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The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Clan of the Cave Bear is an epic[1] work of prehistoric fiction by Jean M. Auel about prehistoric times. It is the first book in the Earth's Children book series which speculates on the possibilities of interactions between Neanderthal and modern Cro-Magnon humans.

The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Clan of the Cave Bear cover.jpg
AuthorJean M. Auel
CountryUnited States
SeriesEarth's Children
Genreprehistoric fiction
PublishedMay 4, 1980, Crown
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages468 pp
LC ClassPS3551.U36 C57 1980
Followed byThe Valley of Horses 


The novel references the advance of the polar ice sheets, setting the story before 19,950 years Before Present (BP) or 18,000 years BCE, when the farthest southern encroachment of the last glacial period of the current ice age occurred. Auel's time-frame, somewhere between 29,950 and 26,950 years BP or 28,000 and 25,000 BCE, corresponds generally with archaeological estimates of the Neanderthal branch of mankind disappearing.

Plot summaryEdit

A five-year-old girl, Ayla, who readers come to understand is Cro-Magnon, is orphaned and left homeless by an earthquake that destroys her family's camp. She wanders aimlessly, naked and unable to feed herself, for several days. Having been attacked and nearly killed by a cave lion and suffering from starvation, exhaustion, and infection of her wounds, she collapses, on the verge of death.

The narrative switches to a group of people who call themselves "The Clan" and who we come to understand are Neanderthal, whose cave was destroyed in the earthquake and who are searching for a new home. The medicine woman of the group, Iza, discovers the girl and asks permission from Brun, the head of the Clan, to help the ailing child, despite the child being clearly a member of "the Others," the distrusted antagonists of the Clan. The child is adopted by Iza and her brother Creb. Creb is this group's "Mog-ur" or shaman, despite being deformed as a result of the difficult birth resulting from his abnormally large head and the later loss of an arm and eye after being attacked by a cave bear. The Clan worship spiritual representations of Earthly animals called "totems", who they believe can influence their lives by way of good or bad luck and for whom Mog-ur acts as an intermediary. Brun agrees to allow Iza to treat the dying child and to adopt her only if Creb can discover her personal totem spirit.

Through meditation, Creb comes to believe that the child may be protected by the spirit of the cave lion, a powerful totem that is never given to a woman and only very few men. He cites the cave lion attack the girl experienced shortly before being discovered as proof that its spirit marked her so that she could be adopted into the Clan. The Clan call her Ayla, the closest they can come to pronouncing her birth name. After traveling with them for a while and starting to heal, Ayla wanders away from the group when they stop to discuss what they should do since they haven't found a new home and she discovers a huge, beautiful cave, perfect for their needs; many of the people begin to regard Ayla as lucky, especially since good fortune continues to come their way as she lives among them.

In Auel's books, the Neanderthal possess only limited vocal apparatus and rarely speak, but have a highly developed sign language. They do not laugh or even smile, and they do not cry; when Ayla weeps, Iza thinks she has an eye disease.

Ayla's different thought processes lead her to break important Clan customs, particularly the taboo against females handling weapons. She is self-willed and spirited, but tries hard to fit in with the Neanderthals, although she has to learn everything first-hand; she does not possess the ancestral memories of the Clan which enable them to do certain tasks after being shown only once.

Iza trains Ayla as a medicine woman "of her line", the most prestigious line of medicine women out of all of the Clans. It takes her much longer to train Ayla than it will her own daughter, Uba, since Ayla does not possess the memories of the Clan. Iza is concerned that when Ayla grows up nobody will want her as their mate, making her a burden to the Clan. So she trains Ayla to be a highly respected medicine woman who will have her own "status" and will not have to rely on the status of a mate.

Ayla's main antagonist in the novel is Broud, son of the leader Brun, who feels that she takes credit and attention away from him. As the two mature, the hatred between them festers. When they are young adults, Broud brutally rapes Ayla in an impulsive bid to demonstrate his total control over her. Broud continues to assault Ayla multiple times daily, sinking her into a depression that leaves her despondent and disinterested, and she soon becomes pregnant. Iza explains to Ayla that her unusual appearance compared to the rest of the Clan will likely preclude her from obtaining a mate before she gives birth, a circumstance Iza's people believe will bring bad luck to their settlement. Ayla, having dreamed of being a mother for most of her life and now convinced that this may be her only chance due to her powerful totem, refuses Iza's suggestion that she take medicine to lose the child. Following a difficult pregnancy and a near-fatal labor, Ayla rejoices in the birth of a son but, due to his appearance being an amalgamation of Clan and Other features, he is classified by the Clan as deformed and he is almost taken away from her.

The book ends with Creb's death, Broud's succession to the leadership, and his banishment of Ayla, who sets off to find other people of her own kind. Her son Durc remains with the tribe.


The sequel, The Valley of Horses, continues Ayla's story, which is further developed in other books of the Earth's Children series, which include The Mammoth Hunters; The Plains of Passage; The Shelters of Stone; and the sixth and final installment in the series, The Land of Painted Caves.


The archaeological and paleontological research for this book was carried out by Auel from her public library, by attending archaeological conventions, and touring extensively on sites with briefings by working field archaeologists.[2] Some of the descriptions are based on the first adult Neanderthal skeletons found in Iraq from the cave burial at Shanidar, dating between 60-80,000 years BP. Other data is clearly linked to the widespread Aurignacian culture and Gravettian culture, and their tell-tale Venus figurines which Auel uses as one center of her Cro-Magnon religious practices.[3]

Film and television adaptationsEdit

In 1986, the novel was adapted into a film directed by Michael Chapman and starring Daryl Hannah.

In 2014, the Lifetime television network ordered a pilot episode, based on the series of novels. Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Jean M. Auel, and Linda Woolverton are executive producers, with Woolverton writing the teleplay. The launch was slated for some time in 2015.[4]

Despite reports of plans to shoot a pilot for a series to have started in 2016, with Ireland as one location. This plan was canceled by Lifetime and has been shopped around to various networks with no luck, and presumed to be dead, as of March 2016.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Books by Jean M. Auel". Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  2. ^ Auel, various Series forwards, appreciations and credits, esp. "The Shelters of Stone" appreciations make it plain she'd outlined six book series in detail and visited digs in the various locales before this first book, and reprised such visits at various times since.
  3. ^ Tools and carvings characteristic of these cultures and maps delineating the actual basis dig sites are located within the inside cover art of most of the sequels.
  4. ^ Lifetime Orders Drama Pilot 'The Clan of the Cave Bear'

External linksEdit