To a casual inspection, this world's biota resembles the Earth/Arda standard, but with a wider slice of evolutionary history than normally exists at one time outside Valinors. The sapient population is in the low thousands, with a stone-age level of technology. The oldest people appear to be middle-aged, mostly much younger, and the sapient inhabitants comprise most of the youngest generations of a larger population of which the older generations are non-sapient hominids.
That's so weird! They've gotta figure out what's up with that.
Nelen and his team pop down to a population center to see for themselves.
Here is a group of around 30 hominids, and a couple of elderly australopithecus. The generations get increasingly anatomically modern as they get younger, and the tools they carry more complicated. A few teenagers are wearing grass skirts or body-paint, but most of the band is naked. Some hunters appear to have caught a gazelle, and a teenager is exasperatedly trying to deter an australopithecus from eating off it before it's cooked.
When the envoys appear, someone calls out "stranger!" and people (and humanoid animals) run for cover or ready weapons.
"We come in peace!" calls Nelen.
They relax some, but don't put down their weapons.
A teenage boy comes forwards and asks:
"Who are you? What do you want?"
"My name is Nelen Utopia and my colleagues are Tanaka Natsuko, Cassiel Jones, Zanro, and Tarwë. We're from very far away and we are here to learn more about your people and trade goods and exchange information with you."
That is a very reassuring reason for being here.
"We have meat and stone to spare. We know how to make food better to eat, and how to make rocks very sharp, and how to make shelter, and how to kill animals without hunting them. We do not know how to travel without walking."
"We know all those things too! We're mostly more interested in learning about what your lives are like than in getting stuff from you."
"What are 'lives'?"
"A life is the period of time you spend doing things and having experiences. For most kinds of people it starts at a specific point and for most of those it also ends eventually without magical help."
He takes a few seconds figuring that out. It's not actually a new concept, exactly, but it's not one he'd had a word for before.
Also, it sounds like these people claim to have a way to prevent death in general?
"Why do you want to know about our lives? We would like to know about 'magical help'."
"We'd like to know how you spend your time and how you make decisions. There are many places that have many kinds of magic that can do a lot of things - that's how we got here, for example."
"Learning how other people spend their time" is a strange thing to travel a long way and deal with strangers for. But perhaps not if you have really good technology for travel and can't be killed.
"What is 'making decisions'? If you explain how to not die, I will explain how we spend our time."
"There are several steps to take to not die. One is to arrange be brought back by magic after dying, and many people expect to need to use that now and then. One is to go to a world where there is technology that can make you younger, whenever you're old. One is to wear a magic ring that makes you stop getting any older in the first place. One is to have healing magic available for anyone who is sick or hurt, so they don't die of those things. Is anyone sick or hurt right now? I have healing magic myself."
Several people in the group are sick or wounded and would like to be healed. Another teenager asks if they can also heal animals.
Nelen's power only works on humanoids, but Natsuko can help if they have hurt dogs or something.
Hurt and sick dogs were in fact what she was thinking of.
Hominids get healed. At this point the strangers seem friendly enough that the people who were tending the fire go back to that.
And teenagers will explain how they spend their time. They hunt and trap and forage and travel between campsites and cook. At night they sleep. On hot or rainy days, they rest under rock overhangs or in these artificial shelters. They maintain their stone and wood tools and their baskets. They sing and dance and play games and have sex (they will demonstrate some of the singing). The behaviorally-modern people tell jokes and stories and draw pictures and gossip and show each other new technologies they figure out (they will demonstrate some of the jokes and some of the gossip. Recent inventions include a way to make this particular plant edible, a way to keep food from spoiling, a way to make wood harder, a way to catch fish, and a way to get honey with less risk of bee stings, and a way to make arrows more deadly. This young man is celebrated for his talent for inventing stuff, and invented several of those things). The older behaviorally-modern people teach the younger ones about the world and the past. Sometimes they meet and trade with this person's relatives to the North or this person's relatives to the Southwest. Sometimes they get into fights with the scumbags to the Northeast (who are this person's relatives, but she's one of the good ones) and the Southeast.
What does the family tree look like for this tribe?
All the pre-pubescent children and all but one of the teenagers are children of someone else in the band. Older people are more likely to have joined from elsewhere, often because they didn't get on with the band they came from and had friends in this one. A lot of people in this band broke off from the one to the Northeast because they didn't like it's current leader, "Smart Guy".
Several members of the band have two or more fathers. Generally someone is angry about this. Most people with multiple children have had children with multiple people. Again, someone is generally angry about this, although sometimes the angry person isn't in this band. When the children associated with a drama are less than around sixteen years old, teenagers and young adults can expound about it in extensive and sometimes contentious detail.
For older drama, they are similarly eager to speculate but it's obvious they only actually know the basics. If the envoys ask the parents themselves about these disputes, they are generally happy to confirm who they do or don't consider their children and who they do or don't like, but will get confused once asked for more complicated details.
Asked about the parentage of past-middle-aged members of the group, the young adults can sometimes give some anecdotes what those parents were like in their old age. Asked about the parentage of elderly members of the group, they mostly agree that those people probably did have parents once but admit they don't know for sure.
More anatomically-modern people generally have more children than less anatomically-modern people. Children seem to reliably be at least as anatomically-modern as their parents.
Can they confirm that they mean that if somebody is somebody else's mom, that means, at least in the typical case, that she was pregnant with them and gave birth?
Yes, that's right.
People they're used to usually look more like their parents than that, do they know anything about why they might look like their siblings and less like their parents?
"Maybe some peoples' fathers aren't who we think they are? Do you think some peoples' fathers aren't who we think they are?"
"Usually young people look like other young people and old people look like other old people, right?"
"- let me show you a family picture of my family."
He has one from their latest reunion from when his grandma saved up to get her dad back, so his great-grandpa looks kind of conspicuously young, and most of Uncle Finto's side of the family has gotten cosmetically wacky, but he can compose a crop of one where it's him, his sister, his aunts, his grandparents, the as-yet-un-deaged grandma and great-grandma.
"My people get old more slowly than some, but this is me, that's my older sister, that's my aunt - younger than me, but my aunt - and that's my grandmother, and her mother."
"You all look very modern?"
At this point the gazelle is cooked. People start cutting off slices. One of the people who cooked it offers the envoys some.
"Modern?" asks Nelen.
Zanro will have some but the others demur.