Why don’t I call The Stone Age Detective a cave-man?

Why have I so far avoided using the term ‘cave-man’ in my blogs?

For many people, the term ‘cave-man’ carries a lot of meaning, but misleading meaning.  We tend to think of a very primitive human, who may not even be homo sapiens. Perhaps you think of a neanderthal? You might think of images from Hollywood movies, which mostly give our early ancestors a bad press.

What do you think a cave-man was like?

Most people imagine someone of low intelligence, aggressive, violent and selfish. That is not how I see the Stone Age Detective, or most of the characters in the book. I believe that people living around ten thousand years ago were very similar to us. Their bodies and brains were about the same size as ours. They lived in communities and must have cooperated to survive. They made a variety of tools and weapons, which were very good for the purposes for which they were made.

Didn’t cave-man have only a club and a hand-axe?

They didn’t only have the so-called ‘hand-axe’ or multi-purpose flint tool, although they did make them. The quality of stone arrowheads from that period was better than that of similar ones that people made in later ages. Archaeologists think that is because people didn’t depend on them so much once they began farming. They probably had professional flint-knappers in the early Stone Age, who went out of business once most people turned to farming.

Illustration of flint Stone Age 'cave-man' tools from Britain BC by Francis Pryor
Illustration of flint Stone Age ‘cave-man’ tools from Britain BC by Francis Pryor
Didn’t cave-man live in a cave?

Not always. We know that people in that period made houses. On Orkney, there are houses of stone that people made in the Stone Age. In the rest of Britain, evidence from post-holes suggests people made houses of timber posts and covered them with skins, thatch and/or turf. Some were so big that large numbers of people must have worked together to build them.  My characters live in a village made of such houses, but use caves at certain times. Does that make the Stone Age Detective a cave-man? You must decide, but don’t expect him to be stupid or bloodthirsty.

For more discussion of the prehistorical background to The Stone Age Detective, see my previous blog.

Don’t be a Christmas purist – let’s just enjoy the season.

What’s a Christmas Purist?

A Christmas purist is someone who complains that not everything we associate with Christmas has roots going back to the First Christmas. Purists especially dislike any new 21st Century features on our cards, in the decorations on the tree, in what we eat or what we do.

What sort of things doesn’t a purist like?

They are not all the same, but a lot object to non-traditional decorations like unicorns, spaceships and hobbits. Then there are those who say Christmas dinner has to be turkey and all the usual accompaniments. I expect they won’t like any carols written this century either.

As I love history, why aren’t I a purist?

Christmas has been celebrated for two thousand years, as the rest of the life of Jesus has been. So too has his death and resurrection. People have found new ways of celebrating these events in every generation. I don’t know much about the early years, but I know a bit about the Mediaeval Christmas and the ways new items have been added, and sometime old ones dropped, in every period since. People made the Christmas story and the Christian message, relevant to their age. That is why they do it differently in different countries.

Is it wrong to be a purist?

I don’t mind other people choosing to try to make their Christmas as authentic as possible, if they don’t give the rest of us a hard time. However, I do think they are on a hiding to nothing. If you throw out everything that you can’t be sure was there in the First Century, you won’t have much left. I don’t think anyone knows how the first Christians did celebrate it. Each Purist probably has his or her own views as to what is or isn’t OK.

Why I really don’t want to be a purist.

Christmas is a time of goodwill and joy. Let’s not spoil it by bickering. If you want curry and fizzy drinks instead of Turkey and mulled wine, go for it! If you love the old carols, listen to them, or (better) sing them with gusto, but if you like songs from Jesus Christ Superstar or even more recent ones (there really are some!) then have a great time with them.

If I’m not a purist, what am I?

I like a bit of everything. For instance, I’ve just been to a fairly traditional service of nine lessons and carols, but some someone had put some to new settings. The readings were in modern English. There was a sketch where Herod was like a present-day megalomaniac. The vicar reflected on the sketch and what the humble birth of God’s son told us about power. On Saturday, I will be going to a panto-nativity in the open, where I will be providing a plywood-and-carpet donkey and a real sheepdog. I haven’t seen the script, but am looking forward to it. Some would say I am catholic, but not in the high-church sense.

A modern sheepdog. A pedant might object to his being in a Nativity play.
A modern sheepdog. A pedant might object to his being in a Nativity play.
What if you don’t buy the baby-in-manger stuff anyway?

