Science Fiction Studies

#82 = Volume 27, Part 3 = November 2000

Charles DePaolo

Wells, Golding, and Auel: Representing the Neanderthal

Drawing upon the fossil records, the study of human origins and early development has necessarily been accretive, indefinite, and equivocal. All the writers of paleoanthropological fiction I survey here studied carefully the available scientific research. Wells, Golding, and Auel do not misread source material so much as reflect the historical development of the disciplines from which they are extrapolating.

In this essay, I analyze the contradictory theories about Neanderthal man that are reflected in H.G. Wells’s “The Grisly Folk” (1921), William Golding’s The Inheritors (1955), and Jean Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980). All three use the scientific thinking about Neanderthal that was current in their day.

Wells’s Ogre. Although David C. Smith has noted that Wells may have inspired more recent novelists, such as Jean Auel and Jorgen Kirsten, to investigate this question in their fiction (74), most literary scholars interested in the scientific content of H.G. Wells’s work, such as Haynes, Huntington, and Reed, have not treated in sufficient depth his writings on human evolution.1 This is surprising, for Wells wrote two short stories on this topic (“A Story of the Stone Age” [1899] and “The Grisly Folk”); he also theorized about the subject in The Outline of History ([1920]; I.63-143) and The Science of Life ([1929]; 1.405-24; 3.796-822).

Eminent anthropologists and scientific writers who have criticized Wells’s work in this area have usually limited their commentary to “The Grisly Folk,” rightly critiquing the story for its reflection of popular misconceptions about the Neanderthal. Bernard G. Campbell disputes Wells’s erroneous portrayal of Neanderthal as a fearsome, brutal, and ape-like creature, even employing Wells’s phrase “Grisly Folk” to mean any unflattering and scientifically inaccurate account of early man (301). In African Exodus, Christopher Stringer of the British Museum derides Wells’s assumptions about Neanderthal’s “murderous proclivities” and “atavism,” observing that this distorted picture is typical of early twentieth-century views of human evolutionary history (54-55). A quotation from “The Grisly Folk” in James Shreeve’s The Neanderthal Enigma illustrates Wells’s idea that Neanderthal possessed baboon-like characteristics and was the natural adversary of early-modern humans. This idea, Shreeve adds, reflects the early scientific opinion that Neanderthal was “too brutish to be seen as ancestral to noble man,” an opinion that would prevail until the 1960s (26). Milford Wolpoff, a paleontologist, suggests that the image of the monstrous Neanderthal has actually defined modernity: he was the ignoble beast, a personification of animality against which a noble and dignified humanity had to struggle (276-77).                

For Wells, Neanderthal was indeed an ignoble beast. In The Outline of History (1920), he quotes from Sir Harry Johnston’s survey of the rise of modern man, an important source for his knowledge of this hominid. A famous anthropolo­gist, colonial governor, and literary associate, Johnston provided Wells with valuable information on evolution, while another prominent spokesman for science, Sir E. Ray Lankester (director of the Museum of Natural History) offered his expertise in ancient civilization and culture (Smith 142, 250, 252). Johnston conjectured that “the dim racial remembrance of such gorilla-like monsters, with cunning brains, shambling gait, hairy bodies, strong teeth, and possibly cannibalistic tendencies, may be the germ of the ogre in folklore” (OH I.88). This opinion, which Wells endorsed, had little bearing on the fossil record, inasmuch as the word “ogre” is a mythological term deriving from the Italian orco for demon or monster and from the Latin Orcus, for Hades or Pluto, god of the infernal world. Furthermore, an “ogre” is defined in the OED as “a man-eating monster, usually represented as a hideous giant.” According to the fossil record, Johnston’s Neanderthal “giant” was, in fact, short and stocky (Stringer, “Neanderthals” 370); and even though the Paleolithic records suggest cannibalistic activities for Peking man and Yugoslavian Neanderthalers (Shreeve 229), there is no consensus on the prevalence of this practice. Scientists such as Ashley Montagu (60) and Pat Shipman (70-76) have expressed doubt that cannibalism was a typical feature of Upper-Paleolithic culture except under extreme conditions.                

Nonetheless, in “The Grisly Folk” Wells cultivates a far-fetched connection between Neanderthal and the archetypal ogre, a devourer of humanity. The confrontation between the Neanderthal and early-modern humans is likely to have been:

the beginning of the nightmare for the little children of the human tribe.... The legends of ogres and man-eating giants that haunt the childhood of the world may descend to us from those ancient sayings of fear. And for the Neanderthalers it was the beginning of an incessant war that could only end in extermination. (295)

In Wells’s mythic rendition, early-modern humans were special creations; Neanderthals, rather than being their taxonomic relatives, were predators that the settlers had to overcome. Wells identifies both the speaker and the reader intimately with the early-modern human protagonists (“our ancestors” [297]), as they invade the primordial forests to face their Neanderthal forerunners, described in ursine, canine, and simian terms. Although a kind of “folk,” they are irredeemably “grisly” or gruesome. And although “these two sorts of men” (295) are competitors, the Neanderthal population does not occupy “the human side,” where “the true men” dwell. They are obviously “not quite men.” Phrases such as “grisly thing” (292, 293) or “grey monster” (293) outweigh any concessions Wells makes to the humanity of the Neanderthals. Most disturbing is the unjustifiable depiction of Neanderthals as devourers of human children (296), calculated to disgust the reader. Wells’s grisly folk scamper like baboons (287, 291), a misrepresentation of their anatomy, and they are grouped with bears as the predators of early-modern man: “Those grisly men were to be dealt with as bears were dealt with, the bears before whom you run and scatter, and then come at again from behind” (295). In failing to mention Neanderthal’s organized hunting abilities (so effective against the extinct cave bear), Wells reduces him to a solitary predator, a conclusion incompati­ble with the fossil record. Wells’s canine imagery also departs from scientific fact, as Neanderthal is said to gambol about on all fours, “a grey hairy wolf-like monster” (293).                

To describe the relationship between hominid populations, Wells endows early-modern humans with heroic significance:

Generation after generation, age after age, that long struggle for existence went on between those men who were not quite men and the men, our ancestors, who came out of the south into Western Europe. Thousands of fights and hunts, sudden murders and headlong escapes there were amidst the caves and thickets of that chill and windy world between the last age of glaciers and our own warmer time. Until at length the last poor grisly [man] was brought to bay and faced the spears of his pursuers in anger and despair. (297)

The imagined triumph of early-modern humans becomes the substance of heroic myth, as human ingenuity and courage triumph. The speaker extols achievements that are “ours” as well: “we are lineally identical with those sun-brown painted beings who ran and fought and helped one another, the blood in our veins glowed in those fights and chilled in those fears of the forgotten past” (297). Dim recollections of this long struggle have been preserved, Wells suggests, in legend and in collective memory (297). For the speaker in “The Grisly Folk,” Neanderthal, the embodiment of human fears about nature, is purged from human evolutionary history; his heritage is disowned.                

