM on June 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I imagined Ryvar's plan being said by Dwight Schrute, and LOLed.

:D

And there would be the crossbow, of course.
posted by darkstar at 8:35 AM on June 12, 2008


A friend a I once spent a couple of days discussing this exact thing, our effort was to figure out what we could actually do, as opposed to what fantasies the movies and books might have suggested to us. Because as much as I would like to think I could pull off a steam powered Oldsmobile deadite killing machine, the odds are good I would just blow myself up in the effort.

We came up with a couple:

Hygiene; "kill the invisible demons that live on your hands by drowning them, and you will be healthier."

The wood-screw; holds stuff together. It's cool! Your house will last longer.

The phrase "okay". It's useful and addictive.

There are probably a ton other little things I could make better, but the one thing that we discovered when we were coming up with this is that, while we know how a lot of things work, and when using modern tools we can make and modify them, when presented with medieval technology, I don't know that I could make a gun, or gunpowder, or explosives, or lightbulbs, or anything that has been suggested by films and books as being easy for someone from our age.

Also, knowing my luck, I'd get eaten by a dragon or a griffin or something.
posted by quin at 9:12 AM on June 12, 2008


My version of this thought experiment always includes a shipping crate coming back with me, and the pondering is mostly about how to fill said crate. A small library? Solar cells? Weapons? Ideally I'd bury the crate and live in it like some kind of burrow while I consolidated my position, so it'd have to include at least some living space / lighting. HMM. Anyway, I've spent dozens of hours thinking about this and haven't really come to any firm conclusions, so if Metafilter had any suggestions...

posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot



I was thinking about this, myself. If I had a day to prep some things, what would I take? A partial list came to mind of what I'd put into a leather backpack or wear for the trip.

1. Nice, sturdy rustic clothes, plus an extra set.
2. Revolver and extra ammo
3. First aid kit, deluxe, including a few boxes of antibiotics and other meds
4. Several bars of soap
5. A basic camping kit (you can flesh out the details)
6. Book: Latin primer/dictionary
7. Book: Where There is No Doctor
8. Book: Goundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions and Discoveries of the Middle Ages and Renaissance
9. 2 Books: Two-volume set of Norton Anthology of Western Literature (for my own benefit and to copy and distribute).
10. A bag of silver jewelry and another of semiprecious gemstones for use in bartering and buying whatever else I needed.

What else?

Sadly, there's no real easy way to prepare for the viral diseases (smallpox, flu, etc.) that have been mentioned. Just practice good hygiene, minimize contact with the broader populace and pray/hope for the best. :(
posted by darkstar at 9:16 AM on June 12, 2008


Two Thousand Formulas, Recipes, and Trade Secrets: The Classic "Do-It-Yourself" Book of Practical Everyday Chemistry by Harry Bennett.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:23 AM on June 12, 2008


What else?

A good quality stainless steel mid-sized (as opposed to a sword) knife like a Bowie. Big enough to be used as a weapon/ tool, small enough to be concealed.
posted by quin at 9:31 AM on June 12, 2008


Avoiding people is going to be the only way to survive, because I don't think a great many people here or at the link realize just how very foreign the languages back then are going to be compared to anything we know now.

Excuse me, but this is nonsense. Learning the contemporary versions of English or French would be no harder than learning German or Catalan now. If you know any foreign languages now, you would have no problem picking up a basic form of whatever language was spoken wherever you found yourself.

1000 AD in Egypt or Baghdad would've been a fine place to be

Sure, if you were a male with fluent Arabic, an intimate knowledge of the culture, and a lot of prestige. For women and low-class types, it sucked, and for you it would suck a lot more. If you were lucky, you'd wind up as an overworked slave.
posted by languagehat at 9:36 AM on June 12, 2008


Hygiene; "kill the invisible demons that live on your hands by drowning them, and you will be healthier."

Dangerous Moorish ideas that would not be accepted by good Christian folk.
posted by Artw at 9:38 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


The REAL question is: What is MetaFilter's overall Alignment? Chaotic Good?
posted by not_on_display at 10:02 AM on June 12, 2008


"Cleanliness is next to godliness." That's got a pretty good ring to it. Too bad it doesn't seem to have been adopted until the 17th century.

I think I could hack it no earlier than the enlightenment. England around 1680 or so sounds good to me.
posted by Telf at 10:21 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


What else?

