View Full Version : Deterrents to Technological Advancements

Greason Wolfe
06-10-2010, 09:59 AM
Last night, during some of my "slow time" at work, I started developing some of the back story and "world history" for one of the maps I've been plugging along at for a while now. It started with a couple hundred years, then a few more hundred years, and several more hundreds of years after that. And then a thought occurred to me. I'm sure I'm not the only one that has done this, in fact, I can think of several well known authors that have done the same thing, particularly in the fantasy genre. And that thing is . . .

Develop hundreds (or thousands) of years of history for a fantasy world (or region), consciously limiting the level of technology.

But why do we do that?

The first and most obvious answer is that "well, it's a fantasy world, duh!" I realized there was more to it than that. While we may play god in the sense of such things, what do the people of these worlds think, and why would they not pursue higher levels of technology? What kind of factors might deter such pursuits? What does society, as a whole, think of those "rogue thinkers" that do pursue such things?

Of course, the existence of magic is one fairly obvious answer. If magic allows for such things as artificial light, long range communications, the healing of wounds (and/or curing of diseases) and other such "great" undertakings, why, then would society need to develop more advanced technologies?

Another possible answer would be religious beliefs. Even in our own world, there was a time where religion treated the sciences as something akin to practicing witchcraft or worshiping the devil. This, or course, has great potential to effect society's views regarding the sciences and those who pursue technological advancements.

A more remote possibility might be the lack of certain "key elements" that would unlock the sciences for the society in question. Or, perhaps, it is simply a matter of society being content with its current quality of life.

More realistically speaking, it might be a combination of these factors (and others, perhaps) that act as a deterrent when it comes to advances in technology. I am, however, curious what the rest of you might think about such things. My thought is, that by exploring these factors, we might better develop the cultures populating our imaginary worlds.


06-10-2010, 10:45 AM
of the top of my head I'll say that the biggest deterrent for developing new technology is that nobody wants it. You have to take several things into account. There were no school system for the poor, which is 99% of the population. The rich/noble, had it made allready - they got a free for all buffet of food, women and wine.. ;) So they don't really need anything better. So it will take a long time before things get develloped. Then when you add magic to the equation you get yet another factor - magic can solve a lot of things as you yourself point out. The poor can't afford it though, so they are no better of with or without magic. (unless there is free healing). The religion thing is also relevant - I can hear the shouting of heretic and see the burning torches as the first person steps forward and poses some theory about ... anything *lol*
But mostly - I think its going slow because of lack of interest, people just don't believe they are missing out.

Modern quote by leader of american patent agency (begin of last century) - Everything that can be invented - has been invented!

And if you analyse technological progress - you'll see the curve is exponetional - so the more we devellop the faster we devellop the next stuff.

However, some fantasy involves inventions, steam engines, gun powder and you name it... so some fantasy settings could have some "modern" elements. They could be new or a reliq from an earlier civilization. I believe that the D&D setting Eberon has steam power involved, never played it though. And also Gnomes are often concidered very inventive - so you could base inventions comming from their society and spreading... indoor plumming for instance... :)

06-10-2010, 11:10 AM
Some catastrophe like Chernobyl only bigger could turn people away from technology (this is sort of the lines my game world is on). Technology blamed for the downfall of society and thus frowned upon.

Making it illegal to pollute the environment would cause totally different technologies to be invented because most of what we have today causes pollution.

If you look at the technology we have today most of the big items come from war. <-- sad comment about mankind. Afterwards they tend to come up with civilian uses. A peaceful world that did not go in for killing one another would follow a different technological branch than what earth has taken. Not that what we can do today wouldn't be possible but it would probably be shut down for being a crime.

If you were immortal and concerned for the beauty of your environment and were against war you might spend decades in design of something new that not only would do what you wanted but would also work harmoniously with the world you lived in. Just because you could do something wouldn't mean it was the right way to do it. Thus, time would be spent in making sure it was safe and non-toxic, yadda, yadda, yadda. Short lifespans and greed have created strip mining and drilling into Ocean floors with little preparation on what to do if it backfires (to point to an obvious recent disaster) as well as many other so called advances that have serious side effects. I always think of Thalidomide as the perfect example of technology gone wrong. If you never heard of it, you are probably too young to remember it but look it up, it's pretty bad medicine.

Have to run to work now but if I think of more I will post.

