Jean Auel began her “Children of Earth” series over 30 years ago, with Clan of the Cave Bear. The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, The Plains of Passage and The Shelters of Stone followed. Her latest addition, The Land of Painted Caves, continues to follow Ayla and Jondalar, still having difficulty communicating, and this time includes a tour of the cave paintings of France.
All are long books – The Land of Painted Caves is 828 pages in paperback and the others are about the same length. All are well researched. I discovered the series 30 years ago, primarily because of my interest in the Pleistocene and human evolution, and most of this review will be from that perspective.
From a writer’s point of view, the most recent book is full of information dumps, and rather weak on plot. That hasn’t stopped it from being a best seller, but there were times when I had to force myself to pick it up. I did manage to find a number of usable Twitter quotes, which are being posted and their contexts will be explained on February 29.
A good part of the book is description of the cave art of France. Auel does include a map keyed both to what the Zelandonii of her book called the caves and what archeologists call them, but I wanted to see some pictures of the cave art, not just descriptions. I actually searched the web for images from the caves, but found very few even when I knew the name of the cave. Good general references are http://myrencounter.blogspot.com/2011/07/land-of-painted-caves.html and http://www.donsmaps.com/indexauelfans.html, but they have more photos of the locations of the caves than of the actual paintings. White Hollow, identified as Lascaux, does have some images of the art at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/12/inside-lascaux-the-versai_n_712645.html.
One possible source, at least for drawings of the cave art, is The Nature of Paleolithic Art, by Dale Guthrie. Dale is an artist himself, and while he suggests that a good deal of the “art” in the caves was equivalent to graffiti found in mens rooms, his first interest in cave art was as guides to reconstructing extinct animals. This is a huge book, with hundreds if not thousands of drawings of Pleistocene art from all over Eurasia, but putting the drawings in this book together with what Ayla saw would be a major project.
Leaving the art, there has long been a controversy in archaeology as to whether modern humans and Neanderthals (what Ayla calls the Clan) ever interbred, or whether such interbreeding was even possible. The argument went back and forth during the time period over which Auel’s books were being written. DNA for a time was used to claim such interbreeding never occurred. Then, less than a year ago, DNA evidence made it quite clear that such interbreeding had in fact happened. The basis of Auel’s books was if anything ahead of the archaeology of the time.
In one point, however, she was clearly wrong, though there was no way she could have known it at the time she started the series.. Jondalar and Ayla are described as being blonde and having blue and gray eyes respectively. Recent gene sequencing has strongly suggested that all blue and gray-eyed people are descended from a single common ancestor who lived between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, well after the setting of Auel’s books. There is at least some argument that blonde hair may have evolved after the ice ages. Still, I cannot help but wonder if it could be derived from that Neanderthal admixture. If fair coloring is an adaptation to getting vitamin D in a region with little sunlight, such as Europe, the Neanderthals lived in Europe long before the Cro-Magnons arrived.