Enjoy the holiday, the parties, the presents, the food – as much of all that as you like. It’s joy to the World and goodwill to all – get it?



Are there any dinosaurs in The Stone Age Detective?

People expect dinosaurs in any book set in the Stone Age

This is mainly the fault of Hollywood, because producers (used to) think any story in prehistory had to have these large reptiles to make it exciting. They could have made movies about dinosaurs without any humans. I suppose that would have upset a lot of people, especially actors.

Why can’t a movie or a novel have humans AND dinosaurs?

Dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, give or take a few. According to scientists, the earliest type of humans appeared a mere few million years ago,  and they were not people as we know them. There were several species with long Latin (or Greek?) names. The earliest evidence for proper humans, homo sapiens, puts them on the planet a couple of hundred thousand years ago.

How sure are we that humans and dinosaurs never met?

Even if the experts are wrong, the margin for error is so vast that even a sceptic could hardly imagine that dinosaurs survived tens of millions of years and didn’t leave a trace. Likewise, there might have been humans around, a few hundred thousand years sooner than we thought, but millions?

No dinosaurs? Does this mean there are no monsters in the novel?

It depends on your definition of a monster. No jokes, please, especially political ones.  At the end of the Ice Age, say ten thousand years ago in Britain and the nearer parts of the EU – sorry, the Continent – there were lots of big mammals, both herbivores and carnivores. Life for humans, and a lot of other species, was pretty precarious. The carnivores were out to kill anything edible, including us, whilst the the big herbivores could be dangerous if you tried to hunt them. Some were bad enough, even if you were just passing by.

What mammals were as scary as dinosaurs?

A soldier once told me that the deadliest weapon wasn’t the nuclear bomb, but whatever someone was pointing at you at the time. Some of the things people hunted in the Stone Age, and some that hunted us, are now extinct. These include mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, sabre-tooth cats (I don’t say ‘tigers’ because we don’t know what colour they were) and giant ‘Irish’ elk. These lived in what is now England as well as Ireland. They were probably unionists. One of the most dangerous animals that people often killed was the aurochs. We know this from the bones that archaeologists have found around human settlements. They were wild cattle, much bigger and more aggressive than the domestic kind. Nine feet at the shoulder.  Scary enough?

What else went the way of the dinosaurs?

Apart from those, there were plenty of other animals that are now extinct in the wild in Britain but survive elsewhere, including British zoos. Wolves, bison, musk ox, and several kinds of bear. I wouldn’t want to bump into any of those unexpectedly.

It’s a good thing Stone-Age Man had his dog to help him.

Follow this link for more discussion of my draft novel.

A dog like the one in the novel. He wouldn't have been much use hunting dinosaurs.
A dog like the one in the novel. He wouldn’t have been much use hunting dinosaurs.

How do I know what a Stone-Age dog looked like?

One key character in my novel The Stone-Age Detective is a dog.

I hope you have read my  blog about my prehistoric detective novel. Even if you like what I say there, you may think everything I say about the dog in the novel is pure fiction, fantasy even. Well, I have found, to my surprise, how much scientists think they know about Stone-Age dogs. They have studied DNA from skeletons to establish that the ancestors of dogs were wolves, but by the end of the Ice Age they were two separate species. Dogs were generally similar to but smaller than wolves.

What colour were dogs in the Stone-Age?

The obvious answer is ‘we don’t know’, but there is a clue. A few years ago, Russian scientists experimented with selective breeding arctic foxes, to see how long it took to turn a fierce wild animal into a suitable pet. Not many generations. They found, unexpectedly, that the tamest ones were also different in other ways from their wild ancestors. In particular, they found the tame foxes were more often two-coloured. At first, white socks and tail tips appeared, but later some were 50/50. The scientists believe the colour element in the animals’ DNA is linked to the element affecting temperament.

Wouldn’t Stone-Age Man have preferred plain dogs?

As in my novel, many people probably thought plain dogs were better at hunting, but some would have liked more conspicuous canine hunters, because the prey moved away from them towards waiting humans. This phenomenon probably led to the development of the use of dogs for rounding-up domestic livestock. That is perhaps why most sheepdogs are black and white.

Could a dog climb trees?

Most dogs don’t. Whether they could, is another matter. I once owned one who did, usually when chasing squirrels. She didn’t often catch them. I gave my fictional Stone-Age dog that ability to add something to the story.

A dog who looks much as I imagine a Stone-Age dog.
A dog who looks much as I imagine a Stone-Age dog.