What really happened in the Stone Age? With only a skeletal remains, stone tools, and cave paintings to go by, scientists can only offer an educated guess. While that kind of ambiguity is the bane of researchers, it is a boon for novelists, an invitation for the imagination to run wild.
The books selected for this list had to meet three criteria: the novel had to be currently in print, entirely set on Earth during the Stone Age, and could not involve time travel, aliens, sorcery, alternative planes of reality, and other fantastical plot devices. This excluded a number of science-fiction novels that involve prehistoric peoples, and we will revisit them in a future guide.
JEAN M. AUEL
Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear is the best-known example of paleo fiction. It is the story of a young girl who is adopted by a clan of Neanderthals after she is separated from her tribe. They know her as one of the Others — the mysterious new people who are pushing them out of their lands — but cannot lead her to starve. The girl finds a place in the clan, but not everyone welcomes her presence. Some consider her different ways of thinking to be a threat.
No one knows exactly what happened to the long lost hominid species known as the Neanderthals. We know that there was a certain amount of interbreeding — services like 23andme can tell you how much Neanderthal DNA still lurks in your genes — but that’s only a small part of the story. Did anatomically modern human beings outcompete them for limited resources? Did we murder them en masse? William Golding’s The Inheritors is the story of a dwindling Neanderthal tribe’s first encounter with the beings who would bring their doom: us.
KIM STANLEY ROBINSON
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman is the story of Loo: a young apprentice shaman learning his trade at the feet of his master, Thorn. Loo and Thorn’s time, 30,000 years removed from our own, is one of warriors, spirits, and unrelenting cold. As the next shaman, Loo will inherit a powerful position in his tribe, but only if he survives the dangers of an unforgiving world.
Dance of the Tiger: A Novel of the Ice Age
Finnish paleontologist Björn Kurtén was in a better position than most of us when it comes to imagining what life in Stone Age Europe might have been like. As an expert on stone age life, Kurtén’s primary work was in scientific research, but he also wrote in a genre that he dubbed “paleofiction”. Dance of the Tiger is the story of a clash between anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals. Written with an eye for scientific accuracy, the novel is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
KATHLEEN O’NEAL GEAR AND W. MICHAEL GEAR
Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear’s novel People of the Wolf is the story of North America’s first inhabitants: people who arrived on the content by way of the Bering Land Bridge. Set in what is now known as Alaska, People of the Wolf follows these brave first Americans as they settle a wild, unknown land.