Inventing the cave man

From Darwin to the Flintstones

By Andrew Horrall

Inventing the cave man


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-1384-9
  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £20.00
  • Published Date: May 2017
  • BIC Category: Humanities / Historiography, Humanities / Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900, Historiography, c 1500 onwards to present day, HISTORY / Historiography, HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century, Modern History, History, Humanities / Social & cultural history, HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century, HISTORY / Social History, Social & cultural history, History & Archaeology


Fred Flintstone lived in a sunny Stone Age American suburb, but his ancestors were respectable, middle-class Victorians. They were very amused to think that prehistory was an archaic version of their own world because it suggested that British ideals were eternal. In the 1850s, our prehistoric ancestors were portrayed in satirical cartoons, songs, sketches and plays as ape-like, reflecting the threat posed by evolutionary ideas. By the end of the century, recognisably human cave men inhabited a Stone Age version of late-imperial Britain, sending-up its ideals and institutions. Cave men appeared constantly in parades, civic pageants and costume parties. In the early 1900s American cartoonists and early Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton adopted and reimagined this very British character, cementing it in global popular culture.

Cave men are an appealing way to explore and understand Victorian and Edwardian Britain.


'Canadian archivist Horrall explores the caveman character as conceived from its Victorian imaginings to the present. Juxtaposing his history against early man's Darwinian roots, Horrall presents a caveman whose history is one part contrived and one part idealized. Spread throughout the book are illustrations and newspaper clippings from popular Victorian publications from the 1800s and on, including Vanity Fair, the Dundee Evening Post, and Punch. Of note is Horrall's chapter on the "missing link" concept and how the caveman image was transformed by Tennyson Reed, the first artist to depict cavemen comically. Reed's illustrations gained a foothold in modern society, transforming the stereotypical aggressive Neanderthal that threatened Victorian mores into a powerless comical absurdity. This ability to embed a satirized caveman into the Victorian literary mind would forever alter its contemporary existence with society, leading to cartoons like enduringly humorous The Flintstones. Inventing the Cave Man presents both a serious yet academically humorous narrative of how early Victorians would have consumed and embellished on the caveman image. The book's entertaining and lighthearted approach to a subject that is easily overlooked within the canon of prehistory is a helpful one, allowing casual researchers an easy read.'
J. Jocson-Singh, Leonard Lief Library, Lehman College CUNY, Choice connect, July 2018 Vol. 55, No. 11


1 Introduction
2 Mass culture: the Victorian world picture
3 Darwin, Du Chaillu and Mr Gorilla: the lions of the season
4 The parents of Adam and Eve: missing links
5 Antediluvian pictorial fun: E. T. Reed and the prehistoric peeps
6 He of the auburn locks: George Robey, the Edwardian cave man
7 Cave dwellers of Flanders: the First World War
8 Modern times: the Victorian cave man's long afterlife
9 Conclusion


Andrew Horrall is Senior Archivist at Library and Archives Canada

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