Silurian Memories

A short sci-fi story by Isaac Petrov

[62,051 B.C.]

“Call the girl!” The shaman shouts.

The old man, sitting in the center of the tent, next to the fire, coughs harshly and then holds the gaze of every member of the council of elders sitting in a semicircle opposite him. Each of them has two small branches in their hands, one covered with leaves, the other one bare.

While they wait for the girl, nobody speaks. They stare at the fragile old man with a mix of wariness—fear, even—yes, even pity in their eyes. They’ve known this man forever, a cornerstone of the tribe. And how is condemning him to exile any different than thrusting a spear through his heart?


[2,051 A.D.]

“Dr. Smith may enter the auditorium,” the scientist calls.

A young PhD student opens the finely-engraved oaken gate and beckons the archeologist to follow him to the pulpit.

The archeologist looks tired, as he walks down the central steps of the auditorium, avoiding the mocking gaze of his university colleagues—representatives of all major disciplines of science. Some of the oldest purse their lips nervously. They’ve known this man since their freshmen year. And how is revoking his academic titles any different from robbing an old man of his livelihood and, even worse, his lifework?


[62,051 B.C.]

The girl fiddles with his fingers nervously. She is barely ten and doesn’t understand the power of her testimony on the old man’s fate. Her eyes flinch to the carefully tended fire and then to her mother, one of the elders, who smiles back at her in reassurance.

The shaman approaches, throws a practiced smile at her and asks, “You are a good girl, Warabi. Now, tell us. Venerable Gohran likes to tell you and your playmates’ stories, doesn’t he?”

The girl turns her large, brown eyes towards the old man, who doesn’t meet her gaze. She nods slowly.

“What type of stories?”

“Er, about anything we ask. Hunt stories. Adventures. Stories of the gods.”

“Of the gods? Really?”

The girl nods again.

“What gods?” The shaman takes a step forward. “The same gods we sacrifice to, before every meal?”

The girl shakes his head. “The people-gods. The ancestor-gods. And my favorite: the golem-god.”

The shaman turns a triumphal smile to the council of elders before asking the girl again, “Tell us more about Venerable Gohran’s gods, Warabi.”


[2,051 A.D.]

“Dr. Smith,” the scientist begins. “You are accused of forging archaeological findings to support your preposterous theories.”

The archeologist raises his chin. “You’ll never hear me say I ever faked excavated findings.”

“It’s your right to do so. As it’s our duty to expose the truth. We have all seen your so-called findings.”

The archeologist waved his hand across the auditorium. “They’re available for scrutiny and analysis in the archeological faculty to whoever is interested.”

“They are very old. It’s hard to determine their real nature.”

Electronics. That’s what they are.”

The scientist turns a knowing glance at the audience. “So you do insist?”

“Take them to any electric engineer. One of the artifacts seems to be a stator—coils clearly recognizable. Copper, just like ours. Probably part of a turbine of some kind.”

“And there are electronic chips, too,” the scientists slowly say. “With… transistors?”

“I believe so. The micro-structures under the electronic microscope hint in that direction.”

“They certainly do,” the scientist nods. “Our own engineers have come to that conclusion.”

“So, you agree?” the archeologist blinks. “Then, why am I here?”

“Oh, your so-called findings are most convincing. What is not so clear is their origin.”

The archeologist squints, as if unable to understand the question.

“Where did you find the artifacts, Dr. Smith?” the scientist asks.

“Uh, in my current excavation site. In Tabora, Tanzania.”

“I see. And how did you date it?”

“Well, inorganic artifacts—fossils and similar—are conventionally dated by stratigraphic means.” The archeologist turns to the audience. “Soil layers created via sedimentation. When we find an artifact embedded inside a specific layer, we can determine—”

“And what about carbon dating? Isn’t that usually more exact?”

“You are right. But carbon dating only works reliably on organic material. My findings—”

“Oh, how convenient,” the scientist interrupts, and paces slowly while meeting the archeologist’s baffled gaze. “All we’ve got is your word of where you found these inorganic artifacts.”

“My entire team was there!” the archeologist says, raising his voice. “They’ll testify!”

“Impressionable youth.”

The archeologist points an indignant finger at the scientist. “You’re free to date any item with other radiometric techniques. Potassium, for example.”

“Which you have undoubtedly sprinkled over the artifacts. You are a skilled forger, Dr. Smith. I’ll give you that.”

“This is outrageous! You’d rather ruin the reputable thirty-years old career of a colleague before accepting the truth! And you call yourself a scientist?”

“I can easily prove that you’re lying, Dr. Smith.”

“I insist you try!”

“Okay. Please state the age of your so-called artifacts.”

The archeologist takes a deep breath. “They were found buried right above the Youngest Toba eruption ash layer. That was The Holocene supervolcano eruption that almost wiped our species about—”

“The dating, Dr. Smith. How old are your electronic artifacts?”

“I was coming to that!” The archeologist turns a defiant gaze at the audience. “60 to 70,000 years old.”

“I see.” The scientist turns his smirking expression to the audience. “A technological civilization, in the depths of The Ice Age. Is that what you’re suggesting? Or aliens, perhaps?” That pulls a few chuckles from the audience. “Or… time travel?” Even more laughing now.