If we are going THERE then: A couple of big ass knives. A cross bow and bolts. Some herb seeds. And spices. Lots of bottles of spices.

And if we could further expand what we could bring? About two hundrend other well armed and outfitted soldiers.

Problem is the more you bring — the more exotic the items seem to the locals — the more attention you would inevitably attract. It would be better to fit in as best as possible. Bring period clothes and some kind of well forged letter from some distant noble or something.

Excuse me, but this is nonsense. Learning the contemporary versions of English or French would be no harder than learning German or Catalan now.

Which is pretty hard, really. Immersion is great. NOW. But put yourself in a hostile nearly completely xenophobic, fanatically religious, and superstitious disease ridden 10th century Europe? In the three to four months it would take MOST people to just begin to grasp and communicate complex concepts... you're dead. Though perhaps that knowledge would serve as great motivation.

Yeah. You could learn TOILET, FOOD, HOUSE, WHERE, I DON'T KNOW, HELP, HELLO, GOODBYE, PRAISE GOD, LEFT, RIGHT, (compass headings), EAT, PLEASE, THANK YOU, MAN, WOMAN, easy enough. And those can get you through day to day to just survive. But you are likely to get in more complicated scrapes very quickly.

It's moot. Without immunity to the diseases of the day you would be a dead man in just a few years. An in either case nobody from now alone would "Rock" the 10th Century.
posted by tkchrist at 10:21 AM on June 12, 2008


Hey does anybody remember the thread where the subject was: What if you were in an arena with an army of mindless 5 yr olds whose task is to murder you and your task is to survive?, wave after wave. Lotta things to take into consideration and some good ideas.
posted by Student of Man at 10:35 AM on June 12, 2008


TOILET

BUCKET, surely?
posted by Artw at 10:44 AM on June 12, 2008


TOILET

BUCKET, surely?


See. I already failed to adapt.
posted by tkchrist at 11:04 AM on June 12, 2008


In the three to four months it would take MOST people to just begin to grasp and communicate complex concepts... you're dead. Though perhaps that knowledge would serve as great motivation.

The motivation would certainly be great, but more importantly, communicating complex concepts isn't nearly as important as it's made out to be (especially by the overeducated elite here at MetaPlateobeans). There are plenty of people surviving probably within a few blocks of you while barely communicating with anyone. I knew a plumber in Buenos Aires who had forgotten his native Italian and not really learned Spanish; hardly anyone could understand anything he said, but he made a perfectly good living. In many parts of the world, and much more so a thousand years ago, you could go around with a begging bowl and hope to survive without saying a word to anyone. That said...

It's moot. Without immunity to the diseases of the day you would be a dead man in just a few years. And in either case nobody from now alone would "Rock" the 10th Century.

There we agree.
posted by languagehat at 11:26 AM on June 12, 2008


Severinus of Noricum appeared, seemingly from nowhere in the late western Roman Empire on the borderlands tenuously held between the Germanic hordes to the north and the failing Romans to the south. Severinus by contemporary accounts had many seemingly "eastern" ideas of religion, hygene, dress, construction and, possibly most important to the Romans of the day, warfare. His leadership and ideas helped the Romans extend their stay in Noricum for a few last decades. Severinus refused, however, to ever discuss his personal history or where he'd come from before arriving along the Danube. Some speculated he was an Armenian, others an Egyptian, but no one really knew.

I think now we know, he was a MeFite who set the time machine to 400 rather than 1000.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:37 PM on June 12, 2008 [6 favorites]


languagehat writes "Sure, if you were a male with fluent Arabic, an intimate knowledge of the culture, and a lot of prestige. For women and low-class types, it sucked, and for you it would suck a lot more. If you were lucky, you'd wind up as an overworked slave."

Thing is, at least Islam and Judaism have hygiene built into their religions. Up until the Mongols rolled in, Baghdad was a great place to live and you'd be far less likely to die of disease there. I'd prefer being a living overworked slave to being a dead nobody.

We're also talking a lot about Latin, but in 1000 AD Arabic would probably be a much more marketable language to know. If we're including a small crate of goods to bring along on our time travel fantasy, I think an Arabic-English dictionary, jar of penicillin, several gold bars, and the rest of the space filled with guns and ammo would be all you'd need to succeed.
posted by mullingitover at 12:38 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


nasreddin: you can't haul much cargo in a Viking longboat

That's why they built knörrs.