Good thread, I like thinking about how things might be done differently and what it would be like if it were. Where would we be if the library of Alexandria had not been lost or some of the civilizations in history that were destroyed along with their secrets. Might our world be an entirely different place?

06-10-2010, 11:14 AM
In our own world, the biggest impediment to technological advancement was slavery. People invent in order to make work easier for themselves. If you have a slave class, there is no need to invent. Technological advancement was largely in stasis during the rule of the Romans because they relied heavily on their slaves. The only real invention the Romans did was in the area of military engineering (at which they were brilliant, of course). Following the Empire's collapse, though, relatively rapid advancements in many areas were made, which ushered in the Medieval period.

It's said that necessity is the mother of invention, but I don't really think that's true. Laziness is the mother of invention.

06-10-2010, 01:25 PM
Don't forget that the industrial revolution only happened in the 1700s (which is 400 years ago). The medieval period (closest to classic fantasy) was in about 1400 or so which is 600 years ago. And that's only in Europe and North America. Homo Sapiens has been on the planet for about what? Half a million years? For most of that time technological advances in the way that we see them today were minute. So I guess you could say that taken in the round, fantasy societies are actually quite advanced!

Master TMO
06-10-2010, 01:41 PM
Lack of literacy is also a problem. If there is no practical way of sharing how to do your wonderful invention with other great thinkers, no one will be able to replicate it after you die. Each inventor has to start from scratch, as it were.

Then there's also social upheaval. While many significant advances have been made due to war, if the society is so traumatized by the conflict that the people basically revert to an earlier stage, all the new advances are discarded and forgotten in favor of mere personal survival.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, folks basically forgot how to make roads and aqueducts of that quality for what, a thousand years or more?

06-10-2010, 01:55 PM
I've just started reading Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber.

The core premise there is that technology has been intentionally suppressed on a colony planet by enforcing a theology of non-tech in order to reduce chances of detection by an alien race that has wiped out the remainder of humanity.

The book discuses this idea, and refers to many periods of technological stagnation (like the Egypt of the Pharaohs) primarily by religious coercion.

-Rob A>

06-10-2010, 03:12 PM
Technology can be seen as a chain reaction. Without fire you can't discover metal smelting. Without metal smelting you can't make the tools necessary to discover things or make more refined tools for the next discovery. The chain reaction can also be blocked by the lack of the proper raw materials. What if dead trees didn't burn very well? What if most metals were inaccessibly deep underground? All you need to do is break the chain at one point to stop the forward momentum, either by a conceptual block, lack of materials or lack of need. The greeks apparently built some extremely elaborate clock-work mechanism, but they were mostly rare novelties that never reach widespread adoption, probably because they didn't need machines when they had slaves. Of course it's possible that there are alternate routes of discovery that we never needed to think of.

There's also the factor that many discoveries necessary to reach the next technological level aren't useful by themselves. It may take several individually useless discoveries to make the next leap forward. Without widespread literacy and communication the chances that one person would get all the pieces of the puzzle become very slim.

Finally there's the profit motive. Our patent system is now pretty messed out, but i give it a lot of credit for America's technological explosion. A system that allows inventors to profit from their invention while also widely distributing it really keeps things going. It becomes profitable to invent and sell a whole class of things that otherwise could be copied by the first clever guy to get his hands on it. And the chance of secret techniques getting lost with the death of an inventor goes way down.

I want a relatively low tech level for my WIP planet. Since all the inhabitants are from several space-faring civilizations, some that came with the intention of colonization, they should reasonably have the necessary info with them. I simply decreed that iron (and other useful metals) are extremely rare on the planet. There are no good sources of uranium either. Since these civilizations don't have practical "replicator" technology to transmute metal from other elements, there's simply no way to build a high-tech manufacturing infrastructure even though they know how.

06-10-2010, 04:25 PM
I remember Feist playing a little with the thought of different developments in the rift war saga - the people who comes through the rift, doesn't have metals, instead their armor consist of some resin substance (as far as I remember). That could also be a fun thing to implement, the scarceness of something making the innovations go other ways...

Greason Wolfe
06-10-2010, 05:06 PM
All good stuff so far. As I said, it was just a thought that sort of hit me at random. Larry Niven also played with the link between magic and technology in "The Magic Goes Away." Of course, one of the things that might have spawned this random thought was a bit of contemplation about our own world. We have cell phones, computers, shuttles and what not, but there are still those folk living in the deepest jungles that are tribal and still using wooden spears and the like.

