I made some progress with walking back the Rust version, getting to
2016-04-01 nightly (pre-1.8.0).  A rough cut of what I did is here:

https://github.com/devrandom/powersoftau/compare/experiment-devrandom-vendor...devrandom:experiment-devrandom-old-compile

This doesn't quite get us to when zcash was announced in January of 2016.
To make further progress, I will look into backporting the question-mark
operator from
https://github.com/rust-lang/rust/commit/210dd611aa1bd80ed2f4e663b3c4b87b3cea069a
to
an earlier nightly.

Will consider Peter's points and respond later.

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