Tag Archives: Prehistory

Top Ten Tuesday: Neanderthal Stories I’ve Enjoyed

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Close-up photo of prehistoric art that has been carved into a large rocky cliff. The images carved into it appear to be various animals that resemble, among other species, cattle. It’s hard to tell what other animals are, but they have four legs and sometimes have tails and horns as well. Maybe they are goats? Those of you who have followed me for a while might remember how fascinated I am by Neanderthals, prehistory, hunter gatherers, anthropology, archeology, other extinct hominid species, and similar topics.

These are the sorts of things I love exploring, especially when new details are discovered about that era that upend our previous assumptions about it.

For this week’s Freebie post, I’ll be sharing some of the books about Neanderthals and early modern humans that I’ve enjoyed.

The site I found this photo on didn’t say for sure who carved these images, but there has been Neanderthal cave art found in certain caves that was created long before Homo Sapiens showed up in Europe. It amazes me to think about how similar they were to us!

Let’s dig into my list.  It’s mostly fiction because of how quickly new ideas can replace older ones in the nonfiction genre.  If you know of other wonderful fiction or nonfiction titles on this subject, I’d love to hear about them.

1. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth’s Children, #1) by Jean M. Auel

Genre: Fiction

Why I Loved It: This was my first introduction to fiction about Neanderthals. It was such a detailed and creative interpretation of what scientists knew about this subject in the 1980s.


2. The Inheritors by William Golding

Genre: Fiction

Why I Loved It: It was written from the perspective of Neanderthals. The 1950s assumptions about the differences between them and us  are quite different from modern assumptions, but the writing was crisp and clear.


3. Ember from the Sun by Mark Canter

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction

Why I Loved It: Without giving away too many spoilers, this is about a scientist who finds a perfectly preserved Neanderthal embryo and decides to implant it into a human volunteer. This isn’t something that could ever actually happen, but the ethical and societal repercussions of bringing back an extinct human species made this a must-read for me.


4. Hominids (Neanderthal Parallax, #1) by Robert J. Sawyer

Genre: Science Fiction

Why I Loved It: I’ve often wondered what Earth would be like if Neanderthals had become the only surviving human species instead of us. This series does an excellent job of exploring that question in depth.


5. Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes

Genre: Nonfiction

Why I Loved It: There’s something to be said for conversational books about the latest scientific discoveries on a topic. I found this easy to read and was surprised by how much more we’ve learned about Neanderthals over the last decade or so.


6. The Ugly Little Boy by Isaac Asimov

Genre: Science Fiction

Why I Loved It: Well, I don’t know that love is the right word here. The antagonist’s decision to kidnap a Neanderthal child and bring him to the 1990s in order to be studied was a terribly unethical and dangerous one. I did love the way Asimov dove into all of ramifications of this choice, though.


7. Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

Genre: Science Fiction

Why I Loved It: I’m still reading it, but the writing is exquisite.


8. Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes by  Svante Pääbo

Genre: Nonfiction

Why I Loved It: Every era seems to bring a new understanding of what the differences were between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. I thought this was a well-rounded look at the topic as it was understood in the 2010s, but I haven’t gone back yet to reread it and compare to what scientists think in the 2020s.





Filed under Blog Hops

What to Read If You Liked The Clan of the Cave Bear

I’ve decided to start another series on this blog. Just like with the interviews with people who love speculative fiction that I’ll begin publishing here next week, Hopeful Science Fictionfilm reviews, Questions from the Search Engines, and Blogging Advice, this series won’t be updated on a specific schedule. Once I’ve come up with several similar titles to recommend to people who enjoyed a certain book, that post will be added to the queue.

The Clan of the Cave Bear is a prehistoric novel written by Jean M. Auel in 1980 about an orphaned human girl named Ayla who was raised by Neanderthals. It has four sequels about Ayla’s life as an adult.

Part of the reason why I picked this specific tale to start this series off with is because I’ve been getting a spike of visitors coming to this site looking for information about Auel, her characters, and whether there is going to be a TV show or movie made about  the Earth’s Children books.

No, it doesn’t look like there’s anything in the works. I’ll be the first to shout it from the rooftops if that ever changes! In the meantime, why not talk about something I enjoyed quite a bit?

The Clan of the Cave Bear is one of those stories that I’ve returned to over and over again. The plot is an intriguing blend of adventure, romance, mystery, and even a touch bit of the paranormal genre at times.

Life wasn’t exactly easy for hunter-gatherers 30,000 years ago, so there were also plenty of subplots about gathering food, making weapons, preserving medicinal herbs, and doing everything else necessary to survive the cold, long winters of an ice age.

I’ve spent years on the lookout for books that are comparable to this one and its sequels. The following list is the cream of the crop of everything I’ve read so far about Neanderthals and how they might have interacted with Homo sapiens tens of thousands of years ago or in modern times.

The Inheritors by William Golding

This was the first well-written book I discovered when I went to the library as a young teen in hopes of finding more storytellers like Jean M. Auel who had clearly done their research about life in the prehistoric era.

It was fascinating to see how Mr. Golding imagined Neanderthals might have behaved as their culture began to bump up against a stronger one. The Neanderthals in this world were caring, but they had trouble competing in a world where a more intelligent and dangerous type of human was beginning to move into their territory.  I’d argue that this twist says just as much about him and the era he lived in as it does about one of the possible reasons why this species might have gone extinct.

Ember from the Sun by Mark Canter 

I read this title soon after finding The Inheritors, and it’s something I’ve been recommending to likeminded readers for many years now. It’s by far the most science-fiction oriented part of this list because of how much time the narrator spent setting up the storyline and explaining why the things he imagined could possibly happen with the use of science instead of magic to explain them.

In short, the main character was a scientist who found the body of a frozen Neanderthal woman that was so well-preserved he actually found a viable embryo in her womb. (Yes, there was a somewhat-scientific reason why this was possible in this universe, but I can’t tell you specifics about that scene without revealing an important part of the plot).

He implanted that embryo into a human volunteer, named the resulting baby Ember, and raised her as his own. As she grew up, she began to explore her unusual past. She had many of the same questions that people who are transracially adopted have about their identity, and those questions lead to some very interesting developments in the plot that I still mull over to this day.

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The title of this one gives away its subject matter. We know that eventually all of the Neanderthals died out (or interbred with a much larger group of humans until their genes almost completely disappeared). There are so many things that bones can’t tell us about an individual or their culture, however!

What was the life of the last obvious Neanderthal like? How were they different from us? I can tell you almost nothing about this protagonist other than the fact that I found her delightful. Everything else I want to say would wander too close to spoiler territory because of how long it took the author to explain some of her character’s most enduring traits.

There is a film by the same name that is currently in the works. I can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be based on this book. Either way, I’m tentatively hoping to review it when it comes out!

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

One of the things I wish had been different about the Earth’s Children books was how far they eventually strayed away from describing all of the hard work that people needed to do in order to survive in such harsh climates. This novel always stayed true to its setting in that way. Life as a hunter-gatherer is never something that should be romanticized even if there are certain parts of it I wish I could incorporate into my own urban lifestyle!

I also loved the friendships the characters in this tale developed with Neanderthals. They worked together to survive in an unforgiving climate. As much as I respected Mr. Golding’s take on this topic, I’d like to think that the past was a cooperative place.

The Neanderthal Parallex trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer

In Hominids, the first book of this series, humans from our Earth meet a modern-day Neanderthal from a parallel universe where their species survived and humans died out tens of thousands of years ago.

The cultural differences between Neanderthals and humans were vast. To give one of the least surprising examples, all of the Neanderthals in this universe are bisexual and have two spouses, one man and one woman. It was fascinating to see how these two worlds collided once the characters realized just how many assumptions they made about life didn’t fit the other society in any way.

I can’t believe no one has turned this into a TV series yet. Robert J. Sawyer has written dozens of worthwhile books, but this world in particular really needs to be shared with a wider audience. It was so thought provoking.


If any of you have recommendations for other prehistoric tales or a request for a book I should feature next in this series, do speak up. I’m always open to suggestions.


Filed under Science Fiction and Fantasy