As for the scarceness of something, that's what I meant when talking about "key elements." It could make for some interesting cultural clashes and such, particularly when a "new element" is introduced into a culture that doesn't know about it. I suppose, in a way, it might be like us (meaning the human race) encountering extra-terrestrials that have mastered FTL travel even though all our current knowledge suggest that such travel is impossible.

Glad I got people thinking about this though. The whole "group mind" thing often spurs some of the greatest stuff, including technological advances. :D


06-10-2010, 05:34 PM
RobA beat me to the Off Armageddon Reef mention, but that's actually the second time Mr. Weber touched on that theme; there was a similar world in the Dahak series (beginning with Mutineer's Moon) where technology was actively suppressed by the local religion. It's always been a fascinating topic for me; good thread GW!

06-10-2010, 05:36 PM
CJ Cherryh wrote a series of books that had a lot of technology related issues: Foreigner_universe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreigner_universe). It's been years since I read them but they were good and i wouldn't mind reading the extended series now that they have been written.

If I remember correctly one of the first things that happened was scientists having to go down to this alien planet and learn what the periodic table of the elements were for this world so they could figure out what things they could still create.

"key elements" = Periodic Table of Elements, different ones or missing pieces would surely change what is able to be created technologically.

06-10-2010, 06:13 PM
If I remember correctly one of the first things that happened was scientists having to go down to this alien planet and learn what the periodic table of the elements were for this world so they could figure out what things they could still create.

"key elements" = Periodic Table of Elements, different ones or missing pieces would surely change what is able to be created technologically.
It's been ages since i read a couple of those. I don't remember that part, but if you describe it properly, it's pretty bogus for sci-fi, but could be a good concept for a fantasy or alternate reality.

The periodic table doesn't vary from planet to planet, it's part of the nature of our universe. If you want to discover new elements you need to travel to another reality/dimension/universe. We can find all the elements on Earth, though some are too rare or hard to get to be viable for commercial use. The exception is unstable, temporary, radioactive elements-- some of these we've produced artificially. Some of these might possibly exist naturally on other planets.

Different elements might be rare on another planet, but all would be the ones we already know.

06-10-2010, 07:00 PM
I may not have described it right but the point was they had to determine what could be reproduced with the resources there. .

06-10-2010, 07:20 PM
A lot of great points thus far and magic would obviously take things in a whole different direction, but I was thinking something more basic, at least in terms of why it might take a fantasy-era civilization a long time to improve technologically.

Based off some of Mu's musings on grain, economy, and civilization (http://mu.ranter.net/design-theory/food-basis/everything-starts-with-grain), the environment itself could play a major role in the rate of early development. If your primary food source is labor intensive, there would be fewer people available to pursue advancement. This would be particularly true if the culture and government were very stable, as there would be less pressing need to advance. War or common threats to the food source (weather, etc.) might encourage advancement, but you would still need people with spare time to pursue it.

The culture itself may also play a role, as more suspicious or change-resistant civs would be less likely to embrace new tech. Perhaps there was a disaster in the past related to a new advancement.

Another possibility was raised in Stargate Atlantis (I think). Basically, a planet had attempted to fight back against the dominant power in that region of space. As a result, the dominant power destroyed most of the civilization and it's technology. In order to prevent the planet's inhabitants from ever posing a threat again, they visited every decade or so and wiped out any advanced tech.

Aval Penworth
06-10-2010, 07:46 PM
The magical ruling elite might suppress some inventions while allowing others to develop. The Lord Mage is quite happy for you invent a steam powered carpet weaver, but when he hears about the development of guns or explosives he steps in.

I have that situation in my world at the moment.

06-10-2010, 10:24 PM
My favourite technological era for fantasy worlds is when there are cannons and guns, but they are not extensively used nor reliable. As well, its a time when things such as accurate gear-based instruments appear, like clocks. Its also great for creating airships - my favourite vehicles.

Since I don't want my world going forward at an exponential rate, I limit the technology by changing one thing; the periodic table (it no longer exists)

People are no longer carbon based life forms, there is no such thing as salt peter, charcoal, and sulfur, metals do not conduct electricity, et cetera. The world looks like ours, but it isn't based on the rules of our universe. The people of the world create similar technologies based off of identical or similar chemicals, but because the chain is different, one thing does not lead to another in an upward climb toward our present age. No matter which chemicals a scientist throws together, he will never make a battery. Lightning still exists, but as a completely different type of atmospheric energy.

