Communicating with someone from an ancient civilization.

The physics department at your local community college has used their time machine/transporter to pluck someone out of an ancient civilization from exactly 6000 years ago. You don’t know where they came from. From their hands, they appear to part of the lower class of whatever society it was.

You have been given your choice of tasks. You must either express to them the current year (IE, how far they’ve traveled into the future) or you must express to them their current geographic location. Which task do you choose? How would you accomplish your goal?

This is not Pawn Stars. You can’t call in your friend who is an expert in communicating with people from ancient civilizations.

I had no idea which forum in which to put this.

I’m guessing any language I could find on the internet would just make things more confusing than it had to be.

So, I’d go the Visual route for trying to communicate how far in time he’s traveled.

Draw the sun in the sky, with an arrow showing it moving across the sky. Then the moon and night in the same manner. See if I can get him to recognize I mean 1 day.

Then, I’d swoop my pencil across the paper, indicating several days, every time, drawing a red dot •, to indicate the passage of a day, until I had 365 red dots.

If I could get him to recognize a year, now we’re rolling. I’d have this group of 365 red dots surrounded by a box, with an arrow attached, and draw a blue dot ⠿⠿⠿⠿⠿⠿ → •, indicating this is a stand-in for all these days. He’d smile with a mouth full of rotted teeth, and we’d laugh, eat some more Doritos (he LOVES them!) and continue.

Now, I’d draw a baby in a box, with an arrow pointing to a blue dot •, then a toddler, with an arrow pointing to 3 blue dots . Then a kid, 12 blue dots. A man, 30 or 40 blue dots. and an old man, 70 blue dots.

I think he’d get the idea from there. Then I’d use the same technique, color coding a green dot to mean a century, and a orange dot to mean a millennia.

Then I’d draw him, and me, with 6 orange dots between us.

As far as geography, can I show him Google Earth?

I think geography would be close to impossible. An uneducated peasant from 4,000 B.C probably doesn’t have much conception of the layout of the world beyond the next few towns. Pointing at a point on google earth (or a map, or globe) isn’t going to mean anything. Unless you happen to be living pretty close to where they were living, I don’t think there’s any way to make them understand where you are.

If you knew where they came from originally, the best you could do is just give the distance and cardinal direction from their original home. But you’d need to figure out where they came from.

The year. Odds are, the person would not be from the Americas, so would have no concept of what that was or where he was from in relation to anything recognizable today. Remember, they are from 4,000 BC when hardly any civilization exists that we know much about.

I would begin by establishing a form of communication simply by pointing and agreeing on what things mean. I would work my way up to a day and then a year. I would also teach the person to count (they probably don’t know how to do this past some small number), and then us the concept of age to get them used to larger numbers, eventually working up to 100 and 1,000.

The OP has not specified how much time I have, so I would anticipate about 1 to 2 years to accomplish this.

Right. It’d almost be irrelevant to this person. In fact, it could be this person is Chippewa (or… pre-Chippewa?) and from my area. But it might blow his mind in the cosmic sense.

Despite not having a numeric or arithmetic system nearly as advanced as ours, do you think the concept of numbers (of years) in the thousands would be beyond his primary intellect? Intellectually, it should just be a matter of introducing this epiphany, if he hasn’t already grasped it prior to being sucked, painfully, through the Tunnel of Time.

I’d show him a pocket calculator. I’d then carefully enter the following equation:





He would then kill me because I was the Devil.

I think every human is able to grasp the concept of numbers and that most people have some form of counting, if only to small numbers.

Even though it might be simpler to communicate the concept of time, even thousands of years, to the traveller, I think he would find it very hard to believe he had been transported thousands of years in time. This would at best be a magical concept to him (or to most of us for that matter). It would be a lot easier to convince him he had been transported a long distance while he was unconscious. If you wanted to show him his original and current locations, you could start by drawing a map of the room, expanding it to a map of the building, then the neighborhood, etc. Each time you would demonstrate by arm waving or whatever that you were encompassing a larger and larger area. Google maps might actually come in handy at some point.

If I knew where he was from, and archaeology were able to reconstruct the rough layout of the towns and such in that vicinity, location would be fairly straightforward. Show him a map of his town, then zoom out from there to show the region the town was in, and so on, until we were seeing the whole globe, and then zoom back in on the location of the laboratory. Without knowing where he’s from, though, I don’t even know how to define where he is now.

Time, though, should be straightforward, using something like what cmyk describes (and the fact that he’s lower-class should in fact make the jump from days to years easier, not harder, since someone working in agriculture must understand the seasons). On the other hand, though, while I might be able to communicate that span of time, I’m not sure how I would convey that he’s traveled through it.

[quote=“Chronos, post:10, topic:605827”]

If I knew where he was from, and archaeology were able to reconstruct the rough layout of the towns and such in that vicinity, location would be fairly straightforward. Show him a map of his town, then zoom out from there to show the region the town was in, and so on, until we were seeing the whole globe, and then zoom back in on the location of the laboratory. Without knowing where he’s from, though, I don’t even know how to define where he is now.
Yes, the original problem tells us we do not know WHERE he is from, but we do know exactly WHEN he is from. So, to inform him of where he is now we would have to first get across the idea that the Earth is round, that there are oceans and continents which are things he may have no experience with, then point these and the current location out on a globe. All this is probably harder to do than describing the passage of 6,000 years, although I still wonder if the traveller would be more likely to believe he had travelled a long distance rather than through millenia of time.

I would show him geographically where he is. There are lots of cool ways to show him the geography of the world. It would take a day (maybe only hours!) to get across the idea that the world is round. From there, something like gogle earth zooming in and out on our location (just find the biggest landmark around for easy recognition) would be sufficient for him to get the basic concept of geographic location. Using props like a globe and map would make it almost trivially easy, compared with the task of explaining time travel. Did people even understand the concept of seasons and years 6,000 years ago? The first calendars are much younger than that, as far as I know.

I really doubt that this would be possible, at least that quickly. It would be difficult even to communicate the concept of a map–that two-dimensional images capable of occupying any plane can somehow correspond to fixed physical topography and distance–let alone that the bright, unearthly colors on a flat surface could represent something other than some mystical, incomprehensible entity. There’s a lot of “literacy” behind map-reading that’s being taken for granted here, just as there is for reading flat screen images like TVs, films, computers, etc.

I wouldn’t try to convey where they were geographically for reasons expressed above (it would probably mean nothing to them- and if it was a place they were familiar with it would probably confuse them all the more; imagine seeing your own city with not one single recognizable landmark). I would convey time travel but wouldn’t bother telling them how far other than “very far” as, again, that would confuse them.

If they were ‘captured’ like a fish in the net and were going to be here a while, I would have a room replicated as near to possible to what a room at their time would have looked like (and if that’s not exactly known then use best guess; a simple hut and simple handmade furnishings aren’t that different whether it’s 4000 B.C. Iran or 1890s Mexico or modern day slums of Mumbai probably. Dress as close as you can to their clothing to interact with them.

Very slowly, once every few days initially, as you learn more of their language, introduce something new. Papyrus perhaps, if it’s from a culture from before that was used. Then a needle and thread, and then cotton cloth. Gradually work your way up to things like silk or elaborately dyed cloth, porcelain plates, utensils, a water pump, then running water (doesn’t have to be in exact chronological order). Use a simple battery to explain the concept of electricity once your language barrier is broken a little, then bring the most simple electric item in (and Edison bulb), and then a simple camera, a late 19th century telephone, all while explaining what this is, and then bring them from 19th century to early 20th, etc. etc… Essentially, synopsize 60 centuries of technological progress into 90 days (and you don’t really have to go into detailed replicas of the printing press, just the general concept. Bringing them instantly into iPads and airplanes is going to overwhelm them too much.

Agriculture goes back 10,000 years, at least in the Middle East, although in some areas it was much more recent. I suppose in some tropical areas people did not notice a change in seasons or the passage of a year.

I would just have them watch the movie time machine. The question is slightly ridiculous because where not given enough details. but then where given more then one may think by the language we should be able to determine where they where from the Great pyramid is estimated to have been built around 4000bc so some cultures had written language and some advanced mathematics. Ancient people may not have been as primitive as we assume.
I think back to the Bible and the tower of Babel and how these people planed to build a tower to reach heaven God confused the peoples language so the job was never completed but he also said by working together humans could do anything they set their mind to.
Its possible that it wouldn t be to difficult to explain the situation language would be the biggest obstacle. But most likely you could narrow the language down atleast to something simmiliar. its also very likely they would be billingual. After that explaining geography would be a cake walk in my opinion. Humans haven’t gotten smarter over the years we’ve just been held back by less. For millinia science was not pursued out of fear and religious regions.
The same scenario could be said about this go back in time 30 years snatch a kid off of his brand new Atari stick him in front of a 3D PS3 system he will be amazed but he will figure out how to play it.
What the point of this post exactly. Missionaries do this all the time in a sorts go to primitive back water lands and try to communicate with the locals.

Remember that almost all people today know the language of film, so when we watch a movie, it’s a familiar experience. We’re used to film editing techniques, where the position of the viewer can be instantly moved from one place to another–from one angle, distance or time to another–and implicitly accept that we’re experiencing spatial and temporal unity.

That’s not going to happen with someone who’s never even seen a photograph, let alone moving images on a two-dimensional screen. (When the first films with cross-cutting were shown in public, they confused the audiences.) So showing this person a film probably wound’t help in the way you would hope. For a person from 4000 BC, the images from a movie would probably either be cognitive overload or just meaningless. And don’t forget that modern narrative constructs (the way that stories are meaningful as such) would be just as unfamiliar to this person. These aren’t things that are naturally built into the neurology of the human brain at birth–they’re acculturated and learned by the individual within society as he grows up.