AN 101, Winter 2009 Exam 4
Jean Auel attempts to paint a picture of what the world might have been like during the ice aged period some forty millennia ago. Using information gathered by the science of her time and filling in gaps with a bit of creative writing, she tells the story of a clan of Neanderthals who worship bear spirits. Unfortunately and probably unknowingly to her, most of her story would have had to be written differently in order to be more anthropologically accurate.
To start the nitpicking on accuracy, the idea that Neanderthals by and large worshiped Bears, or had Rituals of animal sacrifice was almost certainly untrue. When Jean Auel wrote “Clan of the Cave Bear” it was widely accepted that Bear Cults and animal rituals were common among Neanderthal culture (HE,, P. 376). Over the thirty years since the books writing, these myths of Neanderthal culture were uncovered as nothing more than wishful thinking by early excavators. The neatness and convenience of the theories made for good writing in this book, but does not stand up to the scientific accuracy test of today’s research.
In the novel, Ayla has a deformed child which the clan was reluctant to allow living. After much drama, the child, Durc, is allowed to live and is cared for. Creb is an older man who held great status in the clan. He too was an injured and deformed individual, and like Durc is allowed to survive with the clan. This is an entirely plausible, if not completely accurate description of Neanderthal culture. It has been accepted as common practice amongst Neanderthal social units to care for injured and deformed members and allow them to live their life with the clan (HE,, pp. 379, 380).
However probable the caring for injured members of the clan was, the idea that Durc could have been born at all is a definite falsehood. Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens were of two distinct species. These species could not have produced offspring of a...