Also, yesterday I wondered how well I'd do if I was dropped in a different country without anything more than clothes and shoes. If, say, I suddenly found myself in, for instance, Japan or Mozambique, I'd be screwed. I'd probably have to forage for food in garbage cans and sleep in cardboard boxes. The past may be a different country, but so are different countries.

On the other hand, if I found myself timevortexed back to 1956 I'd have it made, think of all the great pop songs we all know that hadn't been written by then?
posted by Kattullus at 3:34 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, I apologize if somebody has already made this point...

...but medieval people didn't just kill people indiscriminately. They killed people for reasons we may not accept, but "just cuz they're different" wasn't all that big back then.
posted by Kattullus at 3:42 PM on June 12, 2008


but "just cuz they're different" wasn't all that big back then.

I disagree. There are places in the US now where the without the rule of law enforcing justice (and sometimes even with the rule of law) kissing another man will get you killed. That is "different."

I remember reading about some pilgrims who were traveling through the in the late 1600's. Among their number were two monks from Ethiopia. One of the African monks was skinned alive by the locals to see what he was like on the inside. And it's weird becuase you would think they had seen dark skinned people before?

And somebody else might remember the story of the 15th century shipwreck survivors who were all massacred on the coast of Ireland. Just for freaking out the locals.

A woman traveling alone in 1000 BC? Forget about it. Especially if she wasn't instantly deferential and subordinate to every male she met.

Nah. Man. While I think people were better traveled and more intelligent than we would like to believe, those were still very violent times to be "different."
posted by tkchrist at 4:00 PM on June 12, 2008


1000 BC?

1000 AD? Dang.
posted by tkchrist at 4:01 PM on June 12, 2008


who were traveling through the "Caucasus" in the late 1600's
posted by tkchrist at 4:02 PM on June 12, 2008


tkchrist: I remember reading about some pilgrims who were traveling through the in the late 1600's. Among their number were two monks from Ethiopia. One of the African monks was skinned alive by the locals to see what he was like on the inside. And it's weird becuase you would think they had seen dark skinned people before? And somebody else might remember the story of the 15th century shipwreck survivors who were all massacred on the coast of Ireland. Just for freaking out the locals.

Well, that people bothered to note these incidents makes it seem to me that they were out of the ordinary. For instance, in Iceland in the 17th Century a number of Basques were murdered but Basque-Icelandic cohabitation in the Western Fjords of Iceland was longstanding enough for someone to bother to make a glossary for a Basque-Icelandic pidgin. Strange and different people weren't unheard of. I don't think that instant death is the automatic result of being timevortexed back to the Middle Ages. A rather horrible and boring life, yes, but not instant death.
posted by Kattullus at 4:29 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, and here's an essay about Basque whalers in Iceland in the 17th Century if anyone's interested in the topic.
posted by Kattullus at 4:45 PM on June 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


An in either case nobody from now alone would "Rock" the 10th Century.

A good rock band requires at least three people.
posted by ersatz at 5:05 PM on June 12, 2008


Bring period clothes and some kind of well forged letter from some distant noble or something.

That's an excellent idea. With a good inkjet printer and some nice vellum paper, you could print up an outstanding forgery from some obscure, minor foreign noble, requesting "all aid" be provided to the bearer, the son/daughter/dear friend of said noble.

Or commending you to the tender care of a monastery for a year (with a generous gift of some gold bars to seal the deal and cover expenses while you're there).

Still, need to figure out how to address that pesky illness problem...
posted by darkstar at 6:34 PM on June 12, 2008


Without immunity to the diseases of the day you would be a dead man in just a few years.

Modern human beings are swarming with inoculations given at birth to stop those very diseases that used to be real trouble-makers in our past. The biggest problem is going to be for Americans, because we don't give our kids the smallpox vaccine any longer like (I believe) they still do in Europe and Russia. That's a real pity, because of all the diseases you would be likely to get in medieval Europe, smallpox is near the top of that list. The good news is that you can inoculate yourself! Just take the dried-up scabs of a smallpox victim, let them dry in the sun and then crush them into a fine powder. Snort it up for immunitaculousness (kids, don't do this.)