This change in the function of the world also makes alchemy possible without magic - maybe a cheap metal (like lead) CAN be turned into gold with the right combination of acids. And maybe the body CAN be altered by an elixir to give a man immortality. This opens a lot of possibilities.

06-11-2010, 02:26 AM
Now Natais comment made me think of one of my favorite series "Mistborn", Sanderson describes a world where ashes are raining from the sky daily making one of the important tasks for the farmers (slaves) to remove the ashes from the fields to give the plant the sparce sunlight they can through the ash clouds. That one thing hampers the world a lot -and colors (pun intened) the world... grey :)
He also uses metals for magic in the coolest way possible.. and when I heard that they were going to make a movie I rejoiced :) ... those combat scenes would look soooooo cool :)

06-11-2010, 04:04 AM
The one concept in Natais comment is similar to what was developed in Stargate SG-1. Basically, the Goa'uld, the dominant race of the Milky Way galaxy, are power obsessed and want every planet to bow to them as gods and be their slaves. In an effort to maintain power, their System Lords monitor the technological progress of any worlds they know have human/humanoid inhabitants. If they are not properly enslaved, making weapons, materials, and tools for the Goa'uld lords, they attack and destroy the civilization before they reach a point where they might be able to pose a threat to the empire and win freedom. So many worlds, despite being inhabited by humans for thousands of years, do not have a technological level beyond that of the middle ages.

I think a couple Ha'taks blasting your major cities to rubble every now and then serves as a deterrent.

06-11-2010, 12:09 PM
It could make for some interesting cultural clashes and such, particularly when a "new element" is introduced into a culture that doesn't know about it.

And the results may not always be what you might expect. There is a culture in the south Pacific somewhere (I forget which one) that used stone axes as a form of currency. Since the axes deteriorated through use, there was always a demand, and that demand supported the entire economy. When western explorers encountered these people, they naturally traded their superior metal tools to them. But since the metal axes and knives did not deteriorate like the stone axes, the entire economy was disrupted. Because people no longer needed new tools on a regular basis, the axe-makers and the merchant villages that purchased from them could no longer support themselves, and their communities collapsed. Without the need to trade with other villages, the food-producer communities no longer communicated regularly with outsiders, and the entire culture suffered as a result.

06-11-2010, 02:18 PM
The magical ruling elite might suppress some inventions while allowing others to develop. The Lord Mage is quite happy for you invent a steam powered carpet weaver, but when he hears about the development of guns or explosives he steps in.

I have that situation in my world at the moment.

I was watching a show on History Chanel last night that discussed the religions of Alexandria and the works of Heron (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero_of_Alexandria). The show implied that most of his inventions were made for temples in order to better awe the common folk, and compete against the other temples, such as the ever classic "I get wine, you get water (http://www.history.rochester.edu/steam/hero/section8.html)" gag.

-Rob A.

06-11-2010, 04:45 PM
Population was important for development in our world. Specifically, the population of poor people. In Western Europe before the great plague population was relatively stable. After the plague, though , there was a severe shortage of peasants. Those that survivied were a valuable commodity and they could begin to wring concessions out of their masters such as the right to move. Some were able to move toward middle class and this increased the shortage further. Labor-saving devices were adopted more rapidly in order to feed the population. A similar situation appeared in America - too much land and too few people. Contrast this to China, which began to stagnate as soon as the emperor made the decision to stop looking outside his borders. The population was stable and there was no reason to innovate. After all, why use a fancy ditch-digging machine that can replace 20 men if you still have to feed those 20 men anyhow?

Or so I've been told.

And never overlook the value of a frontier (a place where the unhappy can go to be away from society).

06-11-2010, 11:58 PM
Another big factor in the rate of technological development, which has been hinted at, is social mobility. The people who create most technical innovation -- and here I'm talking about the little things from which progress grows, like a new block on your loom that lets you run a few more wefts an hour, or a new strap on the harness so your horse can pull a few more pounds -- are not the upper classes, but the people who are down and dirty, doing the work. There's a lot more of them, and they're much more familiar with how any given process works, what its flaws and strengths are, and so on. But in a lot of traditional societies, there's no impetus for them to improve anything. So what if they can increase the amount of land they can plough? At the end of the day, the local lord still owns the land, they won't be getting any more, they and their children and their children's children will still be peasants working the same acre until the end of time.

