The field of palaeontology has allowed us to study several species of pre-modern humans in great detail. It has given us a new respect for their relatively sophisticated cultures. This article is not concerned with such trivialities.
The caveman has been a staple of popular culture for over half a century now. He is easily recognised from his stooping gait, quizzical expression and fur clothing. In scientific terms, cavemen are largely Cro Magnon Man or neanderthals. Cro Magnons are anatomically identical to modern humans1. Neanderthals are rather stouter than average, with a receding chin and sloped brow, but with a fully upright posture. In spite of this, cavemen are invariably hunched, with a protruding brow and thrusting lower lip that gives them a permanently-brooding look.
Neanderthals lived for around 100,000 years, from 130000 BC to roughly 24000 BC. Cro Magnon Man may have arisen as early as 160000 BC. Cavemen lived exactly 100,000 years ago (or 100000 BC; sources vary). Strangely, cavemen dwelt alongside dinosaurs (they died out 65,000,000 years ago, give or take). This may be connected with the uncanny ability of cavemen to survive for thousands of years trapped in ice, only to be revived accidentally in 1980s suburban America.
Unlike their real-world counterparts, who developed a wide range of axes, knives, spears and arrows, cavemen have only ever developed one weapon. This is a curious form of club, apparently carved with great dexterity from a tree branch. It is wide and knobbly at the painful end, narrowing seamlessly to an ergonomic handle. Since this looks nothing like any part of any known tree, it can only be assumed that somewhere there are hordes of caveman artisans churning them out.
Mating rituals appear to be sophisticated and involved. The male may spend many hours selecting the perfect club and honing its weight and balance. He will then bash his chosen female over the head and drag her back to his cave by her hair.
Further contrasting with all known stone age cultures, cavemen show little interest in personal decoration. While those few palaeolithic cultures that have left self-depictions in the archaeological record - as well as those stone-age cultures that survived into the 20th Century - universally use brightly-coloured cloth, body-paints, masks and feathers to brighten themselves up, cavemen wear only brown furs (or leathers) and a thin coating of black or grey dirt. These rags never show any sign of having been worked, yet conveniently cover just enough to assuage 20th-Century western sensibilities. It can only be assumed that the origins of those sensibilities must lie with our caveman ancestors.
The only known examples of personal decoration among cavemen are: a small bone, apparently the thigh bone of a cat, that the female of the species pushes through a bun in her hair; and strings of teeth on pieces of leather used as necklaces.
Linguistically, cavemen can be divided into two sub-species. Although apparently endowed with fully working vocal chords, early caveman language seems to consist entirely of the word 'ug'. Later cavemen speak stilted English, with a rather limited understanding of tenses. Palaeolinguists can only speculate that their language must be highly tonal and sophisticated, far beyond the comprehension of modern Homo sapiens.
Good examples of cavemen in modern culture include: