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Science behind the fiction: 'Clan of the Cave Bear' author to speak

Jean Auel
April 07, 2011

Jean Auel talk is part of ASU Origins Project Science and Culture Festival

Bestselling author of “The Clan of the Cave Bear” Jean Auel will discuss her new book, “The Land of Painted Caves,” and describe how science informs her work at 1 p.m., April 10 at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Auel will discuss the impact that science and science discovery have had on human life with Ed Sylvester, a science writer and professor of journalism at Arizona State University.

“A Conversation with Jean Auel” is part of the ASU Origins Project Science and Culture Festival held April 7-11 at ASU and the Tempe Center for the Arts. The event with Auel is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow the discussion.

Auel is the author of the successful Earth's Children books, a series of novels set in prehistoric Europe that explores interactions of Cro-Magnon people with Neanderthals. Her novels have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide. The series consists of “The Clan of the Cave Bear,” “The Valley of Horses,” “The Mammoth Hunters,” “The Plains of Passage,” and “The Shelters of Stone.” Now, nearly 30 years after the first book, the newest in the set, “The Land of Painted Caves,” wraps up the story of Ayla, the series’ heroine.

Born and raised in Chicago, Auel was a voracious reader all of her life but did not begin writing until at the age of 40, with a husband and family of five children, she was inspired by the idea of writing a short story that was as entertaining and informative as the books she enjoyed herself. She also began to research mankind’s earliest history and immersed herself in the available historical and scientific data, learning everything she could about life more than 30,000 years ago, including spending the night in a snow cave softening hides with deer brains and learning to start a fire without matches. 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.”

Auel received an undergraduate degree from Portland State University and an MBA from the University of Portland. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon, and holds four honorary degrees. Auel was awarded the French government's Ministry of Culture "Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters” medal.

The event is part of the ASU Origins Project's Science & Culture Festival 2011 weekend of events that explore the interface of science and culture. For more information on the festival, visit or contact

This event is sponsored by the ASU Origins Project in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Institute of Human Origins and The Poisoned Pen bookstore. More information about the ASU Origins Project Science and Culture Festival is online at or at 480-965-0053. The Tempe Center for the Arts is at 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway; online at

Written by Julie Russ.

Carol Hughes,
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences