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The Shelters of Stone
A Novel
Jean Auel

Fifth Book in Earth's Children Series
Published by Bantam Books/NY in 2002
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2005


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After following Ayla through her childhood year with the Clan of the Cave Bear, her growing up in the Valley of the Horse, her near adoption by the Mammoth Hunters, through her Plains of Passage with Jondalar, I couldn't resist reading of her adventures as she joined Jondalar's people (the Zeladonii) who live in the Shelters of Stone. The shelters are built into large horizontal clefts in limestone cliffs which are partitioned off into family spaces with a central hearth near the opening. In this adventure we get to enter the white-walled cave of Lascaux with its remarkable polychrome paintings as Auel describes it to us as it might have looked during the interstadial warming period between the Ice Ages in which Ayla and Jondalar lived.

Ayla confronts people who regard the Clan who raised her as animals. The Zeladonii avoided the Clan people and were amazed to find that Ayla was raised by them, that they could talk (albeit in sign language and gestures), and even that anyone could consider one of them "good-looking." Having lived through Ayla describing her foster parents from her perspective, in this story we get to see the same people from an outsiders perspective and listen as Ayla describes their ways and defends them against the few prejudiced and narrow-minded Zeladonii.

Ayla is initiated by the women of Jondalar's cave when Marona presented Ayla a gift of clothes and, after she dons them, discovers she had been given a boy's winter underwear as a prank. Instead of discarding them, Ayla decides to wear them proudly because they were after all comfortable. This turns the table on Marona who was jealous of the attentions and love that her old boy friend bestowed on this strange-speaking woman.

[page 126] The four women saw a large group crowded around someone, and when several people left, they could see Ayla at the center, still wearing the clothes they had given her. She hadn't even changed! Marona was shocked. She had been sure one of Jondalar's kin would have given the newcomer something more appropriate to wear — that is, if she dared to show her face again. But her plans to show up the strange woman that Jondalar brought back with him, after leaving her in the lurch with nothing but an empty promise, had instead shown what a spiteful and mean-spirited person she was. Marona's cruel joke had turned back on her, and she was fuming.

The eponymous shelters of stone are described in this passage which illuminates how they provided excellent homes for Jondalar's people. They had, for one thing, a built-in solar heating system which protected them from the frigid winters and the hot summers if chosen carefully.

[page 135, 136] Even during the Ice Age, when the leading edge of the nearest mass of ice was only a few hundred miles to the north, clear days could get quite hot at middle latitudes in the warm season. As the sun passed overhead, seeming to circle the great mother planet, it rode high in the southwest sky. The great protective overhanging cliff of the Ninth Cave, and others that faced south or southwest, cast a shadow beneath it in the heat of midday, offering a respite of enticing cool shade.
       And when the weather began to chill, heralding the severe season of intense cold in periglacial territories, they welcomed their more permanent and protected homes. During the glacial winters, though, sharp winds and temperatures well below freezing prevailed, the bitter cold days were often dry and clear. The shining orb hung low in the sky then, and the long rays of the afternoon sun could penetrate deep into a south-facing shelter to lay a kiss of solar warmth on the receptive stone. The great limestone abri [dugout or recessed area in a hillside] cherished its precious gift, holding it until evening, when the nip of frost bit deeper, and gave back its warmth to the protected space.

Auel carefully explains the "memories" of the Clan of the Cave Bear who lived in a valley. Could it have been the Neander Vally [Thal in Geman] where the skull which came to be called "Neanderthal" was first found? As indicated by their sloping foreheads, those people had no neocortex outer layer of their brains. Lacking those outer folds, they had no cognitive memory, what we call just memory today. That would come later to the Cro-Magnon people whose skulls were more vertical, indicating the presence of a neocortex which signaled the advent of the quantum leap in consciousness we call cognitive memory. This form of memory allows us when we pass five years old to record permanent images and sounds of events which happen to us. It also provides the basis for our mathematical abilities and most of what we call intelligence in this age.

