The best books on prehistory and what life was like in the Stone Age

Who am I?

I became intrigued by Upper Paleolithic societies when I studied prehistory at the University of Bordeaux. Over time, I became more and more involved in trying to understand why some Upper Paleolithic societies produced such great art – both painted and carved. After years of studying hunter-gatherer cultures, I concluded that the Upper Paleolithic groups producing fine art were not simple egalitarian groups, but were almost certainly more complex types of hunter-gatherers like the ethnographic groups in California and the Northwest Coast with striking economic and social inequalities – and great art. I decided to put all these ideas into an adventure novel for young readers: The Eyes of the Leopard.  


I wrote...

The Eyes of the Leopard

By Brian D. Hayden, Eric Carlson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Eyes of the Leopard

What is my book about?

The Eyes of the Leopard is a historical adventure novel for young and old readers based on a lifetime of research into hunting and gathering societies by archaeologist Dr. Brian Hayden. It is his view of what life and society were like 20,000 years ago in Southwestern France, where he studied (University of Bordeaux) and conducted research in some of the important painted caves from the Upper Paleolithic. He also used experiences from working with Australian Aborigines to document their use of stone tools, as well as working with more complex hunter-gatherers in the Interior of British Columbia. The book has been acclaimed by professional archaeologists, young readers, and others as a vivid, exciting, realistic account of these societies and a wonderful read.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Les Hommes aux Temps de Lascaux: 40000-10000 avant J.C.

Brian D. Hayden Why did I love this book?

Les Hommes aux Temps de Lascaux is in French, but it is the best, most comprehensive summary of the things we know about life in the Upper Paleolithic, from about 35,000 to 10,000 years ago. It covers all the basics (physical types, chronology, stone and bone tools, hunting-fishing, and plant foods) without delving into the minutiae that would only interest specialists. Beaune also deals with the arts, clothing and adornments, games, feasts, music, use of caves, funeral practices, and other interesting aspects of society. A newer version has just appeared, but is also only available in French; the title is Préhistoire Intime: Vive dans la Peau des Homo Sapiens.

By Sophie A. de Beaune,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Les Hommes aux Temps de Lascaux as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

L'image classique de l'homme paléolithique, misérablement accoutré de haillons, condamné à pourchasser le gibier et fuyant au fond des grottes, a bien changé. Certes, l'homme de ces temps n'avait pas encore appris à domestiquer ni les plantes ni les animaux, mais il connaissait parfaitement son environnement et tirait parti de toutes ses ressources avec beaucoup d'intelligence. De plus, il suffit de se plonger dans l'univers de cavernes ornées telles que Lascaux, Niaux, ou encore la grotte Chauvet, récemment découverte en Ardèche, pour mesurer la richesse de l'imaginaire et des conceptions religieuses de ces grands chasseurs.
Dans un style simple et…


Book cover of The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves

Brian D. Hayden Why did I love this book?

The use of deep caves for rituals and creating extraordinary paintings has provoked many discussions on why people did this so long ago. There are many theories, but one of the most discussed ideas is that the paintings were produced by shamans as records of their spiritual visions, or to connect with their animal spirit helpers. Lewis-Williams and Clottes are the leading proponents of this interpretation. They rely on comparisons of the Stone Age art with art produced in historic times by Bushman shamans in South Africa. This is an excellent introduction to Paleolithic art and arguments about the art. My own explanation shares some aspects of their model, but focuses on secret societies (shamans were usually members). This is also a main feature in my own book.

By Jean Clottes, David Lewis-Williams, Sophie Hawkes (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shamans of Prehistory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French


Book cover of Underground Religion: Cult and Culture in Prehistoric Italy

Brian D. Hayden Why did I love this book?

This is a bit more of a technical archaeology book dealing with the archaeological interpretation of prehistoric cave use, but focusing on the Grotta di Porto Badisco and its Upper Paleolithic use by secret societies (in Whitehouse's interpretation). But it ranges far wider, looking at related finds from other areas and times in Upper Paleolithic Europe. Ruth Whitehouse places the use of this cave and others in their ritual and prehistoric contexts, but also examines their social, psychological, and even structuralist relationships. It is a unique and important publication from these perspectives and has been very influential in my own publications.

Book cover of Social Inequality Before Farming?

Brian D. Hayden Why did I love this book?

This is actually an edited book of papers dealing with the social organization among prehistoric and ethnographic hunter-gatherers. It is one of the few publications that discusses issues like inequality from a variety of different viewpoints, including diametrically opposed views about Upper Paleolithic societies – whether they were egalitarian or non-egalitarian. Another important aspect of this volume is the inclusion of ethnographic hunter-gatherers to generate insights into how prehistoric hunter-gatherers could have organized themselves. Some unique features include the examination of dogs as indicators of inequalities and the nature of the cave paintings as indicators of inequalities. Mobility, population densities, surpluses, and many other factors all create a heady brew of debate and intriguing ideas. This book is highly recommended, even if a bit technical.

Book cover of Ce que l'art préhistorique dit de nos origines

Brian D. Hayden Why did I love this book?

Although this book is in French, it is the most detailed defense to date of the view that at least some Upper Paleolithic societies were non-egalitarian, i.e. that they had significant wealth and power differences between individuals or families. The title emphasizes art, but this is really just a point of departure for understanding the entire economic, social, and political organization of certain Upper Paleolithic groups and why the great works of art were produced. It uses the initial arguments that I developed in an earlier book (in French) to structure the supporting data. So, naturally, I am favorably disposed towards it. But it is a good book as well! If you can read French, this is highly recommended.

By Emmanuel Guy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ce que l'art préhistorique dit de nos origines as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Que nous dit l’art préhistorique des sociétés qui l’ont produit ? À distance des interprétations religieuses communément admises, ce livre suggère d’en repenser la valeur sociale.
Ce n’est pas sans raison, en effet, que l’art des grottes se signale, dès ses origines, par un goût marqué pour l’imitation. L’histoire de l’art nous rappelle à juste titre que le prestige suscité par l’imitation sert toujours les intérêts politiques d’une élite (voir la Grèce athénienne ou la Renaissance florentine). Mais plus encore, le savoir-faire exceptionnel qui est mis en œuvre dans les grottes révèlerait déjà des statuts différenciés entre les individus ;…


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Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…


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