Differences in social mobility can be seen in a lot of societies. Medieval Scotland had very tightly defined social classes with very little mobility between them, and stagnated during the Middle Ages, while England had much more social mobility, and flourished. Hindu India, with its impenetrable caste system, advanced much less than China, which had greater social mobility.

And never overlook the value of a frontier (a place where the unhappy can go to be away from society).
And where social restrictions are lessened. This also happened in medieval times in cities (which is why city air makes free).

06-15-2010, 03:58 AM
Well, fundamentally, Technology is just using knowledge to accomplish a goal. So to cut off technology, you want to cut off the improvement of knowledge. Secondly, you want to cut off the use of it to accomplish new goals.

Of the examples given, Religion tends to cut off the advancement of knowledge. The availability of slave or magic and lack of social mobility tend to cut off new goals/uses for knowledge.

Keeping as much of the population stuck as subsistence farmers keeps them from having time to think of new ideas or ways to use them so agricultural technology is one of the primary things you want to control. Finance and trade also have strong enabling effects, especially as they tie in so much with pure math.

So, you probably want a dogmatic, theocratic caste based society with a large population of slaves and strong reinforcement between the societal structure and the religion.

The major Eurasian religions all have points to offer in developing something like this. The Abrahamic faiths are dogmatic and have a doctrine of preferring faith over knowledge and loads of agricultural/food taboos. A monotheistic viewpoint would also help reinforce the point of conformity. Confucianism makes a point of knowing your place and keeping to the natural order which kept the Chinese from exploiting many of their discoveries as readily as the Europeans later did. Hinduism provides a strong caste structure and karma/reincarnation as a justification for that rigidity (You can move up, but not in this life time, so don't even bother trying)

So I might aim for a huge empire with no rivals ruled by a hereditary, theocratic, oligarchy: a priest/leader caste. I'd give them a single, omnipotent creator god, but toss in karma and reincarnation as fairly key elements and Confucianism as 'icing'. The "mental state trumps actions" elements of Christianity and Buddhism might work well. Karma would be mostly "what the god thinks of you", and there would be LONG lists of bizarre and arbitrary things the god doesn't like. Trade and agriculture in particular would be heavily restricted by religious taboos. Slave and peasant/serf are castes and are the two biggest ones.

Actually there are plenty of things in the Abrahamic religions that work well inspiration for anti-technology taboos:

Planting different crops in the same field: Make that no crop rotation.
Pigs are unclean: There are also more efficient at converting food to meat than cows or sheep.
Usury: No remotely modern financial system.
Faith over Evidence (Doubting Thomas): Asking questions makes the god angry. Next time round you'll be a slave, maybe after being tortured in limbo until you are worthy of being a slave.
Disease is the result of demons sent against the wicked. Medical treatment is against the god's will.
Images of things in the real world are a mockery of the god's creations.

Some other good ones off the top of my head:

Horses are holy and only to be used by the upper castes. The yokes used with oxen for draft work would choke horses, and the god made them this way. No one would even imagine a horse collar.
Tilling the soil for new life must be done with that which was once alive. Plows must be made of wood, not metal.

06-19-2010, 04:35 AM
Sorry to bump this thread but I've got an idea about technology to run past the guild that relates to this thread.

The Dal are isolated from the rest of the "civilised world" who are going through a kind of magic-industrial revolution so the Dal wouldn't be at their level of technology. The Dal however are quite advanced because they are on a continent where Humans are a vast minority and so they had to advance rather quickly to compete and survive against the other dominant races. However, no matter how far they advance there is one thing holding them back, a lack of abundant iron ore. A lack of iron, used specifically to make steel, has held back there technology as iron is now a rare commodity controlled by the clan leaders and so the craftsman and inventors of the clans are somewhat limited to working with other less valuable ores like common stone and copper and an abundant supply of wood, but these can only go so far. So we wouldn't see fully amoured knights as the clan leaders wouldn't want to use so much steel on one person when they could make swords and arrowheads for multiple people and so weapons that were made to work against armoured foes like maces and crossbows would be rare in the Dal lands becuase they would less effective than bows, swords and spears which are simpler to make and work well against unarmoured foes. This would also prevent the Dal from creating cannons, why would use so much metal on an untried weapon when a wooden ballista or catapult have already proven their worth. This would also see an increase in fighting techniques and practices as warriors are not wieghed down by so much armour and don't have to train to overcome a foes amour but rather their foes skill.