A modern woman transported back to 1000 AD would have several things working to her advantage. She would, at least for the first few days, appear well-fed. She'd have extraordinarily hair and smooth skin compared to her contemporaries, most of whom will be dead by 40. I think the likelihood of rape would be extremely high, but not murder as long as the woman was smart. Were I a woman, I would look for the biggest, dumbest guy I could find as quickly as possible. A gargantuan deaf mute would be wonderful. As soon as you get a guy, you've got protection; that's priority #1 until you can learn the language.

As for me, the single most important thing would be immediately being able to protect myself. Depending on the rules of this thought experiment, I can either bring my own arsenal or I'll have to quickly steal or fashion some weapons. I think one of the traps that's easy to fall into is believing that medieval people are somehow slower that we are now. If you think you're going to take down the local peasant with some Karate... well, think again. You ever go down to the docks and see those huge dudes hauling shit off boats? Years of mindless manual labor makes people hard. These are people that routinely cut off their own limbs without anesthetics. These are people who drink alcohol all day because water will make you sick, who beat each other up just for fun because they won't have XBOX for another 1000 years.

Point is, it doesn't matter how awesome your Crane Technique is... a brush-up with a medieval local is going to be over in under ten seconds, and not in modern man's favor. They will be armed, they will be fast, they will be better on the ground, and they will be better at taking physical damage and pain. The only martial arts I can think of that might be of any practical use would be Judo and Brazilian Jui-Jitsu because of the emphasis on ground technique and limb locks. Even then it's a long-shot.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:05 AM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


This all just vaguely reminded me of some Science Fiction I've read (prime example: Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep) where communication with and the introduction of technology to a medieval-equivalent society was a well-known art because it happened all the time.

Now something I wish this also reminded me of was the name of a US government emergency telecommunications system I know to exist where you can call a number, give a code, and get a phone call through prioritized over the likely congestion due to emergency, because it sort of sounds like a conspiracy but I remember it existing to the point that I looked up details on .gov sites.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:20 AM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nevermind, I'd spent a good 15 minutes trying to find it and of course found it just after I'd posted - NCS-GETS.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:23 AM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Medieval people also bathed quite a bit, at least among the middle to upper classes. Bathing was enjoyed and sometimes social; baths were often a feature of brothels.

Except for the English, apparently - the scholar I heard give a paper on this couldn't find much evidence of English bathing. It could be because England has just the right temperature (neither too hot, nor too cold) that people don't sweat much (even to this day - I bathe less when there). Or it could be just that the English are DIRTY.

Also, most women (or men) would not be dead by 40 from old age. They aged at exactly the same rate that we do. They might have been dead from illness, accidents or childbirth, but that wouldn't change their appearance. A medieval labouring woman WOULD appear older than a modern middle or upper class woman, but not unlike many modern labouring women in our own societies - hard work, stress and poor nutrition take their toll not matter when they happen. I have often seen these differences in our own society. Everyone would have poor resperatory health and the other effects of smoke damage -- it would be like everyone regardless of status were very heavy smokers as they did not have chimneys until the late middle ages.

But if you want to get a sense of what people might have looked like - check out the comic and socially realistic paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Unlike portraits of the upper classes, he didn't seek to flatter people but to depict them comically (thus no reason to believe these images are idealised). These are from the 16th century, but medieval life was not so different (and at times healthier). (images - Peasant's Wedding, Netherlandish Proverbs.)

As for the status of women - that would depend entirely on time and place. Anglo-Saxon women, for instance, had more legal rights than 19th century women.

If you really want to understand what life would be like in the medieval period, you need to get beyond these terrible stereotypes of the medieval world, and begin to understand it on its own terms. Some places were very isolated; some were cultural crossroads and more cosmopolitan than most North American cities. Some people were very poor and malnourished; many were better fed than 19th century people. Witch-burning was rare compared to later centuries, and people did travel a great deal - especially the very poor (for work) and the very rich. Norse nobles ruled lands as far apart as Ireland and Sicily.