The Clan had no such ability (or only an extremely limited form of cognitive memory), instead they had what they called "memories" — which one must be aware that the Clan used sign and gesture languages to point to the things they called "memories". That word "memories" was Ayla's word for what would otherwise be unexpressible in Clan communication as a word. Instead it would likely have been a grunt combined with a gesture. What they had was the ability to remember back over many reincarnations and these personal "memories" gave them abilities to know what to do automatically because they were born with memories of having done these things before. This is the type of memories animals are born with which we call instinct.

In addition, the Clan had doylic memories, the type of memory that humans now have only until they are five years old when cognitive memory capability replaces it. The doylic memories provide thereafter the automatic recall of events before five years old upon appropriate triggering of some component of the memory. This form of memory provides the substrate for all human emotions, feelings, and various internal bodily states of respiration, circulatory rate, muscle tensions, and visceral organ homeostasis. For humans today, the science of doyletics (1) tells us that we undergo a memory transition age at five years old when we transit from doylic memory to cognitive memory capability. After five humans today can retrieve doylic memories, but cannot store new doylic memories. The humans of Ayla's Cave Bear Clan likely experienced no memory transition from doylic to cognitive at any age of maturation, but rather that they remained with doylic storage and retrieval capability for their entire lives. Thus, as Auel writes below, "once they learned something new, they never forgot." Doylic memory is powerful one-trial learning and is permanent, unless and until it is replaced by a cognitive memory, which the Clan did not have.

[page 162, 163] As time went on, she grew to understand that their memory worked differently from hers. Though she didn't fully understand what they were, she knew that people of the Clan had "memories" that she did not have, not in the same way. In a form of instinct that had evolved along a somewhat divergent track, the people of the Clan were born with most of the knowledge they would need to survive, information that over time had been assimilated into the genes of their individual ancestors in the same way that instinctive knowledge was acquired by any animal, including the human one.
       Rather than having to learn and memorize, as Ayla did, Clan children only had to be "reminded" once in order to trigger their inherent racial memories. The people of the Clan knew a great deal about their ancient world and how to live in it, and once they learned something new, they never forgot; but unlike Ayla and her kind, they did not learn new things easily. Change was hard for them, but when the Others arrived in their land, they brought change with them.

Auel's books are always crammed with amazing insights as to how things we know and do today were arrived at. Like Ayla's fire-stone which she carried like we carry a cigarette lighter today. A piece of flint struck against iron pyrite gives a long, hot spark which is enough to create a fire in some tinder. In this next passage she explains something I've always wondered, "How do left and right banks of rivers get named?" We have a town alongside a bayou in Louisiana called Bayou Gauche, which means "left bayou," but who decides which side is left and which is right? Auel to the rescue.

[page 462] However, after a short distance, water hugged steep cliffs on the other side, the left bank, which was on the right-hand side as one traveled toward the source. "Left bank" and "right bank" were terms that always referred to the sides of rivers when going downstream in the direction of flowing current.

Or it might be the naming of something as familiar as the Milky Way galaxy that fills our night sky.

[page 506] By the time they started back to the camp of the Ninth Cave, the sun was dropping over the horizon in a blaze of gold coruscating in resplendent beams through red clouds. When they reached the bank of The River, flowing smoothly with hardly a ripple at that point, they continued upstream until they crossed the small creek that joined it. They stopped for a moment to watch the evening sky transform itself in a show of dazzling radiance as gold transmuted into shades of vermilion that waned into shimmering purple, then darkened to deep blue ,as the first glittering sky fires appeared. Soon the sooty black night became a backdrop to the multitude of blazing lights that filled the summer sky, with a concentrated accumulation wending its way like a path across, the vault above. Ayla recalled the line from the Mother's Song, "The Mother's hot milk laid a path through the sky." Is that how it was made? she wondered as they turned toward the welcoming fires of their nearby camp.

Or how to make a cairn of rocks so that it will protect the contents from the weather as in this next passage.

