NW Reads a How-To Book

This book, the first in the Crossroads trilogy, takes place 850,000 years ago. I read it because it’s in my genre (sort of), and we indie authors writing about super-ancient times gotta stick together.

In my persona as a cave woman, I was hoping to pick up some tips on raw survival. One main strategy employed by Xhosa’s tribe seems to be Running Away. Me approve, as I am a master at this and so are the characters in my own books.

In Survival of the Fittest, Xhosa and her tribe travel from somewhere in the interior of Africa, north, crossing the Great Rift Valley and then (I think?) the Red Sea, or whatever that used to be 848,000 years ago. Once in the Levant (the Arabian Peninsula? Or did such exist back then?), they meet up with another tribe that is already successfully living there, plus a pair of young misfits, accompanied by their pet wolf, who have come all the way from what is now China.

The book moves fast, covering a lot of territory, both literally and metaphorically. It never really took off for me. There were lots of different episodes, each of which could easily have been its own book. The narrative moved back and forth between different groups quite a bit. With Big Idea novels like this one (and like my own books), the reader has to be at least intrigued by the theory of history that the author is exploring, so perhaps my problem was that this element was missing for me.

Another thing that harmed the verisimilitude for me was what appeared to be inconsistencies in the language. On the one hand, the characters don’t have enough abstract thought to count other than saying, “One, another, another …” On the other hand, they can describe to one another things that the hearer has never seen, such as the sea. They call the Cro-Magnon people Big Heads (which seems fair enough), but occasionally they will talk about things using modern terms, like Lucy (yes, the Lucy) or “tsunami,” which seems like an anachronism to this linguist. To be fair, any time we are writing about people in an ancient time, we are writing in translation, so the modern writer has to decide when to use a “free translation” (using words that modern readers will recognize) and when to use more literal glosses on the characters’ vocabulary, which gives a more atmospheric feel but is also harder for the reader to understand.

However, the author does lay some land mines that I presume will be stepped on in the next book, notably the obvious danger posed by Xhosa’s ambitious head warrior, Nightshade. If you believe that people evolved about a million years ago, started out not wearing clothes or counting past one, and you’re fascinated by what life might have been like during that time, then this series is for you.

There are lot of notes about terminology and the different humanoid groups at the beginning, which were helpful, but one thing I really, really wanted was a map. I tried to picture the characters’ routes, and I was checking modern maps of Africa, but realizing that the land has probably changed a lot since the time this book is set. I wanted to know exactly where they crossed the Great Rift Valley (which is pretty large, after all); what body of water they were crossing; and exactly where in the Levant they ended up. If there had been a map at the beginning of the book, I would have been flipping back and forth to that puppy every few pages, and perhaps would have been more engrossed in the story.

The Only Halloween Costume I’ll Ever Need

I went to the grocery store in this and got a lot of broad smiles.

I have the misfortune of liking costumes that look like people. Historical people, usually. It is always meant super sincerely — I really want to be that person — but can easily be taken the wrong way.

However, there is one interest group who still don’t mind if I represent them. Especially because, like the majority of people in the world, I am actually descended from them.

Neanderthals.

Faithful readers of this blog will object that, according to my own past posts, there is no reason to believe that Neanderthals carried clubs instead of more sophisticated weapons, or that they went around dressed in off-the-shoulder leopard skins. True. But a Halloween costume should be simple, iconic – a cartoon really – so that people can instantly recognize what you are supposed to be. So, I went with the off-the shoulder-leopard skin.

And used the remnants to make the handbag.

Neanderthal photo shoot

This was my dry run. The face paint was supposed to make my chin look weak, but apparently it comes off as a beard. Maybe on the 30th I’ll just give myself undereye circles and call it a day.

Also, you can’t see it, but there is a toy bone in my hair.

Boo!

Should be able to use this costume for years to come.

What More Could You Ask in a Reconstructed Face?

He’s a Dutch Neanderthal. Seriously.

As you know, I am both.

Take a minute and go look at his face.

Now come back.

Cute, right? Plus, he’s thought to have lived in “Doggerland, the now-submerged region between the United Kingdom and continental Europe.” If that’s not cool I don’t know what is. I recently saw a theory somewhere that Doggerland was the inspiration for Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth, that his cycle of stories is supposed to be a history of very ancient times before those lands were swallowed up by the sea.

Now, we could quibble about how much this facial reconstruction owes to imagination. We’d need to know how big was the “piece of skull” used in it. Was it just a fragment, or was it a good bit of the skull? But as for me, I’m not going to look a gift Neanderthal in the mouth. (So to speak.) Also, I know someone who looks a bit like this. A little more chin, a little less nose, but still a human face.

NW Visits Mesa Verde

I’ll give you serious Mesa Verde pictures, plus a bit more commentary, next week. But here is NW on her visit there …

This is the edge of Mesa Verde. (As you can see, NW is nearly overwhelmed by it.) You approach it from the north, where impressive cliffs like this loom over you. The road climbs, and then Mesa Verde itself is a vast elevated area with multiple smaller mesas and canyons where you find archaeological sites. Some of them are built along cliffs in the canyons, others are up on top of the mesa(s).

The whole region is studded with forests of burned trees. As we drove south from the entrance towards Wetherill Mesa (which is in the Southwest corner of the park), periodically we would see signs that said what year the fire in question happened. Some of these fires happened 10, 20, or 30 years ago. The climate is so dry that the burned trees are still standing and look fresh.

Here is the path created for tourists that leads down to Step House, which is a small cliff dwelling. As you can see, it’s leading down into a canyon.

The path down to Step House leads right past exposed sandstone cliffs like this one. Not surprisingly, rock shops are a really big deal all throughout the Four Corners region.

Step House, besides the remains of stone walls (cool!) also has one kiva and a few other, “proto-kivas,” like this one. A kiva is a round underground room. Modern pueblo Indians use kivas for ceremonies, so we assume that is how they were used by their ancestors at Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and other sites. This one is called a proto-kiva because it’s smaller. The ranger, who was standing there, told me the Step House was settled around 600 AD, which is when the proto-kivas were built. Then there was a gap of a few hundred years, and it was settled again around 1200 AD, when the larger kiva was built. Apparently it was settled by the same people, or at least by people who made the same kind of pots. (But remember the archaeological caveat, “Pots are not people.”) The burned wood is still there from about a thousand years ago! This dry climate is fantastic for archaeology!

Here is a shot looking down into the bigger kiva, though NW did not photobomb this one.

But she did pose on this ladder, which is a re-constructed one leading up into the house part of the pueblo.

Somewhere in the Step House complex, NW found these petroglyphs. She is resting her club in a satisfied manner as though she just completed these herself. She did not, though. But they were obviously made by people, and the people were obviously kindred spirits in their desire to incise symbols, some of which look an awful lot like the Ice Age writing that NW herself once used.

NW Poses on Stuff

Hi all, I’m back from vacation! I got plenty of material for blogging, both Neanderthal-Woman-related and non-NW, which I’ll be sharing with you over the next few weeks.

For now, here are some whimsical pictures of Neanderthal Woman. This little knitted cave person, custom made for me by a friend a few birthdays ago, turns out to be the perfect mascot to bring along on a trip and pose in various places. She is light, durable and squishy enough to carry in a pocket, and as a cave person, she is an endless source of prehistory-related tie-ins. She recently made the trip across the country and back dangling from my rearview mirror. Thanks, Arelis! NW is the gift that keeps on giving.

NW poses on a bison at Little America. This bison is actually slightly smaller than the aurochs which NW and her man used to kill and eat, back in the day.

It’s hard to tell, but here, she is posing on the back of a Sinclair dinosaur. Dinos power our vehicles, did you know?

Here, NW poses on the “Sky Prowler” puma sculpture found at the Colorado Information Center in Cortez, Colorado. Apparently, pumas are a big deal, symbolically, in the Four Corners region of the United States. I’m still looking into this.

I wanted you to see the puma’s paws, because they are so starry and beautiful.