What was very different about that world
- no antibiotics - infection is very serious
- no pain relief
- very agriculturally oriented - you needed many more people to grow enough food
- manufactured goods cost a lot more - people have fewer things (like bowls, cups, shirts) and valued them - they were often of good quality
- religion was a big part of their lives, but they were not fanatics (though there are periods of religious fervor)
- it could be a very stratified society, where status really mattered; but again, this really mattered as to time and place - within a village you might find considerable equality, but in the more national scene less so
- men and women had very strict gender roles, and there was a heirarchy to those roles, but it's a much more complicated and compromised heirarchy than we expect, and women had many legal rights which would be later denied to them
posted by jb at 11:02 AM on June 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


In your zeal for accurate historical awareness, which I applaud, you may be missing the point of this thread. We're not discussing what life was like for the locals, we're discussing what it would be like for one of us dropped into a society a thousand years ago. You say "Anglo-Saxon women, for instance, had more legal rights than 19th century women," but a modern-day woman dropped into tenth-century England wouldn't have had such rights. The whole idea that all people are created equal is a modern one; in most periods and places, if you weren't part of the network of relationships, you were shit out of luck.
posted by languagehat at 1:47 PM on June 13, 2008


Civil_Disobedient's comments about sniffing powdered smallpox scabs intrigued me and I found this page which refers to that method and others in use through history as means of developing smallpox immunity.

Worth a quick read if you're planning on heading back to 11th Century Europe anytime soon...
posted by darkstar at 5:01 PM on June 13, 2008


I actually had been planning a vacation there, but frankly this thread has been very discouraging.
posted by languagehat at 5:11 PM on June 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


in most periods and places, if you weren't part of the network of relationships, you were shit out of luck.
posted by languagehat at 4:47 PM on June 13 [+] [!]


Sure, if you arrived in in a village on the edge of 10th century Dartmoor, you would stand out as a stranger (much as you would today). But if you landed in 10th century Constantinople (Rome was pretty small at the time), you would only be one of thousands of strangers. Even London, which was pretty provincial at the time, would be a place where people could start and form new networks.

That world was different, but it wasn't as barbaric as people are making out in this thread. Being a stranger or having strange ways wouldn't get you automatically strung up as a witch (witches were hanged; heretics were burned); heck, actually being a witch didn't necessarily get you strung up as a witch - people would go to "cunning men" or "cunning women" for remedies and potions. The crime of witchcraft wasn't being a witch, it was doing harm through witchcraft. The idea of witches as devil worshipping heretics was developed much later (late middle ages and early modern period), and that's when you start seeing mass denounciations, and witch burnings.

Landing in Medieval Europe c1000 would be like landing anywhere which has very little state control or effective law enforcement. If you happened to arrive during a rebellion, or in a warzone, it would be like being in the eastern Congo or Somalia today, only without the automatic rifles. But many other places would be peaceful and prosperous; there would be dangers from robbers (no police, certainly no CCTV), but most people would be just nice people, like they are today. You would pose a travellor, perhaps from the Holy Land. If you're a woman, perhaps try what the charcter in Connie Willis' Doomsday Book did and say that you weren't travelling alone but were robbed. Look for monastaries or just plain respectable people. Or perhaps, as we know women did later, try travelling as a man. The clothes were less closely tailored then. No, you would have no status except that you created (or adopted illegitimately), and you would always be a bit of an outsider. Just like people are in most villages of only 1000 people or less anywhere in the world. It's just that so few of us live in villages that size that we forget what it's like.
posted by jb at 5:27 PM on June 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I keep saying 10th century, when of course the year 1000 was right between the 10th and 11th. I just always think of it as the 10-hundreds, myself, which is weird because I've completely converted to thinking of the 16-hundreds as the 17th century. Less familiarity, I supose.
posted by jb at 5:34 PM on June 13, 2008


Heheh...it reminds me of one time when I was visiting a very remote village in the northeastern part of Cameroon. I asked the village chieftain "What are the biggest challenges you face here?"

Without any hesitation, he responded emphatically "Banditry and witchcraft."

In fact, we had to travel in caravans because highway bandits would attack lone travelers. And attitudes about witchcraft led to a number of interesting encounters, one of which nearly killed me for ancillary reasons. So I dug where the chief was coming from.
posted by darkstar at 7:16 PM on June 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Correction: it was in the extreme north of Cameroon that we had to travel in armed caravans. Everyone who wanted to travel from one population hub to the other met in a large gathering and then, at the prescribed time, all the vehicles headed out together. One of the vehicles was a van filled with men bristling with automatic weapons to protect everyone in the caravan from brigands.