That Wells’s story does not correspond to the genuine fossil record available during the early 1920s is not surprising: the scientific and public communities of the time had difficulty accepting the idea that archaic forms such as Neanderthal had pre-dated early-modern humans by 40,000 to 70,000 years (Campbell 295-96). Many of these fossil discoveries had occurred between 1848 and 1886. In 1848, the first of two Neanderthal fossils was unearthed from a Gibraltar cave (Stringer, “Gibraltar” 225). A second human fossil was identified during the same year as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, after the Neander Valley in Germany, where it had been found accidentally. These fossils provided morphological details: shorter and more robust than modern man, Neanderthal man presented distinctive cranial features (prominent brow ridges, low sloping forehead, a protuberance at the rear of the skull, a prognathous face, no chin, and large front teeth) (Stringer, “Neanderthals” 368-70). On average, his cranial capacity (ca. 1600 cc.) was as large as, if not bigger than, that of modern man. In 1868, fossil remains and implements of the Cro-magnon man, an early-modern human who lived about 40,000 years ago, were uncovered at Les Eyzies (Dordogne, France), and further discoveries were registered in Solutre, as well as in Spain, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Two fragmentary Neanderthal skeletons were found near Spy, Belgium in 1886, along with stone implements and the remains of extinct fauna that helped to date the European Neanderthals as flourishing sometime between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago.                

Wells’s writings mirror a lack of consensus in the scientific community about the identity and significance of Neanderthal. Some believed that he had been an anthropomorphic ape, a creature more simian than human. Others proposed that with his pronouncedly simian features, he was an anthropoidal man. Some even thought him to have been a unique human being, related more to early-modern humans than to apes. Papers of the 1860s that help to explain Wells’s thought in 1920-21 illustrate the range of opinion on the subject. Professor William King, an anatomist, conjectured that the Neander Valley specimen represented an extinct form of humanity that had more in common with apes than with modern Homo sapiens, while others thought that Neanderthal was not prehistoric at all: the German pathologist Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) insisted that the specimen was really a modern man who had suffered from rickets and arthritis, conditions accounting for the unusual cranial and skeletal bones (Spencer, “Virchow” 595; Campbell 296-97). On the other hand, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) argued that Neanderthal was a genuine human being with archaic or “pithecoid” features. In “On Some Fossil Remains of Man” (1863), he rejects King’s position: “In no sense ... can the Neanderthal bones be regarded as the remains of a human being intermediate between Man and Apes”; rather, the bones illustrate “the existence of a Man whose skull may be said to revert towards the pithecoid type.” But even against modern “pithecoid” skulls, “the Neanderthal cranium is by no means so isolated as it appears to be at first.” Instead, Huxley suspects that this skull is “the extreme term of a series leading gradually from it to the highest and best developed of human crania” (181-83). In effect, Huxley situates the Neanderthal cranium within modern limits. The important point is that despite Neantherthal’s archaic cranial features, Huxley believes him to have been a human being. He recapitulates this thesis in “Further Remarks upon the Human Remains from Neanderthal” (1864), where he finds no cogent reason, either specific or generic, for separating Neanderthal from early-modern humanity (cited by Eisley, 273-74).

It is surprising to learn that as late as the 1920s, Wells concurred with William King and not with his former teacher, Thomas Huxley. Wells’s ideas about the evolutionary place of Neanderthal were influenced by a popular idea of him as a feral simian, what Loren Eisley calls “the wild-man” hypothesis (274-75). The Genevan scholar Carl Vogt articulates this view in Lectures on Man (1864), as does J.W. Dawson in “On the Antiquity of Man” (1864) (Eisley 262, 274). His Neanderthal, Eisley writes, approximates “those fallen, feral creatures who wander in the green forests of medieval romance” (275). Dawson describes Neanderthal as “half-crazed, half-idiotic, cruel and strong,” the sort of creature found in barbarous tribes, in the penitentiary, and on death row (Eisley 274). Dawson xenophobically contorts the astonishing discoveries of the Neander Valley to fit the interests of folklore.                

Dawson’s was not the only questionable interpretation. To explain the similarity between the 1856 discoveries and the 1886 specimens at Spy, Virchow revived his pathology thesis. But it was now received with considerable skepticism: it was unlikely that all of these creatures had suffered from bone diseases; and artifacts and extinct fauna also supported the antiquity of the remains (Campbell 296-98). In 1908, when significant remains were found near the French village of La Chapelle-aux-Saints, scientists moved Neanderthal’s place on the evolutionary tree closer to modern man than to apes. Stone implements and other skeletons found in a nearby cave at Le Moustier supported this viewpoint.                

Despite these discoveries, many naturalists resisted the possibility that Neanderthal was a close relative of modern man. The work of one scientist in particular reinforced the assumption, held by theorists since William King, that Neanderthal had more in common with apes than with man. From 1911 to 1913, Marcellin Boule, a French paleontologist, tried to reconstruct Neanderthal from skeletal remains (Campbell 298-301). Unfortunately, Boule misconstrued the feet and knee bones, falsely endowing Neanderthal with ape-like characteristics. He also incorrectly inferred from structural features of the skull that Neanderthal lacked human intelligence. Boule’s monographs (1911-1913) promoted for decades the image of Neanderthal as a mentally-defective, anthropoidal man, and his findings influenced ideas on prehistoric humanity into the 1920s.                

Yet contrary scientific findings continued to accumulate. The accurate skeletal reconstructions of the French paleontologist Camille Arambourg (1885-1969), which invalidated those of Boule, demonstrated that Neanderthal was not only fully erect but that he differed in no significant measure from modern man (Wills 153). In 1921, the same year that “The Grisly Folk” was published, an important fossil was accidentally found in the Broken Hill region of Zambia (then Rhodesia). The Rhodesian man, along with ancient stone implements and extinct animal bones found with it, argued in favor of humanity’s great antiquity.

