Sally’ Cafe and Bookstore – #Get Caught Reading Month – Authors who have inspired me -Jean M. Auel – Clan of the Cave Bear


Welcome to the second of my posts on authors who have inspired me to write to celebrate Get Caught Reading Month.

In fact the books of Jean M. Auel did not just inspire me to write beyond the short stories that were piling up in my desk drawer, but to explore my own heritage further.

Although the books were published in the 1980s it was not until the late 90s that I bought and read The Clan of the Cave Bear and was immediately hooked. As with Wilbur Smith, I began to buy the hard back copies so I could read the latest Ayla story as soon as possible and they hold pride of place next to his books in my library.

I found the whole subject matter fascinating and was delighted when Valley of the Horses was released at the end of 2001. I was now completely hooked, not only about Ayla and her life as it evolved in the story but the time it was set in, around 35,000 years ago. This led me to another book written by Dr. Bryan Sykes called the Seven Daughters of Eve.

The Oxford Ancestor DNA Project was just becoming available and David and I both submitted our DNA for testing. At that time the test traced the mitochondrial DNA against the seven sets of bones found during excavations from around 45,000 years ago.

When submitted, an individual’s DNA is tested against seven sets of bones. Each of the identified set of bones found in various regions in Europe was given a name. My results showed that my DNA came from Helena whose bones dated back around 20,000 years ago. My husband’s to a slightly later woman, Velda, 17,000 years ago.

Helena’s, and therefore my own DNA, is according to Dr. Sykes and his team, the largest and most successful of the seven native clans with 41% of Europeans belonging to one of its many branches. She was born somewhere in the valleys of the Dordogne in South Central France, but the clan is widespread throughout all parts of Europe, but reaches its highest frequency among the Basque people of Northern Spain and Southern France. (Perhaps explains my love of my former Spanish home in the mountains above Madrid combined with sunshine, olive oil, seafood etc.)

The ice-age was at its severest and stretched down as far as Bordeaux, and in Britain down as far as the midlands (Britain was still joined to continental Europe by dry land).   Helena’s diet would have consisted of meat, seafood from the shoreline such as oysters and possibly seaweeds, various plants and fruits, some tubers and mushrooms, seeds and grains. Recent research indicates that we may well have begun eating raw grains very early on when we left the forests for the grasslands, and that even 30,000 years ago we may have been processing existing grains for cooking. Rather negates the recent trend to take all grains out of our diet!

According to Helena’s bones, she was about 42 when she died and would have lived to see her grandchildren. That was a good age for the time. Life was very hard – apart from the cold and harsh living conditions, food scarcity, childhood was perilous and it was an achievement to reach 15. If you did, then provided you survived giving birth, avoided accidents and found enough to eat and store for winter months, you could look forward to perhaps another 20 years to your mid-30’s. In a time where survival of the fittest was the rule – Helena survived into her 40’s and produced daughters who were strong and fertile who resulted in not just myself, but my two sisters, and three granddaughters to carry on her legacy.

Which brings me back to the Earth Children Series. The books now held even more fascination for me as I felt a connection to not just Ayla but to all those she met, the descriptions of life and hardships they endured. I could easily imagine a few thousand years on my own ancestor living a very similar life and facing those same challenges.

I recommend the whole series which is now available in ebook as well as paperback in audio. The amount of research involved in the books is phenomenal and there were quite a few years between each book. Today you can download all six individually or as a complete set and read them back to back.

About Clan of the Cave Bear

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear.

A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly—she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.

One of the recent reviews for the book.

Set in during the last Ice Age, Ayla, a primitive human girl of five, loses her family in an earthquake. Starving, dehydrated, and mauled by a cave lion, she is found wandering by Iza, a medicine woman of the Clan. Not Cro Magnum like Alya, but Neanderthal at the waning end of their races existence, the Clan takes in the girl of the Others.

Ayla has to adapt to the similar but different Clan. Their customs, their behavior, and their social relationships are different from humans, but their emotions are so familiar. Ayla has to learn, bending her personality to their rigid practices. But if she can’t adapt, the Clan will punish her.

And Broud, the clan leader’s son, is eager to see that she fails. Consumed by jealousy, the young Neanderthal will do anything to hurt or degrade Ayla.

Clan of the Cave Bear is a brilliant book. Set in the ice age, Auel’s meticulous research into survival tactics, primitive technology, and megalithic wildlife now extinct brings to life the distant past of the earliest humans. Through Ayla, we can get a glimpse of how our ancestors lived and how their cultures developed. The fact she also has a very human story in the character of Ayla’s early childhood and coming of age as an adult only makes the story even more gripping.

With great characters, a moving plot, and a fascinating setting, there’s a reason that Auel’s Earth Children series is so popular! If you’re a fan of historical fiction then you need to read this amazing series!

Read some of the over 1300 reviews and buy the books in ebook, paperback and audio: https://www.amazon.com/Clan-Cave-Bear-Earths-Children/dp/0553250426

And on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Clan-Cave-Bear-Earths-Children-ebook/dp/B004G8QZSI

The other books in the Earth Children Series

Read all the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.com/Jean-M.-Auel/e/B000APVANG

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jean-M.-Auel/e/B000APVANG

About Jean M. Auel

“It started as a short story…”

Jean Marie Auel was born February 18, 1936, the second of five children of parents Neil and Martha Untinen. She is an American author best known for her Earth’s Children® books, a series of novels set in prehistoric Europe that explores interactions of Cro-Magnon people with Neanderthals. As of 2010 her novels have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide, with nearly half that total number sold in the United States alone. The series consists of The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, The Plains of Passage, The Shelters of Stone, and The Land of Painted Caves.

She grew up in Chicago. Following her marriage to Ray Auel—a man she has known since they were children together in grade school, and with whom she recently celebrated a 56th wedding anniversary–the Auels relocated to Oregon. She did her undergraduate work at Portland State University, and later earned an M.B.A. from the University of Portland, while working and raising her five children.

In 1977, at the age of forty and on the cusp of changing jobs, Ms. Auel was inspired by the idea of writing a story—a short story—that was as entertaining and informative as the books she enjoyed herself. She envisioned a young woman from mankind’s earliest history, who was the archetypal stranger, living with people who are physically and psychologically different. Ms. Auel began to write, until she realized something important: She had no idea what the world she wanted to write about was like. How did early people live? What did they eat? What were their relationships like? And what kind of a woman could not only live through the challenges of this harsh world and harsher prejudices, but triumph?

Always meticulous and a voracious reader, Ms. Auel began to research. She visited the local library and came home with two armfuls of books. She immersed herself in the available historical and scientific data, learning everything she could about life more than 30,000 years ago. Her extensive, precise research became a hallmark of her work, earning her the respect of archeologists, anthropologists, and paleontologists worldwide for her subtle interpretation of facts and artifacts. “Scientists have to be objective,” she has stated, “but as an author I have to be subjective. But it is an informed subjectivity, and true to the facts we have.”

She named her heroine Ayla (pronounced with a long “A”). Ms. Auel’s short story grew into an outline for a novel … and the outline grew into a plan for six epic novels. “I told my husband I had a plan for six books,” she laughs, “and he replied I hadn’t even written one!”

But she soon finished the first of the novels, entitled The Clan of the Cave Bear, composed in a burst of creative energy in just over one year. A chance encounter with a New York-based literary agent at a local writers’ workshop further sparked her success; the much-respected Jean Naggar expressed real interest in the manuscript. Impressed with the power of her storytelling, Naggar negotiated a deal for the novel … and the rest is publishing history. The Clan of the Cave Bear was published in hardcover in 1980, and The Valley of Horses followed in 1982. Her third novel The Mammoth Hunters (1985) broke records, being the first hardcover novel with a first printing of more than one million copies. In 1990, The Plains of Passage was published, and in 2002, her fifth novel, The Shelters of Stone, debuted at #1 on bestseller lists in 16 countries. The Land of Painted Caves will be published all over the world in late March, 2011.

Ms. Auel still lives in Portland, Oregon. She holds four honorary degrees from universities, and was awarded the French government’s Ministry of Culture “Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters” medal.

Website: http://www.jeanauel.com/

Thanks for dropping in today and I hope that if you have not as yet read one of these books that you will now do so. Thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Health – Weight Reduction – Meet Helena the first of my clan.


In the first post of this repeated series on weight reduction, I explained that I did not believe in the “Quick Fix” approach to weight loss or magic pills for life to prevent diseases that are lifestyle related. Weight loss has become the obsession of most women today in the western world. Magazines, celebrities and experts are constantly bombarding us with the latest, guaranteed way to lose our extra weight, and there is a multi-billion pound/dollar business to service our obsession.

N.B. There have been some comments in the past about the use of the term ‘loss’ when referring to weight and that it carries negative connotations.  To be honest I don’t feel negative about the term as the very act of losing weight that is causing health problems is such a positive experience.  However, I am using the term reduction more frequently as I would also like to combat the incessant negativity about FAT... like a lot of good things you can have too much of it and you need a certain amount of body fat to be healthy.

For me the key to losing weight is not about following the latest diet, or taking the latest miracle supplement but coming to an understanding with, and respecting our body. Never before in history has so much information been available about how our body works and the diseases that can cripple it. Perhaps there is too much and we are overwhelmed? Advice is torrential and confusing. One minute you should eat meat and the next only carbohydrate. Exercise for 30 minutes a day or perhaps just 2 minutes at a run would do the trick?

Before we move further into the series and talk about strategies that you as an individual can use to tailor make a diet that suits you, I would like to dial things back a notch.

Actually quite big notch – I would like you to meet my grandmother 500 times removed – called Helena. A woman who has passed on her powerful mitochondrial DNA to me, so powerful that despite all the pairings of genes throughout the last 20,000 years, I still carry her within me.

When I began my journey 22 years ago to repair my body and my health, I realised that I knew very little about my own family history from a health perspective and even less about the history of humans in general.

My mother had little information or even family to share with us. Her father was killed in the last week of the First World War at age 31, when she was just over a year old and an only child. My grandfather was Irish and Catholic and my grandmother English and protestant. Although his close family, living in England offered to educate my mother, it was provisional on her being brought up Catholic. My grandmother refused and contact was lost with my grandfather’s side of the family and consequently we also lost all their history.

In the late 1990s  I embarked on two historical journeys. One into the recent past and one way back into the late Stone Age. I managed to research back as far as the late 1400’s on both my mother’s English family and my father’s roots in the North East. No surprises but some emotional discoveries that both saddened and inspired me.

The Clan of the Cave Bear

One of my inspirations for our next step on this journey of discovery were the books of Jean M. Auel – beginning with the Clan of the Cave Bear – set around 28,000 years ago when the Neanderthal branch of human kind was disappearing. The story follows the life of Ayla and the series of six books up to her most recent – The Land of the Painted Caves – is the most fascinating read of my life. I wanted to find out if there was an Ayla in my past.

My husband and I decided to take advantage of the recently emerged DNA ancestry projects and in 2001 we both had our mitochondrial DNA tested. If you want an insight into the process before having your own DNA tested then I suggest you read Dr. Bryan Sykes book The Seven Daughters of Eve.

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When submitted, an individual’s DNA is tested against seven sets of bones. Each of the identified set of bones found in various regions in Europe was given a name. My results showed that my DNA came from Helena whose bones dated back around 20,000 years ago. My husband’s to a slightly later woman, Velda, 17,000 years ago.

So I now had two points at each end of my ancestry, Helena and my mother – and it was a fascinating process, not just to establish the likely route that my ancestors took to arrive in southern England, but to also establish some dietary and health links along the way.