Does all this seem reasonable?


06-19-2010, 08:42 AM
yes - it makes perfect sense. It would be like making cannons of gold in our world (except for the strengt of the metal)

06-19-2010, 10:33 AM
Yes, it makes sense, but remember that a lack of iron will likely cause other military technologies to accelerate to compensate. I'm not sure what the minimum required technological level for industrial ceramics is, but such materials can be lightweight and strong, and can carry a sharp edge. Failing that, some Central and South American societies used obsidian for their tools—an obsidian flake can be sharper than surgical steel. Others used sharks' teeth to make swords. Resins and leather might be used to construct armor that is far tougher than the leather armor in other parts of the world. A Korean Hwach'a, an ancient mobile rocket battery, requires no metal in its construction.

06-22-2010, 06:14 AM
Great thread. I would never had linked the Renaissance to the plague but reading it now it sounds very logical.
I would go so far to say that the only thing to effectively hinder technological advancement is a stable society with many available workers (slaves or peasants).
Even strict authorities (be it priests or mages) can not stop inventiveness if there is enough outside (war or simple economical concurrence) or inside (famines, plagues) pressure.
I also agree with those who say that unavailability of "key elements" merely "reroutes" technology instead of slowing its advancement.

Greason Wolfe
06-22-2010, 09:52 AM
I'm glad I started this discussion now. Lots of great input so far. Although I wasn't looking for something specific in terms of creating a particular culture or society ( I was just asking in general for the most part ), this has spurred a lot of great ideas and thought. Just wanted to thank everyone who has chimed in so far. I'm not sure how much I will be around here over the next month or so, my grandmother has taken a turn for the worse, so the family and I are a bit caught up in that situation, but I'll try to keep checking in from time to time just to see how things are going.


Aval Penworth
06-22-2010, 10:03 AM
Great thread. I would never had linked the Renaissance to the plague but reading it now it sounds very logical.
I would go so far to say that the only thing to effectively hinder technological advancement is a stable society with many available workers (slaves or peasants).
Even strict authorities (be it priests or mages) can not stop inventiveness if there is enough outside (war or simple economical concurrence) or inside (famines, plagues) pressure.
I also agree with those who say that unavailability of "key elements" merely "reroutes" technology instead of slowing its advancement.

Nah. Powerful mage-priest rulers can stop inventiveness. If a real omnipotent, interventionist GOD says no widgets, then it is no widgets. These guys can also prevent famines and cure plagues if it suits them. Fantasy worlds do not correlate to medieval or ancient earth.

06-23-2010, 11:35 AM
Having a omnipotent being intervening is as good (or rather bad) as just saying: "People just don't event anything." And the powerful mage-priests have to be a global authority, otherwise their would allways be a group of mage-priests who want to beat the other group of mage-priests and in the long run the "inventive" ones will win (or force the others to become inventive).
On the other hand: since technological advancement and the possibility of personal emancipation are somewhat linked it can be said, that a setting that allows/encourages adventurers roaming around also encourages individual thinking and, sooner or later, technological improvements, so forbidding certain technologies has to be hardwired into the world (leading back to the "omnipotent interventor").

06-23-2010, 01:23 PM
One thing I was thinking of is that a society that does not care for inventions and does not find science importance might not progress technologically past a certain point. (They don't reject science, they just don't care about it)

Some technologies may be seen as perfected to the people, and tradition may make maintaining the current way of life very important.

If they live by a sea or lake, they may have fishing canoes, but nothing more. If the current boat type can help catch all the fish they need and allows them go as far out as seems useful, then no new boat designs are needed. And when they want to go on a boat, they only think of using that canoe, because its a symbol of ability, and making one's own canoe is a path to prestige among fellow tribesmen. If their bows are good for hunting what they need to, then why invent a crossbow? The traditional weapons work just fine for them, and the rite of passage into manhood by using a bow is more important than trying to kill as easily as possible.

War being on a small tribal basis doesn't bring about the need for a decisive weapon, because you can always win by ambush or superior numbers. Large battle tactics like cavalry charges and sieges don't come into play when you have only dozens of men.

When a village gets too big, maybe instead of just growing, a family breaks off to create another village in a different region to avoid competition for food. If the region is large, the people nomadic, and life expectancy very low, the civilization won't reach a critical level that would bring about radical change for millenia.