Kind of a grim thrill, really.
posted by darkstar at 7:20 PM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


itchcraft led to a number of interesting encounters, one of which nearly killed me for ancillary reasons.

These stories, if they are at all appropriate to share: you have to share them.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:27 PM on June 13, 2008


Well, I'm reluctant to make the folks I lived with and worked with appear to be "primitives", since they were and are very intelligent, caring people. They just had certain cultural values and expectations of the world around them and witchcraft fit into that worldview.

Once, I got caught between a wild-eyed woman casting spells at my vehicle with a bunch of grass in one hand and brandishing a rusty fishknife in the other and another woman intent on driving the first one off with a homemade axe. That turned out to be more exciting than anything else.

On another occasion, I donated blood to a local woman so she could have surgery at a clinic that had been established by foreigners, since none of her family or friends would donate blood to her. When we asked why they refused, they explained that your blood is the most powerful thing that an enemy could get to cast a spell on you and there was no way any of them would let someone take any of their blood. They were prepared to let her die rather than risk an enemy would get control over their souls via witchcraft.

Well, when I donated the blood, the technique was severely botched. I went into hypovolemic shock, saved by swift intervention of a doctor at the clinic, but left trembling and weak for the next three days. So maybe the locals had more pragmatic reasons for not wanting to donate their blood and "witchcraft" was a convenient explanation for the dangers inherent in letting someone monkey with your blood.

In any event, the bag of blood was taken directly from my arm to the woman waiting in the same room, hung on a nail by her bed and fed, still warm from my body, right into her arm. She was able to have the surgery, but died later due to complications, sadly.

There were other incidences, such as being accused of being a marabout with supernatural powers when I caught a guy trying to pick my pocket. He was so stunned that I'd caught him, he said I must have done it through some magical gift.

But these were the exception, rather than the rule. The vast, vast majority of the people I met were friendly, intelligent and quite practical. As I suspect they might have been in most cases in the 11th Century in Europe.
posted by darkstar at 8:16 PM on June 13, 2008 [9 favorites]


If history is any guide, you'd likely end up killing a substantial portion of the people you meet with you're modern diseases. Just hope they don't have time to associate "you showing up" with "everyone getting sick".
posted by kjs3 at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2008


If history is any guide, you'd likely end up killing a substantial portion of the people you meet with you're modern diseases.

Indeed. If history has shown us anything, it's that time-travelers are significant disease vectors.
posted by dersins at 9:06 AM on June 17, 2008


Musical update.
posted by prefpara at 4:23 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd be more interested in an update someone found carved into a rock somewhere...
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on June 24, 2008


Hahaha! Love the song prefpara! Going in my iTunes, just in case it's transported back with me when I go. :)

Yeah, Artw, if the lyrics to the song were carved on a crypt wall in an 11th Century monastery somewhere, now that'd be the bees knees...
posted by darkstar at 4:33 PM on June 24, 2008


Anybody else remember the only funny sketch from the earstwhile Ben Stiller show? Janeane Garofalo as the B-Minus Time Traveler.

It's the sad reality of what happens when an average person has to go back in time and save the past, Quantum Leap-like, armed only with with half-remembered "knowledge" from their public highschool education.
posted by dgaicun at 3:20 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I would show them how to make fire. Duh.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:47 PM on June 25, 2008


The first thing after finishing all the noob quests to get to level 5, I'd find someone who will pay me 2g to sign their guild charter. That way, I'll have enough money to buy some decent armor and weapons from a vendor. Then, I'll take the skinning and the mining skills, so I'll earn the maximum amount of gold possible. I'd find my way to Westfall and grind on the goretusks, because they drop all kinds of supplies. Once I'm level 15 or 16, I'd find a pickup group to do runs through Deadmines, and I'll be level 20 in no time. I think I could probably accomplish all this in the first 8 hours, and if I stay focused, I could probably buy a mount by the the 4th day, and make it to level 70 at the end of 2 weeks, tops.
posted by Dave Faris at 6:31 PM on June 25, 2008


Holy cow, Dave. I'm right in the middle of grinding goretusks to level an alt.

Eerie.
posted by darkstar at 8:09 PM on June 25, 2008


« Older She was 82. He was 95. They had dementia. They fel...  |  How much sleep do you really n... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments