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The Clan of the Cave Bear  
The Clan of the Cave Bear cover.jpg
Author Jean M. Auel
Country United States
Language English
Series Earth's Children
Genre(s) Historical novel
Publisher Crown
Publication date May 4, 1980
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 468 pp
ISBN 0-517-54202-1
OCLC Number 6277166
Dewey Decimal 813/.54
LC Classification PS3551.U36 C57 1980
Followed by The Valley of Horses

The Clan of the Cave Bear is a historical fiction novel by Jean M. Auel about prehistoric times set somewhat before the extinction of the Neanderthal race after 600,000 years as a species, and at least 10-15,000 years after 'Homo sapiens' remains are documented and dated in Europe as a viable second human species. It is the first book in the Earth's Children book series which speculates on the possibilities of interactions between Neanderthal and modern Cro-Magnon humans.


Historical backdrop

Archeologists believe the Neanderthal branch of mankind probably died out circa 30,000 – 22,000 years before present, the later date of which is within a few millennia of the peak (worst) advance of the last glacial period during the current Ice Age. The Aurignacian tool making culture cannot be definitively attributed to co-occurrence with non-conflicted datable Cro-magnon remains, leaving open the possibility that the culture, as yet scientifically unlinked with definitive identifiable skeletal remains was "the last hurrah" of the Neanderthals' civilization and racial existence.

In point of fact, the culture and loci of the finds better matches Auels' portrayed homelands for the Cro-magnon cultures of her works from the plains of the Ukraine and Danube valley across the Alps to western France, which is consistent with mainstream archeological thinking. Her intermingling of Neanderthal peoples in a timeframe likely somewhat after their extinction is suggested but muddled by the uncertainty of archaeological dating and can clearly be easily accepted as well rationalized author's poetic license — or a good educated guess which cannot definitively be ruled out as a valid scenario. Auel's sprinkling of references and mentions (in various series works) to the "coming" re-advance of "the polar ice" sheets clearly places her timeline before the peak southern ice encroachment during the last glacial period circa 18,000 y.B.P. It is accordingly generally accepted that her timeframe is between 25,000-28,000 y.B.P.

Science facts:

Surviving Cro-Magnon artifacts include huts, cave paintings, carvings and antler-tipped spears. The remains of tools suggest that they knew how to make woven clothing. They had huts, constructed of rocks, clay, bones, branches, and animal hide/fur. These early humans used manganese and iron oxides to paint pictures and may have created the first calendar around 15,000 years ago[1].

The flint tools found in association with the remains at the first Cro-Magnon site have associations with the Aurignacian culture that Lartet had identified a few years before he found the skeletons.

The Cro-Magnons must have come into contact with the Neanderthals, and are often credited with causing the latter's extinction, although modern humans seem to have coexisted with Neanderthals for up to 60,000 years in the Levant[2] and for more than 15,000 years in France[3].

Auel's research and incorporation of such data into her story arch works well within her narrative.

Jean Auel's books have been commended for their anthropological authenticity and their ethnobotanical accuracy.[citation needed] However, recent archaeological research may suggest that some prehistorical details in the series are inaccurate and others fictional, and that specifications of prehistorical milestones are sometimes arbitrary and inconsistent.[citation needed] For example, the differences between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens may have been exaggerated or underestimated in the series; it has been found that Neanderthals had a hyoid bone and may thus have been capable of using vocal language and not as dependent on sign language as portrayed in the series (the existence of a Neanderthal hyoid bone wasn't confirmed until 1983, some years after the first book in the series was published).

Plot summary

A 5-year old Cro-Magnon girl is suddenly orphaned and left homeless by an earthquake that destroys her family's camp. She wanders aimlessly, naked and unable to feed herself, for several days. Having been attacked and nearly killed by a cave lion and suffering from starvation, exhaustion, and infection of her wounds, she collapses, on the verge of death.

The narrative switches to a group of Neanderthal people, the "Clan", whose cave was destroyed in the earthquake and are searching for a new home. The medicine woman of the group, Iza, discovers the girl and asks permission from Brun, the head of the Clan, to help her, even though she is clearly a daughter of "the Others". The child is adopted by Iza and her brother Creb, the "Mog-ur" or shaman, an arthritic elder who as a child was mauled by a cave bear and has only one arm and one eye. They call her Ayla, because they can't pronounce her name. Immediately after Iza begins to help her, the clan discovers a huge, beautiful cave; many of the people begin to regard Ayla as lucky, especially since good fortune continues to come their way as she lives among them.

The Neanderthal possess only limited vocal apparatus and rarely speak, but have a highly-developed sign language. They do not laugh or even smile, and they do not cry; when Ayla weeps, Iza thinks she has an eye disease.

Ayla's different thought processes lead her to break important Clan customs, particularly the taboo against females handling weapons. She is self-willed and spirited, but tries hard to fit in with the Neanderthals, although she has to learn everything first-hand; she does not possess the ancestral memories of the Clan which allow them to do certain tasks after being shown only once.

Her main antagonist is Broud, son of the leader, an egomaniac who feels that she takes credit and attention away from him. As the two mature, the hatred between them festers. When they are young adults, Broud rapes Ayla, but she becomes pregnant, and rejoices in the birth of a son.

The book ends with Creb's death, Broud's succession to the leadership, and his banishment of Ayla, who sets off to find other people of her own kind. She is not allowed to take her son with her. The separation haunts her with guilt and grief for the rest of the series.

The sequel "The Valley of Horses" continues Ayla's story, which is further developed in other books of the Earth's Children series, which include "The Mammoth Hunters"; "The Plains of Passage"; and "The Shelters of Stone." Auel is still working on the final book planned in the series, and according to web posts by her son is in negotiations to do a seventh work as a series finale.[4]

Historical and research background

The archaeological and paleontological research for this book was carried out by Auel from her public library, by attending archaeological conventions, and touring extensively on sites with briefings by working field archaeologists.[5] Some of the descriptions are based on the first adult Neanderthal skeletons in Iraq from the cave burial at Shanidar, dating between 60-80,000 years BP. Other data is clearly linked to the widespread Aurignacian culture and Gravettian culture, and their tell-tale Venus figurines which Auel uses as one center of her Cro-magnon religious practices.[6]

See also


  1. ^ according to a claim by Michael Rappenglueck, of the University of Munich (2000) [1]
  2. ^ Ofer Bar-Yosef & Bernard Vandermeersch, Scientific American, April 1993, 94-100
  3. ^ Brad Gravina et al, Nature, 438, 51-56 (2005)
  4. ^ See mention, main article: Earth's Children book series, accessdate: 2009-04-28
  5. ^ Auel, various Series forwards, appreciations and credits, esp. "The Shelters of Stone" appreciations make it plain she'd outlined six book series in detail and visited digs in the various locales before this first book, and reprised such visits at various times since.
  6. ^ Tools and carvings characteristic of these cultures and maps delineating the actual basis dig sites are located within the inside cover art of most of the sequels.

External links



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