Jean Marie Auel, born on February 18, 1936, in Chicago, Illinois, is the author of the series, Earth’s Children, a collection of novels revolving around the interactions of Cro-Magnon people with Neandertals. Auel did not come to her chosen craft as a trained writer. Rather, after raising five children and earning an MBA from the University of Portland, she was in a self-described “free-floating state” that left her open to new ideas: She was drawn ultimately to writing the stories of Ice Age ancestors that modern science helped her tell. Auel joins the ranks of writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling, who have written epic stories drenched in fictitious history and find large audiences due to their works’ imaginative and historical values. While Tolkien and Rowling focus on the magical, Auel’s books draw their richness from her study and explorations of the worlds of anthropology and archeology.
Through her fiction, Auel enables readers to discover cultural patterns in ways similar to those of anthropologists in the field. She immersed herself in learning stone tool making, preparing food from caribou brain, processing animal skins, making cordage, and digging roots to guarantee the authenticity of her books. She acknowledges that a bibliography of published material she has read on archeological and anthropological subjects would approach 4,000 entries. She has established working relationships with many professionals and has traveled to Western and Eastern Europe to visit actual sites and caves to enrich her stories.
Auel uses the Stone Age setting to explore gender roles and draws remarkable parallels between the cave society of which she writes and our more contemporary social structures. In Auel’s series, the protagonist Ayla comes of age in a Neandertal community ruled by traditions and taboos. She is a feminist from matriarchal prehistory, a resourceful innovator whose solutions to daily living are a source of astonishment for cave men. Ayla’s intelligence separates her from other tribe members. Auel’s books have also been commended for the ethnobotanical accuracy as well as their anthropological accuracy. They remind us to take nothing for granted, such as the bountiful but limited resources of the earth.
Some historians and anthropologists, however, maintain that Auel’s assumptions about Neandertal life are not realistic. They claim that she bases her view of the Neandertal on the racially motivated science of late 19th-century French anthropology, and many anthropologists have denounced the novels as containing “bad” science and overt racism.
Nonetheless, Auel has received numerous awards for her writing, including an American Book Award nomination for the best first novel and Friends of Literature Award for The Clan of the Cave Bear (1981). She is also the recipient of the Scandinavian Kaleidoscope of Art Life Award, Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, Silver Trowel Award, National Zoo Award, Waldo Award (Walden-books), and Persie Award from WIN.
- Auel, J. M. (1980). Clan of the cave bear. New York: Crown.
- Auel, J. M. (1983). The valley of horses. New York: Crown Publishers.
- Auel, J. M. (1985). The mammoth hunters. New York: Crown Publishers.
- Auel, J. M. (1990). Plains of passage. New York: Crown Publishers.
- Auel, J. M. (2002). The shelters of stone. New York: Crown Publishers.