The Dark Age of Technology, formally referred to by Imperial scholars simply as the Age of Technology, was the zenith of Mankind's scientific knowledge and technological power in the Milky Way Galaxy, which lasted from the 15th Millennium until the onset of the Age of Strife in the 25th Millennium. It saw the development of the first true human interstellar civilisation and the birth of a united human stellar confederation centred on the human homeworld of Terra. Even tens of millennia later, Mankind has not been able to equal or regain its former height of achievement attained in this era. This age occurred long before the current Age of the Imperium and knowledge of this time period is now incredibly sparse, and many "facts" about it are no more than legend.
Although a "golden age" for humanity in terms of scientific achievement, because of the catastrophic effects of the following Age of Strife in which so many of the technologies developed in this era were used to cause massive destruction and suffering on countless human-settled worlds, mankind has since come to regard scientific knowledge as an abhorrent and dangerous commodity. The lost Age of Technology is thus considered "dark" in the Imperium's current era. It is also considered a dark age in the minds of the priests of the Ecclesiarchy because Mankind in the Age of Technology had come to worship science as its God, and the God-Emperor had not yet revealed himself as the saviour of humanity.
The Stellar Exodus
The Stellar Exodus is the name given to the historical period defined by humanity's earliest interstellar colonisation of other worlds beyond the Solar System, actually taking place in the millennia before the Age of Technology officially began. Humanity initially established colonies within Terra's solar system. Spacecraft were still only capable of sub-light speeds at this time. Voyages beyond the Solar System took generations and the colonies that were established were effectively isolated from each other and from Terra. Interstellar trade was therefore severely restricted. This forced the individual colonized star systems to be completely self-sufficient in all of their vital requirements (food, medicine, technology, etc.) and allowed them to develop distinctive languages and cultures.
The Warp Drive
The start of the Age of Technology was marked by the development of the Warp-Drive and the Gellar Field, allowing human spacecraft to make short Warp jumps through the recently discovered extradimensional realm known as the Immaterium, traveling vast interstellar distances in a relatively short amount of time. One can compare this early human form of faster-than-light travel to the way that Tau starships currently travel, described as "skimming the surface" of the Warp. The Warp-Drive's development greatly accelerated the human colonisation of the Milky Way Galaxy, and for the first time allowed interstellar trade and communications between the far-flung extrasolar human colonies and the homeworld of Mankind, Terra.
The second vital development of the Age of Technology was the creation of the psychic Navigator gene and the birth of the mutant Navigators, mildly psychic humans with a "third eye" of extrasensory perception who could see into the currents of the Warp and navigate a course through them. This allowed human spacecraft to make longer and more accurate Warp jumps than previously possible when relying wholly upon a computer for navigation in the chaotic realm of the Immaterium.
The STC and the Emergence of Psykers
Of major importance to the era and humanity in general during the Age of Technology was the invention of the Standard Template Construct (STC) database system. These highly advanced computer databases allowed human colonies to maintain an advanced technological level. The STCs contained all human scientific and technological knowledge of the era and provided the instructions required to build anything the colonists might need. As most colonists lived relatively simple lives and required only basic equipment and machines, the more advanced technology available in a full STC was rarely utilised. The resulting exploration of the galaxy brought Mankind new knowledge, wealth and arrogance. Science is said to have become humanity's new God in this time, replacing in importance all of the previous human religions. Humanity encountered several intelligent alien races during their expansion out into the galaxy, such as the Eldar and the warlike Orks. With these discoveries began, in time, the first human-xenos wars. With Mankind at the height of its power, the threat of aliens was viewed as trivial and eventually non-aggression pacts were signed between Terra, its colonies and many of the alien races.
At this time, after the discovery of Warp-Drive allowed interstellar transportation, commerce and communications to develop, the human colonies were politically united with Terra in some form of federated interstellar government, thus allowing the human race to remain unified and powerful. The form and nature of this unified government remains unknown in the remaining records.
It was during the Age of Technology that psykers were first scientifically verified to exist, after long millennia of legend, rumor and pseudoscience in which the scientific establishment simply could not prove the existence of psychic powers among humans. It is, however, unexplained how these early human psykers avoided the danger of daemonic possession for thousands of years, which would have led to the destruction of entire worlds as later happened during the Age of Strife. Whether daemons and the Ruinous Powers were less prevalent or potent in the Warp in this time before Slaanesh's birth is unknown.
Where at first the gift of the psychic mutation was limited to only a few individuals in every human population (who often fell victim to superstitious suppression), towards the end of the Age of Technology, psykers suddenly began appearing in unusually great numbers, on every human world. On the more progressive and technologically-advanced human colonies, these psykers -- at least until the threat of daemonic possession became apparent -- were protected by law and allowed to develop and explore their abilities. On other, less sophisticated human worlds, they were often killed in literal witch-hunts and anti-psyker pogroms.
The Men of Iron
One of the reasons humanity was so successful at conquering a large part of the galaxy during this era was the development of the artificially intelligent humanoid constructs now only known in fragmentary pre-Imperial records as the Men of Iron. These powerful and fully autonomous robots intended for both labour and combat won many wars for humanity, but for some unknown reason turned against their masters at the end of the Dark Age of Technology and unleashed a terrible war upon the human worlds. This conflict was eventually won by humanity, but at a great cost. The damage to interstellar human society was catastrophic and shattered much of humanity's hard-won economic strength and political unity, leading into the collapse caused by the onset of the Age of Strife. It is as a result of this ancient conflict that it is now considered one of the greatest crimes in Imperial space to develop an artificially intelligent thinking machine. The widespread fear and revulsion towards artificial intelligence amongst the worlds of Mankind in the wake of the terrible conflict with the Men of Iron leads to the development of the first Servitors at the end of this period. Servitors were cybernetic servants lacking true sentience created from the bodies of condemned criminals or lobotomised, vat-grown humanoids whose bodies and brains were partially replaced with machine systems.
The End of the Golden Age
This Golden Age for humanity would not last. Warp travel became increasingly difficult and ultimately impossible due to the great Immaterium Warp Storms that would herald the violent birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh and the Fall of the Eldar that began in the 25th Millennium. The economy of the human federation had already been damaged by the terrible wars against the Men of Iron, and the growing frequency and extent of the Warp Storms caused trade and communication between the human colonies to collapse, restoring the isolation of human-settled planets and star systems. Within this relative isolation Abhumans, new human mutant subspecies like the Ogryns, Ratlings, and Squats, adapted to their environments and developed on several planets in the galaxy.
In this situation, certain high population worlds like Terra that relied heavily on trade with the rest of humanity were suddenly unable to feed their enormous populations. Hunger and starvation followed. Those human psykers who had recently developed their powers were relatively weak and inexperienced, and at constant risk of possession by daemons and other Warp entities after the great Warp Storms began. The sudden impossibility of Warp travel meant that the once-unified interstellar human federation broke apart into completely isolated star systems and worlds. Daemonic possession, widespread insanity and isolation led to inter-human conflict, utter anarchy and the regression of most human civilisations into barbarism. The 5,000 Terran years following the end of the Dark Age of Technology are thus aptly named the Age of Strife by the savants of the Imperium of Man.
Age of Founding
The Squats' Age of Founding corresponds to the overall human Age of Technology.
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (5th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition)
- Space Hulk (Game)
- White Dwarf 178 (UK), "The Titan Legions" by Rick Priestley
- Galaxy In Flames (Novel) by Ben Counter, p. 410