The Piltdown Hoax, although not directly related to the Neanderthal controversy, supported the idea that prehistoric humanity (with the exception of early- modern humans) constituted an array of gorilla-like monsters very different from the direct, lineal ancestors of man (Campbell 217-20; Spencer, “Piltdown” 452-53). In the early decades of the twentieth century, pseudo-science and fraud converged, inhibiting the pursuit of genuine prehistory. Boule’s misconstruction was published at the same time as the Piltdown Hoax, and their concerted effect would be felt into the 1950s (Wills 153). The Hoax began in 1911, when Charles Dawson, lawyer and antiquarian, reported that he had found skeletal remains of an early man in a gravel pit in Sussex, England (Strauss 52). Skull fragments and a simian-like jaw were excavated from the site. Because the skull had human features, and because the mandible was clearly ape-like, a number of researchers at first doubted the fossil’s legitimacy. But in time the Hoax gained momentum, as such scientists as Sir Arthur Smith Woodward (1864-1944) and Marcellin Boule himself pronounced Piltdown’s authenticity. Of Eoanthropus Dawsoni, the physical anthropologist Arles Hrdlicka (1869-1943) wrote in 1913 that “it is no longer possible to regard the jaw as that of a chimpanzee or any other anthropoid ape; ... it is the jaw either of a human precursor or a very early man” (50). The “wild-man” hypothesis appeared to have been vindicated—at least until 1953, when J.S. Weiner and Le Gros Clark of Oxford ejected the Piltdown assemblage from the human family: the skull, they finally determined, had come from a modern individual and the jaw from a chimpanzee. All of this material had been planted at the site.                

In 1920 Wells once again agreed with the wrong authority—this time with anthropologists such as Hrdlicka. To make matters worse, he failed to heed the warning of Sir E. Ray Lankester, who, in a letter of 1918, advised him against mentioning the Piltdown Man, since its authenticity was questioned by so many in the scientific community (Smith 252). In his historical survey of apes, sub-men, and men, however, Wells confidently observes that Eoanthropus (or “Dawn man”), who is not a Neanderthal, is “a creature still ascending only very gradually from the sub-human” (OH I.72). Wells also argues that the cranial fragments are archaic rather than contemporary: “It is a thick skull, thicker than that of any living race of men, and it has a brain capacity intermediate between that of Pithecanthropus [the Java man] and man” (72). Counterfeit artifacts at the site fooled professional and amateur alike: “In the same gravel-pits were found teeth of rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and the leg-bone of a deer with marks upon it that may be cuts. A curious bat-shaped instrument of elephant bone has also been found” (OH I.72). What should have been identified as a chimpanzee jaw is labeled as a sub-human fossil: “It is extraordinarily like that of a chimpanzee, but Sir Arthur Keith [anatomist and paleontologist (1866-1955)], one of the greatest authorities in these questions, assigns it, after an exhaustive analysis in his Antiquity of Man (1925), to the skull with which it is found. It is, as a jaw-bone, far less human in character than the jaw of the much more ancient Homo Heidelbergensis, but the teeth are in some respects more like those of living men” (OH I.72).                

Actually, the chimpanzee’s teeth had been abraded and stained to have the look of remains from an archaic hominid. During the 1950s, Dr. J.S. Weiner determined through X-ray examination and fluorine analysis that the lower jaw and canine tooth were actually those of a “modern anthropoid ape, deliberately altered so as to resemble fossil specimens” (Strauss 50). According to Wells’s paraphrase of Keith, however, Eoanthropus “was a member of a number of species of sub-human running apes of more than ape-like intelligence, and if it was not on the line royal it was at any rate a very close collateral” (OH I.72). From all the conflicting theories, Wells erroneously (although logically) inferred that Neanderthal co-existed with, and was a correlative of, Eoanthropus: “In the ... Third Interglacial Period, a certain number of small family groups of men (Homo Neanderthalensis) and probably of sub-men (Eoanthropus) wandered over the land, leaving nothing but their flint implements to witness to their presence” (OH I.75).                

How then does Eoanthropus relate to Wells’s fictive Neanderthal? Although in The Outline of History, Wells differentiates the two forms, in “The Grisly Folk” he seems to include all the archaic hominids under the Neanderthal taxon, calling the feral hominids in the story “Mousterians” or “Neandertalers” (286), when in fact the creatures seem to be incarnations of the Piltdown assemblage. Wells, it appears, perfunctorily grouped all forms of archaic humanity under the Neanderthal nomenclature, obscuring Neanderthals’ resemblance to early-modern humans. He then staged a territorial conflict between the two groups for dramatic and mythological effect.                

When Wells considers Neanderthal’s relation to early-modern humans, the Eoanthropus problem disorients him. In The Outline of History, alluding to findings at Krapina in Croatia, at the Neander Valley, and at Spy, he states that this creature “is certainly a man” but then says that Homo neanderthalensis has become “a quite passable human being” (I.75). At this point his description is fairly accurate, but the closer he moves Neanderthal to a human lineage, the more unsure he becomes, since close proximity to modern man controverted the received authority of Boule and of Virchow. Or perhaps Wells recalled Lankester’s warning about Piltdown Man? Consequently, what was “certainly a man” devolves rapidly to “a quite passable human being” and, finally, to a creature “not quite of the human species” (OH I.73). The source of Wells’s doubt proves to be paleocraniometry. Although the Neanderthal brain was “as big as ours,” he writes, its owner was not only intellectually inferior to modern man, but “simpler” and “lower.” Wells is reading the skull phrenologically when he assumes that the cranial differences between Neanderthal and early-modern humans constitute definitive proof that the former belonged “on another” evolutionary line (OH I.76). This perspective overshadows both The Outline of History and “The Grisly Folk.”               

During the early 1920s, Wells’s idea of prehistoric humanity reflects bad science—specifically the kind that Virchow, Boule, the Piltdown forgers, Vogt, and J.W. Dawson cultivated. Each had his own motivation, preconceived idea, and approach. But these lines converged in the early twentieth century, reaching apogee in 1920, when Wells renewed his interest in human prehistory. Had he remained true to Huxley’s thought, he doubtless would have produced a more consistent view of Neanderthal man during the early 1920s.                

Although inconsistent science distorts Wells’s fiction in 1921, the same cannot be said of “A Story of the Stone Age” (1899), a work that, though slighted among the corpus of Wells’s “biological SF” (Mullen 225, 227), is a worthy forerunner of modern works in the genre (Smith 74). Written before Boule, the “wild-man” hypothesis, or the Piltdown hoax, “Stone Age” demonstrates that Wells had consulted reputable scientific reports on Neanderthal in 1899, blending this material into his sf. His Neanderthal physiology is accurate (Uya the Cunning is “beetle-browed,” “prognathous,” and “lank-armed” [362]). “Stone Age” leads me to believe that in 1899 Wells had little doubt about the intelligence of Neanderthal. The details of his tool manufacture are well represented: the protagonist, Ugh-lomi, fashions a stone axe after fixing a flint to a stick (373). As the tribe prepares to hunt a lion, its members industriously hack away at spears and throwing stones to make an array of weapons. A dream reveals Ugh-lomi’s technical virtuosity, as he envisions a serrated club made from hacked alder wood into which lion’s teeth and claws have been hammered (411). On yet another point, “Stone Age” demonstrates scientific consistency. From 1856 to the publication of “Stone Age,” scientists had speculated on the importance of rituals in Neanderthal life. Of these speculations Wells was clearly aware: anthropomorphism, reincar-nation, and propitiatory ritual each have a place in his story. Uya, the shaman, possesses a “white Fire Stone” that none but he dare touch (367); the ability to kindle fire is inherent in the office of shaman. Ugh-lomi animistically exhorts “Brother Fire” for assistance (380); his deceased rival, Uya, is believed to have been reincarnated as the lion terrorizing the clan and exacting revenge (396, 400); the clan considers sacrificing Ugh-lomi to appease this lion-spirit (410).                

In The Science of Life (1929), Wells and his collaborators also avoid the “wild-man” characterization. By this time, anthropological theory, reliant on the fossil record and on sound investigative methods, had begun to make headway against the pseudo-scientific influences of the early 1920s. Another possible reason for the revision is that Sir Julian Huxley (1887-1975), a distinguished biologist, was responsible for some 70% of the writing of this work (Mullen 256). Great discoveries of Neanderthal and of more archaic beings continued to be made in that decade. In 1925, Raymond Dart (b. 1893), a South African paleontologist, discovered the “Taung” child, which he named Australopithecus africanus or literally “southern ape” (Spencer, “Dent” 152; Tattersall 82-83). Dart interpreted this to be an intermediate between a hominid and a great ape but not a direct ancestor of modern man (Grine 67-68; Tattersall 82-83). In 1926 the Devil’s Tower quarry on the Rock of Gibraltar yielded a child’s skull: its large brain size revealed its taxon as Neanderthal (Stringer, “Gibraltar” 225). And, in 1927, the Canadian anatomist Davidson Black (1884-1934), while excavating Dragon Bone Hill near Peking, found bone fragments and teeth of “Peking man,” a human being (sub-species H. erectus) resembling Java man (Campbell 68-69, 210-13; Tattersall 104-105, 107). The accumulating fossil evidence of creatures even older than Neanderthal moved the latter closer to modern man than to any other group on the evolutionary scale.                

With this new knowledge, the authors of The Science of Life reconsider the ritualistic possibilities of Neanderthal culture:

Other species of bygone men, it seems, were left to moulder where they died, like animals; but the Neanderthalers laid out some at least of their dead in their caves and put tools and implements beside them and buried them, presumably because they did not believe life was wholly ended, and so put these things for the use of the departed if and when he or she awoke again. It is rash to guess too precisely what ideas led to these interments. They had ideas and doubts about death, no doubt, that resulted in burial. That is as much as we can say of creatures so remote from ourselves. The majority of Neanderthal skeletons so far discovered owe their preservation to this disposition. (413)

Apparently, the authors knew about sites in Drachenloch and in southern France (Campbell 346-48; Tattersall 126-27; Shreeve 52-54, 90-91). For more than a century, from 1856 to 1970, scientists attributed a religious sensibility to Neanderthal, whose rites were thought to have been intimately associated with the central activity of hunting. The so-called “bear cult” is the most well-known example of his hunting magic. In the Swiss Alps from 1917 to 1923, a German archaeologist, Emil Bachler, excavated the cave of Drachenloch. In its interior he found a stone chest containing seven bear skulls, ritually arranged in wall niches. An early find in the cave of La Chapelle-aux-Saints also suggested the Neanderthals’ belief in an afterlife. An ancient hunter had been laid out in a shallow trench and provisioned with animal bones and flint, presumably to be used in the after-life. In 1912, Neanderthal graves at La Ferrassie also supported this hypothesis (Campbell 353).

In The Science of Life, the authors reprise the idea of interbreeding: “It is pure guesswork whether Homo neanderthalensis in any region interbred or did not interbreed with Homo sapiens” (1440). To describe the interaction between hominid populations, Wells et al. suggest a more fluid model. Upper-Paleolithic man, they remark, varied widely from region to region, with “strongly marked,” more easily classified types (e.g., Cro-magnon) appearing under special conditions, which suggests genetic intermixture. At this protracted juncture in evolutionary history, early-modern humans and Neanderthals, though they may have clashed, may also have interbred with and learned from each other. Wells proposes that two interactive modes, “imitation and precept,” initiated “yet further variations through genetic discord” (1440). The notion that the two sub-species socialized and interbred indicates that Wells no longer subscribed to the “Out-of-Africa” theory but had instead adopted the “multi-regional theory” (i.e., early-modern-humans mixed with archaic man); I will discuss these theories at greater length in part III.                

“The Grisly Folk” promulgates a distorted image of prehistoric humanity— not because Wells ignored, or misinterpreted, the predominant scientific opinions, but because in 1921 the prevailing authorities were wrong. Free of mythological contaminants, the writings of 1899 and of 1929 correspond to scientific opinions grounded on harder evidence.

Golding’s Imbecile. In The Inheritors, Golding’s epigraph, a passage from The Outline of History (I.88), is meant to criticize Wells’s 1921 depiction of the Neanderthal as a prototypical ogre. His intention is “to overthrow” the anthropological content of “The Grisly Folk” (Oldsey and Weintraub 49-50). Ironically, Golding’s Neanderthal, although true to received authority in 1955, fails to rehabilitate Wells’s persona: the latter is merely re-cast in Boulesque and phrenological terms, neither of which, as scientists would discover in 1957, was valid.                

