Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Some Research for People of the Wind

 My most research-intensive series is the People of the Wind mystery series. Those are the books featuring a Neanderthal tribe and set 30,000 years ago. I took the artistic license of putting the tribe in North America. Aside from that, I try to make everything about them and the surroundings as true to life as possible. We don’t know everything about them, of course, but we’re learning more all the time.

I had to research every single step of the way, beginning with the climate and the appearance of the land at that time. I learned that much of the present day Midwest was an open spruce parkland with balsam poplar and quaking aspen, also mires, lakes, and ponds. The landscape looked much as Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Michigan and parts of Canada look today. The trees growing then are those that grow now in the Rocky Mountains.  The summers were cooler then and the winters a bit colder. I was astounded to learn that the Mississippi River didn’t exist yet! This was the time before the advance of the last glacier to cover much of the Midwest. The Mississippi was created on its retreat. (1)

The animals that were around were very different. What are called mega-fauna, very large animals, mostly became extinct on this continent at around 10,000 years ago. Some of these were giant sloths, mammoths, mastodons, muskox (which are not extinct), stag-moose, dire wolves, short-faced bears, giant beavers, peccaries, sabertooth and scimitar cats, American cave lion, tapirs, and camelops (ancestor to modern camels), eve an giant version of bison, just to name a few. There were also very tiny horses that migrated to Asia and disappeared here until modern horses were brought here by the Spaniards.  (2)

Then there was the task of creating the characters. I had to know what they might have looked like, what they ate, what they wore. I learned that they largely ate meat and only ate other things when it was unavailable. They would have had to have foot coverings and more than an animal skin draped across a shoulder to survive the climates they lived through. (They existed from 250,000 years ago to about 28,000 years ago—a long, long time.) It is likely they dried meat from one hunt until they got more. It takes more than a bit of ingenuity to bring down a mammoth when you’re about 5 1/2 feet tall.

I researched if they could speak or not and, from there, what their language might have sounded like. That involved studying how babies learn to speak, how people with impediments speak, what early languages were like, and great stuff like that.

That’s not the extent of my research, just a bit of it, to give you an idea. Hope you enjoyed the post!

(2) Ice Age Mammals of North America: A Guide to the Big, the Hairy, and the Bizarre Ian M. Lange
(3) Journal of Archeological Science 6/3/2009 “Energy Use by Eem Neanderthals” by Bent Sørensen.


  1. This is fascinating. I'm looking forward to reading People of the Wind. Love the title, too!

    I read once that ancient human footprints have been found in the states and that some were along a riverbed where the bank revealed a prehistoric body? of a boy.

    My favorite student job was at the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Really fun reading research reports and examining artifacts!

  2. Is People of the Wind a set of books or 2nd in the series? I want to start the reading in order.

  3. I should have posted the book covers! Doh. There are 2 out now, DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE (#1) and DEATH ON THE TREK (#2).

    I waste--I mean spend a lot of time not writing and doing research when i'm working on these.

  4. Okay! Great!

    I wouldn't expect this to be your favorite task, but I like reading a number of blogs and often make buying decisions as a result.

  5. You're right, blogs are a chore, but they're an avenue that might reach people.