Monday, 4 April 2011

Jean M Auel in conversation with Professor Chris Stringer - 28th February 2011

Don't forget that all comments on posts with the Earth's Children logo made before Midnight GMT on the 8th April 2011 will get you entered into my international giveaway to win a book of your choice from the Earth's Children Series!  See this post for more information.

I've already posted about the fantastic afternoon event I was lucky enough to attend where we got to give our input on what Ayla (the main character for the Earth's Children series) looks like.  You can read my write up here if you've not already seen it.  Later on that evening the Natural History Museum was hosting a separate event where Jean M Auel and Professor Chris Stringer were going to chat about the Earth's Children series and some of the research that went into creating it.  As big fans of the series my cousin Emma and I jumped at the chance of learning more and I'm very grateful to Hodder for giving me a ticket to the event.

Emma & me

Before the event started we had the opportunity to buy copies of the books for Jean to sign at the end of the event.  I had planned on buying the whole series again but it was just too expensive so I settled for my favorite book The Clan of the Cave Bear and I also pre-ordered The Land of Painted Caves as we were guaranteed the limited edition cover.  Once we had paid for our books it was time to make our way into the auditorium where the event was taking place.  Luckily we were able to get really good seats not far from the front so I took quite a few pictures, unfortunately they didn't come out as well as I'd hoped because we weren't allowed to use the camera flash.

Jean M Auel and Professor Chris Stringer

I took a lot of notes during the talk but I think these videos taken by Hodder at the event actually capture the evening a lot better than I ever could.

Below Jean talks about where she got the idea of writing the series.  I love her idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it makes perfect sense that the Neanderthal Clan would find even the most beautiful Cro-Magnon child ugly because she was so different to themselves.

Here Jean talks about some of the practical research she did to learn about tool making, building a fire in the snow and even curing a deer hide with it's brains!

In this final video Chris talks about how science has proved that there was more interbreeding between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons than previously believed. In fact DNA testing has proved that most humans today have about 2.5% of their DNA that can be traced back to the Neanderthals! Jean also talks about how she got the idea of giving the Clan the memories.

Obviously a lot more was talked about throughout the evening than was mentioned in these videos so here are some of the things I made a note of while they were talking:
  • Jean Auel was 25 years old and already had 5 children when she first had the idea to write a story about a girl living in the Ice Age.  This story eventually grew into the epic 6 book Earth's Children series.  She was fascinated with the idea of there being 2 different kinds of humans which is why she picked this era to write her story in and she wanted to write about a young girl who was living with a group of people who were very different to herself.
  • Although she wrote the first story at 25 she didn't seriously begin work on the series until she was 40.  She had quit her office job to look for something more enjoyable and then decided to go back to work on her story.
  • She knew absolutely nothing about the Ice Age when she started writing so started doing a lot of research.  That is when she discovered that Neanderthals were just as smart as we are but in a different way.  While researching the series she has actually visited every cave that is mentioned in the series apart from one very small cave that only makes a brief appearance.  She is very grateful that she has been able to visit caves that aren't usually open to the general public.
  • She got some of her ideas for the religious beliefs of the Cro-Magnons from a number of ancient statues that have been discovered.  The statues were all of well endowed women, not ones who were currently pregnant but ones who obviously had been.  They are statues of mothers and have been found across Europe all the way from France to Russia.  Most statues from the stone age are of women, even pictures of men are rare which left Jean with the question "what do they mean?". 
  • Chris talked about the fact that scientific research is constantly moving forward as we make new discoveries.  Scientists used to believe that Neanderthals were inferior but the books have been proved correct in a lot of ways where they were originally thought incorrect at the time of publishing.
  • Jean said she tried hard to be as accurate as she could be when writing the series and appreciates that the academic community have been so good to her showing her things that the public don't usually get to see.  She likes to give back to the community as a thank you for their help and has sponsored various scientific conferences with this aim in mind.  The only request she makes is that they let her sit at the back of the room and take notes for use in the books!
  • Jean was asked about the number of discoveries Ayla makes in such a short space of time and if these discoveries were really made so close together.  She confirmed that in real life these discoveries were probably much further apart and of course weren't discovered by one person.  In fact she thinks that several people probably made the same discoveries before they became custom.  Ayla had to make a lot of discoveries in order to survive and Jean wanted to show how these things might have been initially discovered in the books.
  • She was also asked if she had discovered research to back up her idea that the Neanderthals talked using sign language.  She mentioned that she had done a lot of research into sign language, it is possible that Neanderthals did use it to communicate but it worked for her story so she wanted to use it even though it isn't proven.
  • Jean confirmed that even though new discoveries have been made she wouldn't want go back and make changes to the series.  She stated that there are no definitive answers when it comes to history, we are making new discoveries all of the time.  She had to create her own version of the Neanderthals, one that worked for her and her stories.
  • When asked about the spirituality in the books Jean said that it is natural for people to want to ask questions, we want to know why people get sick and die but in the Ice Age people didn't have the science that we have today to find the answers.  She looked into Shamanistic ideas and they seemed appropriate for the story but there were also things that she just made up.
Jean M Auel

It was a fascinating evening and I learnt a lot listening to Jean and Chris talk.  After the Q&A session was finished it was time to get our books signed before we headed home.  Emma and I had a fantastic day and I'd like to say thanks to everyone at Hodder (and Kate from Holler) for inviting us to the events.


  1. It's really interesting to hear about how she researched the series! It must have been wonderful to visit each of the caves and bring them to life in her mind.

  2. This is fascinating. I'm honestly very intrigued now, thank you!

    faefever25 at hotmail dot com

  3. I really enjoyed watching those video's and reading your write-up. I so wish I'd have been able to go. I loved The Clan of the Cave Bear and I'm really looking forward to reading the next one (I have already downloaded it to my Kindle). Jean is a fabulous author. One of the best I've ever read!

  4. @ Stephanie - It's amazing to think how much work Jean Auel put into this series. It's not really surprising why it took her so long to write the books lol. I think it would be facinating to visit each of the caves & see what they actually look like :o)

    @ faefever25 - I'm glad you found it interesting

    @ The Slowest Bookworm - I'm glad you enjoyed the write up and videos :o) Jean is a fabulous author and I hope you enjoy the rest of the series!

  5. Thanks for all your comments, I hope you enjoyed taking part in Earth's Children Week :o)


    I still love reading your comments though so feel free to leave me a message :o)

  6. Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. I can't wait to start this book. The only thing between it and me now is the final instalment in Jasper Fforde's THursday Next series - then I can really dive into The Land of Painted Caves.

    It doesn't at all surprise me that she has done so much practical research in order to write these books, but I will admit to thinking that sometimes there was a bit more story and a little less historical research in the books.

  7. Hi Becky, have you read Land of Painted Caves yet? I'd be interested to see what you think of it! You can tell how much research Jean has done when you read any of the books in the series but I have to admit I was a little grossed out by the idea of curing a deer hide with the brains! It was very interesting listening to her talk about the story though & seeing where she got her ideas from :o)



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