Objecting to Wells’s portrayal of Neanderthal as a monster and of early-modern humans as heroic pioneers, Golding reverses their roles, making Neanderthal a benign creature and our direct human ancestors brutal savages. Golding brings his readers into intimate contact with archaic beings by viewing the upper-Paleolithic world through the eyes of a typical Neanderthal, his youthful protagonist Lok. James Baker believes that Golding is successful in this endeavor. This “naive level of perception,” purporting to mimic the Neanderthal mentality, does not seem (in Baker’s judgment) to harm the story (23). Peter S. Alterman thinks that, in their acute sensuousness and telepathy, Golding’s Neanderthals are science-fictional aliens. In contrast to modern humans, they are innocent and moral beings serving a didactic role in the novel by defining “what is human and what is not” (3, 10). Mark Kinkead-Weekes and Ian Gregor inadvertently highlight negative aspects of the Neanderthal mentality as rendered by Golding when they comment that Lok, a classic Neanderthal, has “an abnormally rich life of sense and instinct” but cannot think abstractly (67, 73). To be “abnormally” receptive to sense stimuli but deficient in abstract thought may be the right balance for a cheetah pursuing a gazelle, but for a human being in the Wurm glaciation, these qualities would be liabilities. Golding’s vision of an archaic mentality, mediated by a third-person narrator, recapitulates the Boulesque model. Before further considering Golding’s portrait, however, let me offer background information on how opinions about prehistoric intelligence are gathered from the fossil record.    According to Ralph L. Holloway, we learn about prehistoric brain development directly from the study of endocasts—artificial or real fossil crania (98-99); these tell us about brain volume, convolutional details, the meningeal vessels, and other morphological features, including the shape and asymmetries of the cerebral cortices. A complementary method for learning about prehistoric neuroanatomy is to study the brains of living animals comparatively, correlating brain anatomy to behavior. And in the case of archaic man, artifacts such as tools and other materials can also be a source of information about intelligence.                

As I mentioned in part 1, the cranial fragments of Neanderthal found in the later nineteenth century perplexed researchers, mainly because they combined archaic and modern features (Stringer, “Neanderthals” 368-70). Marcellin Boule based his retardation hypothesis on dubious presuppositions about the shape of the head and brain and what these data said about intelligence. Boule believed that the frontal cortex was the focus of “higher” intelligence: the deficiency he ascribed to the Neanderthal frontal lobe led him to conclude that they were mentally defective. In this, he was practicing craniometry, the determination of intelligence from the shape of the cranium. Craniometrists presupposed that “higher” mental faculties were in the front of the brain, while sensorimotor capacities were in the rear (Gould 77). Accord­ingly, the Neanderthal profile—sloping forehead, long skull, bulbous occipital region—was an open book: he was advanced in sensorimotor capacity but inept at higher thought. One large piece of Boule’s neat puzzle, however, did not fit: Neanderthal cranial capacity, 1600 cc. on average, was as large as, if not larger than, that of the average modern human. This created a problem for Boule. The Neanderthal’s big brain, according to phrenological thought, meant that he was intellectually well-endowed, but this assumption did not fit Boule’s anatomical portrayal of the Neanderthal as a dolt. Perhaps in desperation, Boule sidestepped the issue of brain volume.                

With respect to the Neanderthal, today’s anthropologists seem quite reluctant to correlate neuroanatomy with intelligence. Ashley Montagu, in 1968, rejected the idea that the shape of a Neanderthal endocast can tell us anything about his mind. His counter argument has a firm anatomical foundation: the frontal cortex of this being was quite well developed after all; the prominent eyebrow ridges are what make the forehead appear to be low. Montagu argued that Neanderthal was as intelligent as modern man (67), and he is not the only distinguished anthropologist to have held this opinion. David Pilbeam, looking at the fossil artifacts, in 1972 judged Neanderthal to have been a “fully sapient human being” (180), while in 1988, Christopher Stringer reservedly stated that the intellectual significance of the shape and size of his brain is currently “unclear” (“Neanderthals” 370). In contrast to these views, we can cite several that correspond to Boule’s theory. H. Chandler Elliott, in 1969, believing that Neanderthal’s frontal lobe is indeed smaller than that of early-modern humans, argued that his large occipital region endowed him with “larger areas to judge sensation” (218). The distinguishing feature of this human being’s mind is a capacity for “subtle sense analysis,” giving him an advantage over early-modern humans in the area of sensory discrimination (Elliott 219). The astronomer Robert Jastrow wrote in 1981 that the Neanderthal was quite intelligent but that the shape of the cranium demonstrates his inferiority to modern man in the creative realms of music, art, and science. This inferiority means that he was not well adapted to adversity (140-41).                

Despite the belief of Leakey and Lewin that tools are not reliable indicators of brain power, such artifacts, I think, provide some degree of comparative insight into the mentality of the prehistoric manufacturer (Origins 183). Fundamentally, phrenological theories of Neanderthal intelligence, postulating deficient higher faculties (low forehead) and heightened sensory capacity (large occiput), are incongruent with Neanderthal achievements: stone-tool traditions, skilled hunting practices, social structure, ritualism, and ability to survive during the Wurm glaciation. The standpoint of Montagu, Pilbeam, and Stringer, which appears defensible, brings me to the pivotal question: where does Golding’s Neanderthal stand?                

Directly correlating neuroanatomy to intelligence, Golding imagines a brain dysfunction for his Neanderthal population. For this reason, the Neanderthals of The Inheritors seem to stumble directly out of Boule’s laboratory. Golding emphasizes the perceptual experience of Lok (textually mediated through a third-person narrator) from the inside out. J.L. Rappaport in 1971 formulated a model for understanding the perceptual process (Kerr 131-34) that will assist us in mapping Lok’s interior experience. To begin with, sensory receptors in the eye, ear, nose, and tongue receive external stimuli that are transformed into nerve impulses. These impulses, in turn, are conveyed (or transduced) to the brain along a specific neurological path: the eyes and ears, for example, connect with the brain through the optic and acoustic cranial nerves to the visual and auditory cortex. Within a sensory modality such as seeing or hearing, the nerve impulses, as pieces of information, are labeled and organized into larger constructs called precepts. At a third level, these constructs are further organized into mental images or concepts. Finally, cognition or knowing occurs: organized information then has meaning for the individual.               

The most characteristic aspect of Lok’s consciousness, and one incommensurate with the cultural and technological achievements of Neanderthal, is (in Rappaport’s terminology) an interruption of nerve-impulse transduction to the brain. Lok, it seems, is unable to process what he senses. In one scene, he spies a band of early-modern humans who, having kidnapped Neanderthal children, are decamping. To Lok, their frenetic activity and its purpose are meaningless. He hears the noises and labels what he senses in the aggregate as a “laugh-sound”; the auditory stimuli, in turn, “make a picture in his head” (104-05). But beyond the preceptual level, Lok’s thinking cannot progress: what the early-modern humans are doing and how it will affect the lost children is to him incomprehensible. Because his interpretative skills are stunted, he can only connect the “laugh-sound” to an irrelevant analogue, removed in time and space from the emergency unfolding before him. The “laugh-sound,” rather than denoting their imminent embarkation, is described merely as “tangled like weed on the beach after a storm” (104). Figurative virtuosity notwithstanding, this phrase is only tangentially meaningful: it is causatively unrelated to the “laugh-sound” and to the phenomenal reality from which it originated. When the child Liku screams as she is placed in one of the boats, a second mental artifact surfaces. This time, her shrieking, instead of being identified as a child’s cry, is associated with the sound of a horse being torn apart by a sabre-tooth tiger. The precept of primal terror, which Liku communicates, does not literally register in Lok’s mind, where a great divide exists between the sensory and cognitive faculties. The brain dysfunction that Golding inflicts upon the Neanderthal, however, has no scientific basis, belonging as it does to the annals of phrenology.                

Lok’s internal and external awareness, instead of being two aspects of a unified consciousness, operate independently. “Outside” Lok is the sensory receiver; the phrase “outside of Lok” refers, therefore, to his awareness of the exterior environment (124). At the same time, “inside” refers to the interior or mental consciousness. Lok understandably prefers the “outside” to the “inside” conscious­ness, because the former relates him to the world, spatially and temporally; the “inside,” by contrast, is a turbulent zone in which the mind’s eye helplessly surveys disconnected mental images. It is no surprise to hear that Outside-Lok is on the alert for approaching danger in the scene just described (154). But Lok’s thoughts cannot be trusted to represent reality accurately. Seeming to suffer from multiple-personality disorder, he hears disembodied voices that tell him what to do. Golding’s Neanderthals suffer from sensory overload and cognitive deprivation. They can neither react nor adapt to the challenges of the environment, one way in which the author rationalizes their eventual extinction.                

Golding’s description of Neanderthal mentality raises a cogent question. Instead of imagining a human group capable of surviving during a glaciation, of formulating ritual and a rudimentary belief in the afterlife, or of developing a tool technology, he presents a fragmented mind, the nature of which is extrapolated incorrectly from endocasts. His Neanderthal, therefore, seems to have more in common with Boule’s fictive imbecile than with the fossil record that Wells had appreciated in 1899 and would reappraise in 1929.                

So why did Golding create a Boulesque Neanderthal? One possibility is that the stereotype balanced two fictive imperatives: the re-humanization of Wells’s anthropoidal man and the subordination of this early being to the early-modern humans who inherited the human estate 24,500 years ago. A second possibility accounting for the stereotype is that Golding accepted it as a valid depiction of Neanderthal consciousness: he may have been scientifically conservative. We know that the credibility of Boule’s work peaked in 1955 (the year of The Inheritors’ publication), but that in 1957 his ideas would be discredited. I would like to explore both these possibilities briefly.                

In the first place, Golding’s phrenologically-derived Neanderthal may reflect his ambivalence towards quantitative science, specifically for its inhibition of the human imagination. A 1965 essay, “Egypt from My Inside,” may illuminate The Inheritors: Golding writes about his youthful fascination with dynastic Egypt—not rooted in archaeology, but rather in intuitive and humanistic reasons transcending the work of retrieval, classification, and reconstruction. For the young Golding, Egypt was a fecund culture to which he related intuitively (71). Distinguishing between this intuitive appreciation of Egypt and the matter of “exact scholarship or painstaking science,” the cumulative stores of which confound its “mystery,” Golding cites Herodotus as the forerunner of the modern Egyptologist. Having studied the skulls of dead Persian and Egyptian soldiers comparatively (The Histories, III.13 [207]), Herodotus recounts the hearsay opinion that the thickness of Egyptian skulls, in contrast to the more fragile Persian ones, can be ascribed to the former’s exposure to the sun; the latter’s thinness resulted from the habit of wearing “skull-caps.” This dubious conclusion, in Golding’s view, configures an intellectual opposition in the Western mind between the analytical and intuitive faculties—between “commonsense and experiment” on the one hand, and “vivid imagination and intellectual sloth” on the other (72). Golding’s ambivalence towards “the Herodotean method” denies neither its efficiency nor its potency. But he condemns the strict analysis of human history, responsible for “the lame giant of civilization.” The quantitative mentality, Golding argues, cannot distinguish between a puzzle and a mystery—that is, between a question or contrivance designed to test ingenuity and a profound, inexplicable quality or character. But Golding also acknowledges that to some extent the Egyptians despoiled their own ethos, reducing the mystery of their “high art” and eschatology to “daylight banality” (73). The self-advertisement and opulence of the pharaohs hardened their spirituality.               

Golding believes that the ineffable humanity of ancient Egypt, resonating from its artifacts, transcends “the dull method of statistical investigation” (81). Without repudiating the importance of science as a means of learning about antiquity, the author identifies himself as “an Ancient Egyptian” on the grounds that he, too, is unreasonable, spiritually pragmatic, and inclined to “ambiguous belief” (82). If The Inheritors also expresses this attitude, then the presence of a Boulesque stereotype would be immaterial, since Golding would have been much more concerned with satisfying the imaginative priorities of his fiction. Conforming to the most plausible theory about Neanderthal mentality would have been irrelevant to the primary task, the removal of Wells’s distortions—for which Golding would substitute his own.                

On the other hand, Golding’s use of the stereotype may reflect a scientific conservatism, inasmuch as Boule’s model was legitimate in 1955. The anatomists William Strauss and A.J.E. Cave proved conclusively in 1957, however, that the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal, which Boule had thought of as typical, was in fact arthritically deformed (an ironic twist on Virchow’s theory) (Campbell 306). Boule had taken the skeletal features (a slouch, along with simian-like jaws, vertebrae, and pelvis) as evidence of primitivity. The Strauss and Cave study suggests, conversely, that Neanderthal was quite human and may have been an ancestor or close relative after all.                

Golding’s Boulesque Neanderthal may reflect a literary critique of statistical investigation or, conversely, a conformity with science. In either case, The Inheritors is consistent with a prominent, long-standing school of anthro-pological thought, but one that was just about to become outmoded.

Auel’s Signing Technician. Jean Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980) achieves scientific fidelity in at least three areas: language, technology, and human evolutionary history. I am inclined to agree with Susan Isaacs, who writes that Auel has skillfully woven “her facts into the fabric of the book, providing texture as well as information” (14). Brian Stableford justifiably calls Clan an ingenious combination of “realism based in modern scientific understanding” and “robust literary romanticism” (895). I would like to survey those areas in the novel where her success is most evident.                

Recently, scholars investigating prehistoric language capacity have focused on the anatomy of the vocal tract, including the larynx (“voice box”), pharynx, tongue, and other structures (Leakey and Lewin, Origins Reconsidered 270; Laitman, “Speech” 539-40). This research relies on the fossil record and on comparative anatomy. The position of the larynx in the neck reveals how animals vocalize. For most mammals, the larynx is situated high in the neck, limiting the vocal capacity. But in human beings, the larynx has descended to a much lower position in the neck, enlarging the part of the voice box above the throat that is responsible for modifying sounds. A low larynx enables human beings to speak.                

Investigators of speech evolution have been unable to reconstruct the soft tissues of the larynx (the cartilages and membranes), which are not preserved in skeletal remains. So it has been difficult to visualize and to speculate about the prehistoric voice apparatus. But investigators have been able to extrapolate from the basicranium (the bottom of the skull and roof of the vocal tract) to get an idea of how these soft structures worked in relation to the throat and voice box. In 1971-72, Philip Lieberman determined that the voice box, which connects the mouth and nasal passages to the esophagus, is essential for producing the vowel sounds a (“ah”), i (“ee”), and u (“oo”) (Campbell 286-88, 345-46), phonemes upon which modern language depends. In fact, all human speech has these sounds, which in combination with consonants make language. According to Lieberman, Homo erectus and Neanderthal had limited speech capabilities. Lieberman and his collaborator, Edmund S. Crelin, based this conclusion on similarities they found between babies’ skulls and those of both modern apes and prehistoric man (Leakey and Lewin, Origins Reconsidered 271). Using an endocast, Crelin reconstructed the vocal tract of the old man of La Chapelle-aux-Saints, hoping to approximate the position of the larynx. His clay model of the vocal apparatus, complete with soft tissues extrapolated from the basicranium, allowed Lieberman to determine its dimensions and compare these data to those of modern humans. The researchers concluded that Neanderthals not only spoke at a slower rate than modern humans, but would have been unable to use in rapid combinations the vowel sounds a, i, and u.                

These findings evidently are reflected in the speech patterns of Auel’s Neanderthals. Her subtle observance of the Lieberman-Crelin hypothesis is an example of her general scientific fidelity. This hypothesis, along with its fictional correlative, of course, is neither absolute nor incontrovertible. In 1984, Jeffrey Laitman argued that the position of the larynx for some Neanderthals falls within modern range (20-27); the La Chapelle specimen, he argues, is atypical (Leakey and Lewin, Origins Reconsidered 270-71; Corballis 158-60). In 1983 Baruch Arensburg and Bernard Vandermeersch based their counter-theory on the discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid bone in a Kebara Cave (Mount Carmel, Israel) (Leakey and Lewin, Origins Reconsidered 272). The hyoid, a tiny U-shaped bone, connects muscles to the jaw, larynx, and tongue. Essential to human speech, it provides anatomists with an accurate description of the vocal tract. This anatomical landmark allowed scientists to determine that the Kebara hyoid was similar to that of modern man, undermining any theory about Neanderthal speech limitation founded on basicranial morphology. Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, in 1992, offered a third alternative: changes in the upper-respiratory tract of the Neanderthal (a cold-weather adaptation), not vocal morphology, reduced the Neanderthals’ ability to produce a wide range of sounds (273).                

As we approach the fiction itself, we find that Auel’s research reflects the Lieberman-Crelin hypothesis. Moreover, since she does not introduce any material contradicting an evolutionary reason for Neanderthal speech limitation, we can say that her fiction also does not contradict the Leakey-Lewin hypothesis.                

Auel treats two aspects of Neanderthal speech in her narrative: their verbal deficiency (consonant with the Lieberman-Crelin hypothesis) and their putative sign-language system (based on primate research of the late 1960s and early 1970s). In the first place, Iza, the Clan’s medicine woman, can only use words selectively and emphatically, a condition alleged to have been typical of the classic Neanderthal, who “could not articulate well enough for a complete verbal language” (21). In addition, the narrator observes that these primitive people had “undeveloped vocal organs” (28), along with phonemic disabilities consistent with the Lieberman-Crelin hypothesis. Ayla’s name, pronounced “Eye-ya,” for the Neanderthal shaman Creb becomes “Aay-rr,” the vowel suffix being converted to a consonant because the “ya” sound cannot be articulated. Similarly, “Aay-lla,” for Iza, can only be enunciated as “Eye-ghaa”; like Creb, she substitutes the phoneme “-ghaa” for the unpronouncable “-lla” (40). Rather than being lame attempts at recreating the grunting caveman, these instances of vowel elision show Auel’s imaginative fidelity to the Lieberman-Crelin hypothesis.                

The assumption that the Neanderthals developed sign language to compensate for putative vocal deficiencies has an indirect basis in the fossil record and in contemporary primate research. Auel’s Neanderthals communicate more “with gestures and motions”—with a fully developed sign language, “rich with nuance” (21). Their “hand signals, gestures, [and] positions” reflect Neanderthal social life, along with their “intimate contact” and “established customs.” And their “perceptive discernment of expressions and postures” is also quite sophisticated (38). Since textual evidence for sign language abounds (126, 358-59, 406-09, 412, 474-75), I will elucidate the scientific background upon which Auel evidently drew. In agreement with the established opinion (as of 1980) that the Neanderthals were fully sapient human beings, capable of hunting together, creating technology, participating in ritual, and having a tradition and a social life, Auel introduces sign language as a logical probability. A human group performing complex activities, such as cooperative hunting or ritual interment, must have communicated by some other means if their speech was limited. Auel’s attribution of sign language to her Neanderthals is therefore a reasonable inference based on indirect interpretation of the fossil record.                

An additional source of indirect evidence for Auel is primate research on sign language. R. Allen and Beatrice F. Gardner, as well as other researchers, taught sign languages such as Ameslan to chimpanzees in 1969. Washoe, Lucy, Lana, and other chimpanzees developed working vocabularies of 100 to 200 words and were able to distinguish grammatical patterns (Campbell 23; Leakey and Lewin, Origins Reconsidered 274). In light of this published data (1969), the idea that Neanderthals communicated in elaborate, non-verbal ways is not farfetched in the least. Like the Neanderthals, chimpanzees lack the kind of pharynx that allows human beings to articulate vowels. As Bernard Campbell remarks, they communicate with visual rather than with auditory symbols (23).                

Since Auel’s portrayal of Neanderthal language capacity imaginatively coincides with the findings of Lieberman, Crelin, and the Gardners, she achieved in 1980 a high degree of scientific fidelity. The 1983 Kebara hyoid and its implications, however, demonstrate that scientific inquiry, and the fiction emulating it, is subject to modification or to disuse. The anatomical similarity between the Kebara hyoid and that of modern humans suggests that the Neanderthal could speak as well as we do.               

Another example of Auel’s scientific fidelity involves Mousterian technology. Here, the scientific authority she is likely to have consulted is Francois Bordes (1919-1981), a French prehistorian who created a standard lithic typology comprising 63 tool types (Soffer-Bobyshev 97). Bordes’s statistical interpretation of fossils from two sites in Dordogne, France identified distinct Neanderthal tool kits, such as the Denticulate Typical, the Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition, and the Charentian.               