[page 611] She pointed to an arrangement of stones near the gate. It was a traveler's cairn that Kareja had made for her. Ayla only had to remove a few rocks to reach the space inside where she could keep a few things, like a leather riding blanket. The rocks were overlapped in such a way that rainwater would flow over the top and not seep inside. The leader of the Eleventh Cave showed her how to put them back to keep the inside dry. Similar cairns were placed along several well-used routes with emergency fire-making materials and often a warm cloak inside. Other cairns had dried food inside. Occasionally both would be in one cairn, but the food cairns were broken into more often, and bears, wolverines, or badgers, the most frequent offenders, usually vandalized and scattered everything.

Or the origin of our quaint expression for getting married, "tying the knot". It should surprise no one that Ayla and Jondalar finally become married in this episode and settle down to have a baby in their own cave.

[page 712, 713] Then Zelandoni held out both her arms, as though trying to embrace everyone there. "All the Caves of the Zelandonii," she said, her tone commanding attention. "Jondalar and Ayla have chosen each other. It has been agreed, and they have been accepted by the Ninth Cave. What do you say to this joining?".
       There was a roar of approval. If anyone had disagreed, the objection would have been drowned out. The donier waited for the noise to subside, then she said, "Doni, the Great Earth Mother, approves this joining otHer children. By Blessing Ayla, She has smiled on this union." At her signal, Ayla and Jondalar held hands and extended them toward the Zelandoni Who Was First. She took a simple leather thong, wrapped it around their joined hands, and tied it with a knot. When they returned from their trial period, they would return the thong whole, not cut, and in exchange they would be given matched necklaces, a gift from the zelandonia. That would be the signal that their joining was sanctioned and other gifts could now be given..
      "The knot has been tied. You are mated. May Doni always smile on you." The young couple circled around to face outward toward the people, and Zelandoni announced, "They are now Jondalar and Ayla of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii."

One of the adaptations that the human skull had to make to accommodate the larger neocortex is that it had to form itself into overlapping plates so that the larger skull could make it through the pelvic girdle of the mother. Like tectonic plates on the Earth the plates of the baby's skull slide apart after it's born to allow for the neocortex to come to full size by the age of three years old. The brain doubles in mass during this time and the place where the plates of the skull don't quite match up until that time are called the "soft-spot," which I recall being warned about when I was holding small babies growing up. If Auel is correct in this passage, the Neanderthal skulls did not have this tectonic plate adaptation because the smaller skulls (sans neocortex) did not require them. Thus a baby born from a mating of a Neanderthal father and a Cro-Magnon mother ("mixed spirits")would be a very difficult delivery due to the simultaneous occurrence of a large brain and an incomplete or absent tectonic plate adaptation ("they don't give as much").

[page 850] "I think that also contributed to your difficulty. From what I understand, children of mixed spirits can be very difficult for women to deliver. It's something about their heads, I'm told. They are shaped differently, and too big. They don't give as much," Zelandoni said. "This baby may not be as hard for you, Ayla. You're doing fine, you know."

Another marvelous read by Auel. Great stories, interaction between characters, touchingly beautiful episodes of intercourse (sharing pleasures) between Ayla and Jondalar, tales of people reacting to the first tame animals in history (two horses and a wolf), tales of jealousy, drunkenness, abandonment, support groups, marriage customs, and the daily activities of a people before history which are made to sound as comfortable and normal as country life today.

---------------------------- Footnotes -------------------------------

Footnote 1. The science of doyletics owes a lot to Jean Auel's books. I came to see as I developed the science of doyletics that the memory transition age in modern humans today represents the interstadial time of human evolution when Ayla lived. Five years old is the time that humans today progress from Neanderthal to Cro-Magnon capability of human intelligence and cognition, in other words, we move from the Clan of the Cave Bear of Ayla's foster parents to the Zelandonii of her in-laws.

Return to text directly before Footnote 1.


      Earth's Children Series by Jean M. Auel

               1. The Clan of the Cave Bear
            2. The Valley of the Horses
         3. The Mammoth Hunters
4. Plains of Passage
      5. The Shelters of Stone
  6. The Painted Caves


Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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