Helena’s, and therefore my own DNA, is according to Dr. Sykes and his team, the largest and most successful of the seven native clans with 41% of Europeans belonging to one of its many branches. She was born somewhere in the valleys of the Dordogne in South Central France but the clan is widespread throughout all parts of Europe but reaches its highest frequency among the Basque people of Northern Spain and Southern France. (Perhaps explains my love of my former Spanish home in the mountains above Madrid combined with sunshine, olive oil, seafood etc.)

The ice-age was at its severest and stretched down as far as Bordeaux, and in Britain down as far as the midlands (Britain was still joined to continental Europe by dry land).   Helena’s diet would have consisted of meat, seafood from the shoreline such as oysters and possibly seaweeds, various plants and fruits, some tubers and mushrooms, seeds and grains. Recent research indicates that we may well have begun eating raw grains very early on when we left the forests for the grasslands, and that even 30,000 years ago we may have been processing existing grains for cooking. Rather negates the recent trend to take all grains out of our diet!

According to Helena’s bones, she was about 42 when she died and would have lived to see her grandchildren. That was a good age for the time. Life was very hard – apart from the cold and harsh living conditions, food scarcity, childhood was perilous and it was an achievement to reach 15. If you did, then provided you survived giving birth, avoided accidents and found enough to eat and store for winter months, you could look forward to perhaps another 20 years to your mid-30’s. In a time where survival of the fittest was the rule – Helena survived into her 40’s and produced daughters who were strong and fertile who resulted in not just myself, but my two sisters, and three granddaughters to carry on her legacy.

What is becoming evident is that because our ancestors were opportunistic eaters they had a much more varied diet than we do today, consuming over 100 different varieties of plant and protein. Today it is estimated that we restrict ourselves to around 25 different varieties. Take a look at your shopping basket and ask yourself when was the last time you tried something new?  This is not good for our general health as our bodies are designed to consume a broad spectrum of nutrients extracted from a wide variety of foods.

It appears that Helena’s descendants and their families wended their way through France once the ice had receded. They must have been strong both in mind and body to withstand the journey, its dangers and the daily grind of finding sufficient food to feed themselves and their families. Along the way some would have settled in with new groups that they encountered or simply as large family units. Eventually, some would have reached the fertile seashores of the South of England and the Isle of Wight, which may have been still attached to the mainland, and over the following centuries they would have created my immediate family.

Helena was 42 when she died 20,000 years ago and the interesting link is that according to the records I could find, nearly all my female relations from the recent past died at around the same age! In or after childbirth or worn out from the process of having a child a year, every year. Many children appeared to have died in the first year or two of their lives which must have been emotionally traumatic too. The first person in several generations to live a long life was my mother who died at nearly 95.

In fact it was not until the early 1900’s that this life expectancy would change. My grandmother and my mother in particular were the first of the women in my family to benefit from not just a more varied diet but a safer birth process, better public health and sanitation, reduction in childhood diseases, new medical advances, control and treatment of smallpox and measles and TB. Luckily neither was affected by the great Spanish Flu epidemic that killed millions in the two years after the First World War. Additionally they lived in the country with a plentiful diet of natural unprocessed foods full of variety and very little in the way of processed foods.

Sadly my grandmother had a weak chest and died from asthma at age 55 in 1945 and we never got to know her. The medical advances and drugs that might have saved her life came too late.

But I know now where I come from, who I am and that I have the strength derived from generations of strong women.   The journey gave me a greater knowledge of who I am and a greater understanding of my body. A body that is the outcome of thousands of years of survival. It needs to be treated with far greater respect than I gave it for the first 40 odd years of my life and I believe everyone needs to feel the same way about their own body and health.

So, before you embark on a starvation diet, or consume pills that promise you will lose weight, I would ask you think first about the impact of that action will have on your body. 

Links you might find interesting.

http://www.oxfordancestors.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Daughters_of_Eve
http://www.jeanauel.com/

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2018

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment section and if you would like a private word then please email me sally.cronin@moyhill.com.