Rereading the Ringworld books, it occurred to me to question the timeline. In particular, the Ringworld has a series of full-size populated maps of planets of other species' worlds, which are speculated to be a way for the Pak to monitor and experiment with those species. One is of Earth.

Earth was a colonization failure for the Pak; tree-of-life would grow, but the microbes for the transformation were missing. After thousands or millions of years, it was rediscovered by Phssthpok in archival records, and he came to set things right. IIRC, he arrived around 2100AD, meeting an asteroid miner Jack Brennan who, after transforming into a protector himself, killed Phssthpok. It's possible he got a message off to his Pak buddies before dying, but it would have traveled at the speed of light, as the Pak had no superluminal capability.

Ringworld appears to take place around the late 2900s:

The Arch seemed to blaze above them. A thousand miles above the Ringworld, they could see how the Arch merged into the rim walls and the flat landscape. Like the first man in space, a thousand years ago, looking down on an Earth that, by Jahweh and his mighty hammer, really was round.

Guessing about 900 years between Phssthpok's discovery and Louis Wu's first trip to the Ringworld...which has been Pak-abandoned for at least 100,000 years by the most conservative estimate of genetic drift...why do they have a detailed map of Earth built into it when Earth was rediscovered only 900 years earlier? Before that, they thought of Earth as populated, if at all, by subsentient breeders. Phssthpok himself was astounded to meet a breeder he could talk to, so the state of Earth couldn't have been common knowledge when the Ringworld was built.

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    Interestingly enough, there is also a map of Mars, which was used as the control centre. This implies that Pak did a thorough survey of the Solar system, as the Martians hid under the dust. Feb 21 at 5:24
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    @WayneHanks "as the Martians hid under the dust" exactly as they do in present days...
    – gboffi
    Feb 22 at 13:45

1 Answer 1


The Pak who built the Ringworld don't know about the initial expedition to Earth. To them, Earth is just another planet relatively close to the Ringworld with a primitive species on it (just like the Kzin homeworld).

The initial Pak expedition to Earth occurred 2.5 million years before the present. The information about this expedition was in an obscure part of the Pak Library, which Phssthpok discovered about 33,000 years before the present (times taken from the Wikipage on Protector). The Ringworld-builders began their work about a million years ago (see this link, which quotes the character Proserpina who claims to be one of builders), so there's no reason to believe that the Builders knew anything about the Earth expedition.

So the Ringworld Builders encountered Earth (and the other local planets) with no prior information. Remember that Phssthpok did not recognize Brennan as a Pak Breeder until Brennan reacted to Tree-of-Life -- and he was looking for breeders:

Phssthpok tracked a chain of answers with dogged persistence; but behind every answer there were more questions.His native captive smelled wrong: strange, animalistic. He was not of those Phssthpok had come seeking. Where were they, then?

The Ringworld Builders weren't looking for breeders so they assumed that the plains apes of Earth were natives to Earth, and collected them, just as they collected the natives of Kzin and other planets. "The Pak do not seek abstract knowledge" so they may not even know about evolution, so the idea that plains apes could be descendants of breeders is beyond their comprehension (unless (as happened with Brennan) the facts are dramatically demonstrated to them).

  • But based on continental drift, Louis Wu estimates that the Map of Earth is about a million years out of date. If Phssthpok immediately recognized a modern homo sapiens as a likely Pak breeder, it should have been even more obvious to Pak that scouted the place out a million years ago. Feb 20 at 19:39
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    In a million years of continental drift, the continents, moving at about 1-2 cm/year, would have moved 10-20 kilometers. There's no way Louie Wu could have eyeballed that!
    – Mark Olson
    Feb 20 at 20:25
  • In the narrative, he did concede that it might be much longer, and that a geologist would know better. At any rate, it's a guess at the minimum. Feb 20 at 20:53
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    Phssthpok did not immediately recognize a modern human as a Pak breeder.
    – Andrew
    Feb 20 at 22:31
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    Marc, Louis might be able to eyeball sea-level differences to see that the map was somewhat out of date (if the continental shelf connects Cuba with Florida for example). Louis is widely overconfident in his accuracy though.
    – Andrew
    Feb 21 at 1:08

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