Guide for book clubs
(also available as googledoc HERE)
Writing this book was an extraordinary journey. It began with a childhood fascination with the past, gained impetus with a teenage awakening to the richness of the Pleistocene, and was finally directed via my academic career as an expert in the archaeology of the Neanderthals.
While being aware of the enormous privilege of studying Neanderthals – whether excavating ancient sites, holding the elegant artefacts they left behind or simply devouring scholarly articles about them –, there is little room in science to explore deeper emotional connections. My experiences as an archaeologist materialised distinct visions and scenes in my mind, which emerged from a longstanding love of literature, language, and poetry as a means to evoke place, time and feeling.
Kindred is an attempt to marry together my scientific training in focusing on critical consideration of evidence to make informed inferences about Neanderthals, with a creative calling to share the astonishing details we can reconstruct about their lives. And even more, to communicate the sheer wonders of deep time and vanished worlds and beasts, and explore what it meant and means to be human; of different sorts. Choosing to write the book this way – even including narrative scenes and poems – was an intimidating decision, but I hope the right one.
Questions for reading and discussion
1) What was your mental image of Neanderthals before reading the book? Did it change by the end?
2) What fact did you find most surprising about the lives of Neanderthals? Why do you think it was unexpected for you?
3) Which chapter do you think you learned most from, and why?
4) What was your response to the narrative sections and the art at the beginning of the chapters? Were you able to connect them to the archaeological examples discussed in the chapter? Which do you find the most interesting/affecting?
If you enjoy art, try sketching out any images the book brought to mind for you.
5) Hearths feature a lot in the book. How will you feel next time you sit by a fire, knowing how important they were to Neanderthals?
6) What three methods or techniques in archaeology do you think have been most important in reconstructing Neanderthal lives, and why?
7) If you could time travel back to 1864 when the Forbes skull from Gibraltar arrived in Britain, how would you describe what we know about Neanderthals now to Charles Darwin to prepare him for seeing it?
8) Many different individual Neanderthals, as represented by their physical remains or DNA, are discussed in the book. Which of them did you find most interesting?
9) Based on your reading of the book, which factors do you think are most important in explaining why Neanderthals did not survive (beyond in our DNA)?
10) The Epilogue brings together themes around extinction and climate crisis. What did you think about this as the ending of the book?
11) What do you think are the most striking similarities and differences between us and Neanderthals?
12) If you have had your own DNA analysed, what is your Neanderthal %? And did this book alter how you feel about this genetic legacy?
13) Do you think Neanderthals should be cloned and made ‘de-extinct’?
Kindred is based on over a decade of academic research, and most of the many hundred of scientific publications I read are not openly accessible. There is an alphabetic bibliography for the book at rebeccawraggsykes.com/biblio.
For a couple of examples of in-depth discussion of some of the sites covered in the book, these publications are good starting points:
Boismier et al. 2012. Neanderthals Amongst Mammoths. Excavations at Lynford Quarry, Norfolk. Free PDF here:
Carbonell, E. 2012. High Resolution Archaeology and Neanderthal Behaviour. Time and Space in Level J of Abric Romaní (Capellades, Spain). Springer.
Coward, F., Hosfield, R., Pope, M., Wenban Smith, F. 2015. Settlement, Society and Cognition in Human Evolution. Landscapes In Mind. Cambridge University Press.
In addition, if you are interested in exploring fictional representations of Neanderthals and also Palaeolithic life, these are some examples:
William Golding, 1955. The Inheritors. Faber and Faber
Jean Auel, 1980. The Clan of the Cave Bear. Crown.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, 1987. Reindeer Moon. Houghton Mifflin.
Claire Cameron, 2017. The Last Neanderthal. Little Brown
James Bradley, 2020. Ghost Species. Hodder Studio.