The effects of the last Ice Age on the North Sea and its tributary rivers are the keystone to the alternative history I created for The Last Rhinemaiden and the Cuckoo Club stories.
But the Ice Ages which covered much of northern Europe with glaciation has been a minor fascination of mine since I learned about them at school. (Scottish geography lessons about the Würm glaciation tend to be very simple – “here’s what it says in the book, now go look out the window and spot drumlins“).
Scotland didn’t have much in the way of human habitation during the Ice Ages. Most of the country was covered in a thick layer of permanent ice, many metres deep. The slate (and granite) wiped clean.
There were no Neanderthals in Scotland. Far, far to the South, in the Perigord region of what is now France, they lived in caves in limestone cliffs along the rivers which run out to the Bay of Biscay and never saw the need to travel north.
And then, modern humans arrived in their valleys. Was this a shock, or did they know in advance, and retreat ever westwards until they ran out of land at Gibraltar, leaving little trace behind?
I’ve just finished reading The Mind In The Cave by David Lewis-Williams. He postulates that the prehistoric artists who painted cave art had the same brains as modern humans – because they were modern humans.
So while we don’t know the stories they told to accompany their illustrations, we can take a good guess at the reasons why those people painted their fabulous paintings on the deep cave walls.
What does this have to do with writing?
The history of Science Fiction is shot through with stories about the search for other intelligent life, in space or in the far future or in a parallel universe.
The search for life on Mars has propelled spaceships to the red planet and beyond, to where telescopes point to planets in distant galaxies with the potential to support life.
Folk tales of the “Little People”, Trolls, Elves, man-apes, Yetis, the Orang Pendek, and myriads of other names for not-quite-human peoples which might still walk the Earth are abundant in every culture.
How much of a Big Deal is this?
We have been looking for another intelligent life form on the planet since the first creation myths were invented.
In the last ten years or so, evidence has been found that modern humans aren’t the Big I Am we thought we were.
The humans who came before us had quite a bit of what makes us special.
If the research can prove that Neanderthals made art – even simple art forms like hand prints and shapes which might have been a language of sorts – what about their ability to tell stories?
Makes my brain sizzle.