“Don’t be absurd!” the archeologist says. “Is it so hard to believe that humanity developed technologically thousands of years ago?”

The scientist snorts. “And who were these people, Dr. Smith?”


[62,051 B.C.]

“The ancestor-gods,” the girl replies. “The blessed people. Venerable Gohran told us about his grandfather’s memories, who in turn spoke of his own grandfather’s tales. The ancestors.”

Our ancestors?” the shaman asks.

The girl nods.

“And why were they… blessed?”

“There was”—his eyes widen, lost in the wonders of the old man’s tales—“fire, ash, destruction, darkness and ice. Animals starved. Famine. Our ancestors were dying in droves.”


[2,051 A.D.]

“The only supervolcano eruption humanity has ever lived through,” the archeologist explains, “was Toba, in Sumatra. It was twelve times greater than the deadliest volcanic eruption in recorded history, Mount Tambora in Indonesia, which in 1,866 caused the infamous year-without-summer. Toba was unimaginably worse in a moment in which our species had barely stepped out of Africa. Imagine, dear colleagues: dispersed hunter-gathering stone-age tribes faced with a decade of sudden volcanic winter followed by a millennium of cooling that plunged the planet into the deepest pit of The Holocene—The Ice Age. It almost killed our species.”

“Did it?” the scientist asks.

“There’s evidence inside you—inside me—in our genes, that suggests that we all descend from an incredibly small group of just a few thousand individuals that can be traced back to exactly those times.”

“And how did these fortunate ancestors survive a supervolcano, Dr. Smith?”


[62,051 B.C.]

Magic,” the girl replies, eyes sparkling dreamingly. “The gift of the gods. Our ancestors changed the world around them, molded it to their will. They built tents higher than the highest trees. They grew food from the naked ground. They commanded animals like now the gods command us. They became gods themselves, to survive the ice and darkness that lasted for lifetimes and lifetimes.”

[2,051 A.D.]

“Technology,” the archeologist replies. “Innovate or die. Quite literally, seventy-five thousand years ago.”

“Right,” the scientist says. “And where is the proof?”

“In the ground, sir! I excavated it.”

“I don’t mean your so-called artifacts. I mean the ruins of their civilization, the visible traces that they must have left behind: their writing, their monuments, their legacy.”

“All lost to time after seventy thousand years.”

“The Pyramid of Giza will be there seventy thousand years from now.”

“Not if it is destroyed.”

“Oh, so this grandiose civilization of The Ice Age was… destroyed? How convenient for your theory, isn’t it?”

“I know how it sounds. But just analyze the artifacts my team dug out. Send another team to Tanzania, for heaven’s sake!”

“And how do you explain this apparent lack of material evidence?”

“I don’t know. I just excavate. I have a working hypothesis, of course, but—”

“Oh, please indulge us, Dr. Smith. What hypothesis?”

“Well, I doubt the civilization that emerged back then was comparable to our own. It became very advanced—more than ours in some ways—but took a very different route than we did.”

“How so?”

“Our technology truly took off at in the nineteenth century, at the back of globalization and the exploitation of fossil fuels. I doubt they did likewise, because, had they, we would indeed have noticed their presence by now.”

“So how did they, er, manufacture electronics without an industrial revolution?”

“Hmm, I think their need for survival was very concrete. In the context of the Tuba eruption, they would have been very aggressive and close-minded—xenophobic even. They probably never expanded much beyond their core territories in Eastern Africa. The world was frozen over, after all.”

“Aha. Interesting. But that doesn’t answer the question. How did a bunch of paranoid cavemen discover the transistor?”

“I don’t appreciate your hostility, Dr. Reynolds. I do feel I am being quite transparent with your aggressive line of questioning. I’ve even agreed to share my private—and, granted, quite speculative—thoughts with you.”

The scientist theatrically puts his hand on his chest. “Apologies, Dr. Smith. I’m just trying to understand your hypothesis. Far from my intention to offend you. Could you please answer the question?”

The archeologist holds the scientist’s gaze for a few seconds before replying, “I suggest a group of tribes probably developed a caste of philosopher-engineers that developed whatever marvelous machines their survival required. They probably warred constantly among themselves, and I speculate that technology and slaves—philosopher-engineers, especially—would have been valuable spoils of war. Even a reason to wage them. Thus, I suggest that the supervolcano triggered our ancestor’s technological race. I hypothesize that they achieved a very advanced—but on the other hand very specialized—technology. Limited to their immediate needs of survival.”


[62,051 B.C.]

“But this awesome gift of the gods eventually corrupted them,” the girl continues. “Tribes’ god-chiefs grew power-hungry, and asked their shamans to extract ever more magic from the gods to take ever more territory from neighboring god-tribes. Our ancestor tribe was one of them. It was under attack, but then the gods blessed us with their ultimate secret: the creation of the god-golem!”

“The god-golem…” The shaman turns his gaze knowingly towards the old man, and then he looks at the tribe elders. “Tell us about Venerable Gohran’s god-golem, Warabi.”


[2,051 A.D.]

“A thinking machine?” The scientist laughs out loud. And he is not the only one in the auditorium. “What, a supersmart stone-age AI?”

“Is it so hard to believe? We ourselves are on the verge of achieving General Artificial Intelligence. And how long have we been trying? A century? Not even. They had millenia!”

“Right. And with AI the high-emperor of one of those Ice-Age nations conquered the others, right?”

“I don’t think he conquered. I think annihilated is the more accurate verb.”

“And why on Earth would a tyrant want to destroy potential subjects?”


[62,051 B.C.]

“God-chiefs were afraid of each other,” the girl explains. “They sent their warriors to kill each other. Their mere existence was a threat. And when the gods finally granted the god-golem to the most powerful of them, she ordered her shamans to instill this same hate and fear in their god-golem, before viciously unleashing it on its enemies.”

“A god-chief—an ancestor—with a god-golem at its service. Is that what Venerable Gohran tells?”

“Just a tale, shaman.”

“Does he tell a tale, or does he recount a memory, when you children sit around his fire for a story?”

“Er…” the girl looks at the old man, and then at the shaman.

“A memory, shaman,” the old man says, his voice weakened by age, but hardened by wisdom. “A memory of a memory, a hundred times. Leave little Warabi alone.”

Brazenly ignoring the old man’s plea, the shaman turns to the girl. “And what happened to our oh-so-powerful ancestors?”

“The God-golem was so full of hate and mistrust, that it enslaved the god-chief and her tribe. Our people suffered for generations and generations, as the god-golem destroyed all those great gifts of the gods and kept all the magic for itself, leaving the people barely enough to just serve it forever.”

“A god-golem turned into a god-demon…” The shaman turns to the council of elders and points a finger at the old man. “Some goodnight tale, filled with terror and false gods.”


[2,051 A.D.]

“A humanity-enslaving, all-powerful AI machine?” the scientist laughs. And again, he is not the only one. “How did I not see that coming?”

“It’s just a working hypothesis, Dr. Reynolds. Feel free to disregard it.”

“No, no. Please indulge me, Dr. Smith. I assume the AI destroyed everything the tribes built? And that’s why there are no pyramids or whatever left from those times?”

“The AI was programmed to minimize risk—its objective function, in the AI argot—and thus it probably decided to maximize control over its environment—the people, mostly. Keeping them stagnant forever. Removing their achievements, their agency, their education.”

“But, if it enslaved the people so completely, how could it maintain itself? How did it exercise its power? Let me guess. Robots!”

“Maybe,” the archeologist replies, ignoring the snorts echoing in the auditorium. “But I doubt it. Robots are pieces of technology with artificial intelligence—I don’t think a paranoid superintelligence could ever tolerate their existence. Defiant slaves could snatch one, open it and learn too much. No. I have another hypothesis for that.”

“Really? Please enlighten us, Dr. Smith.”

“Island cities of selected castes. Probably controlled by a hierarchy of fanatic AI worshippers. Each unknowing of the other. Each with enough preserved technology to perform a single task of use to the super intelligence: energy, materials, electronics—and, of course, soldiers. A stable—forever stagnant—ecology or perfect machinal control.”

“Right. And how did we escape the iron grasp of that supermachine and its army of islanders?”

“Good question. It seems impossible to me. Anything we humans could hope to think of doing to liberate us, the AI would have thought and prevented eons before. It’s, by definition, a superintelligence.”

“I see. And yet, here we are; no demonic machine in sight. But I trust you also have a hypothesis for that?”

“I do.”

“Would you be so kind as to share it with us?”

“Hmm. Well, truth is, I suggest…” The archeologist hesitates.


“I suggest we humans just got lucky.”


[62,051 B.C.]

“The sun goddess rose one day brighter than ever, and killed the god-golem and drowned its powerful island servants,” the girl says with a broad smile. “Our ancestors recovered their freedom! They thrived under the blessing of the sun goddess!”


[2,051 A.D.]

“A solar flare—a powerful one, a one in a million-year event—frying all electronics on Earth. Humanity was freed by, literally, the sun. This explains the heightened status of the sun in all pagan pantheons: Ra, Sol, Helios, Huitzilopochtli, Surya; you name it. And the island cities—”

“Let me guess. Atlantis?”

“We will find it one day, I’m sure! Or one of the other island-cities. It will confirm everything I’ve been—”

The archeologist frowns at the sudden roar of laughter in the auditorium.

“I think we’ve heard enough,” the scientist says. “I suggest we proceed to vote on Dr. Smith’s dismissal for forgery.”

The laughs continue for a long while, as each member of the faculty place a casual thumb on their mobile devices.

And the decision is unanimous.


[62,051 B.C.]

“God-people. God-golems. Personally killed by the sacred mother. Undoubtedly very entertaining, but very damaging to the minds of our young. Heresy is a poison that will destroy the tribe slowly and painfully, unless we purge it in time.” The shaman takes a step towards the council and bows. “I put the fate of Venerable Gohran in the hands of the council of elders.”

A somber silence stretches as the members of the council exchange grave gazes. The old man rests his eyes on the cracking fire as every member raise a single branch in the air.

With no leaves in them.

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