Auel’s consistency in this area is exceptional. Her tool-maker, Droog, whose profession is essential to the Clan’s survival as hunters, demonstrates his dexterity on an unshaped flint from which he rapidly makes pointed tools, scrapers, borers, and awls. The details of manufacture correspond to Mousterian tool industry. Using bone-hammers and other specialized instruments, such as a “stone-shaper,” Droog creates hand-axes adapted for gripping, tapered knives (precisely serrated, notched, and pointed), and a small-toothed or “denticulated” saw, notched and angled to fit the hand. Other instruments include a convex, blunt-edge scraper (suited to woodwork and skinning), a spearhead, and an awl-borer. Droog’s industry and Auel’s scientific precision are apparent in this passage:

With a small, slightly flattened round stone, Droog gently knicked off the sharp edge on one side of the first flake to define the point, but more importantly, to blunt the back so the handheld knife could be used without cutting the user; retouching, not to sharpen the already thin sharp edge, but to dull the back for safe handling. He gave the knife a critical evaluation, removed a few more tiny chips, then, satisfied, he put it down and reached for the next flake. Going through the same process, he made a second knife. (227)

Auel’s details correspond to the contemporary fossil record and its conventional interpretation. Early in the Wurm glaciation, the chronological framework of the story, the Neanderthals developed the disk-core technique (Droog works on a “discoidal nucleus” [226]). The appearance of denticulate flakes is historically significant, having facilitated the transition from the hunting of small game to the organized capture of large animals such as the mammoth. It is no accident, then, that Droog is described as blunting the back of a “denticulated tool” (227). Auel shows that she is as much a student of Bordes as of Lieberman, Crelin, and the Gardners.                

A third extrapolative line assesses the genetic relation between Neanderthal and early-modern humans. As mentioned earlier, Wells’s view (distorted by the pseudo-science of the 1920s) is that the early-modern humans conducted genocide against Neanderthals. Auel rejects this extirpation theory. She acknowledges that the Neanderthals drifted into extinction and that early-modern humans superseded them, but she makes a case for their intermingling—for the survival of the former in the genotype. Her thinking reflects an ongoing debate. Christopher Stringer, an advocate of the “Out-of-Africa” or monogenesis theory, believes that the Neanderthals and early-modern humans were two distinct hominid lines that diverged from a common ancestor 200,000 years ago: each is a separate species. According to Stringer, early-modern humans migrated from Africa into Europe to replace archaic man (Stringer, “Emergence” 68-74; Stringer and McKie, 75-84, 117-48, 198-99, 245-50). An alternative theory, called the multi-regional, holds that hominids, originating in Africa, gradually evolved into contemporary forms wherever they lived throughout Europe. Instead of extermination of Neanderthals, some anthropologists argue for continual interbreeding over millennia, despite the eventual extinction of Neanderthals as a wholly separate species (Thorne and Wolpoff 28-33).                

Auel’s fictional interpretation corresponds to the multi-regional theory. Two interbred children are the products of rape: a Neanderthal, Broud, rapes the early-modern human Ayla, who bears the male hybrid Durc; and a raiding early-modern human rapes the Neanderthal Oda, who bears the female hybrid Ura. Auel dramatizes the genetic compatibility of these populations: they are conspecific. Her attention to anatomical detail is meticulous, although her effort to blend ethnic features is contrived. Born with a high forehead and round, modern skull, Durc has a modern face (a small nose, a chin, small jaws, and a large head not supported by heavy neck musculature [332]). Ayla eventually figures out that Durc combines Neanderthal and early-modern human traits because Broud is the father (350-51). Ura resembles, but is not a carbon copy of, Durc: she is stockier (a Neanderthal feature) and has the same forehead and nose as he, but she is chinless and prognathous (Neanderthal features). Her neck, like Durc’s, is longer than the neck of the Neanderthal babies (386). Creb, the tribe’s shaman, realizes that Durc is a hybrid, and he understands that early-modern humans will supersede his people: “The Clan is doomed, it will be no more, only her kind will go on.” He reasons that there are most likely others like Durc and Ura, “Children of mixed spirits, children that will go on, children that will carry the Clan on” (478). It dawns on Creb that his kind will survive not as a distinct population but in the heritage of early-modern humans. The extinction of the Neanderthals, according to Auel, does not mean their annihilation.                

Auel’s extinction scenario enriches her narrative with exciting credibility and a degree of prescience. In spring of 1999, the Portuguese archaeologist Dr. Joao Zilhao and his team discovered the remains of a four-year old child displaying the morphological characteristics of both Neanderthals and early-modern humans. According to Erik Trinkhaus, a paleoanthropologist, the specimen proves that the two regularly interbred over more than 20,000 years (Wilford 1). The child’s small teeth, sharply-pointed chin, and red-ochre burial style are all characteristic of early-modern humans. Moreover, a radio-carbon date of 24,500 years also points to early-modern humanity: these remains are much younger than the last signs of Neanderthal (Kunzig 74). But Trinkhaus also identifies Neanderthal features: a chin that retreats behind the teeth and the limb proportions (shin to thigh bone ratio), both of which suggest Neanderthal lineage. Auel’s adherence to legitimate scientific findings in language, technology, and human evolution endows her narrative with extraordinary realism.                

Fiction on Neanderthals can only reflect the contemporary intellectual milieu. Rather than being products of ignorance, Wells’s ogre and Golding’s imbecile represent a specific tradition in paleoanthropology, one eventually overturned in 1957. Although the scientific material in Auel’s novel is also as mutable as its sources, the novel shows both the author’s fidelity to current science and her extrapolative skills. The works of all three novelists constitute an imaginative resource for our knowledge of early man.

                1. The following works, though they deal with Wells’s biological thought, do not sufficiently elucidate his views on human evolution: Rosslyn D. Haynes, H.G. Wells: Discoverer of the Future: The Influence of Science on His Thought (New York: New York UP, 1980); Frank McConnell, The Science Fiction of H.G. Wells (New York: Oxford UP, 1981); John Huntington, The Logic of Fantasy: H.G. Wells and Science Fiction (New York: Columbia UP, 1982); John R. Reed, The Natural History of H.G. Wells (Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1982); Peter Kemp, H.G. Wells and the Culminating Ape (New York: St. Martin’s, 1982); and Robert M. Philmus,Into the Unknown: The Evolution of Science Fiction from Francis Godwin to H.G. Wells (Berkeley: U of California P, 1983).

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