Cooking "Clan of the Cave Bear" Style!

Image of Bar

I stumbled across this information some years ago. Going through the information again I decided that it needs to be retained. I was unable to get a hold of Eric, his email addy was no longer available. Just another reason to save this information. Like me, you may find this information useful. John

The information below is from Eric Pettifor

Ayla was slicing pieces of yam to put into a skin pot that was boiling over a cooking fire.

Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel (page 140)

While looking for a project to explore for an archaeology course at Simon Fraser University (Arch 372, taught by Michael Wilson) I recalled that I had read somewhere that cooking could be done in a hide container over a fire. When I called my sister in Hope, British Columbia, to inquire if I could use her land to build a fire on, she informed me that I had probably read this in Clan of the Cave Bear. I bought a copy and fortuitously flipped directly to the above quote on page 140. Inquiries to knowledgeable persons failed to yield any knowledge of this method, and a query to Jean Auel to date remains unanswered [April 26, 1995: received letter from Jean Auel, but no specific references as they are buried in her research notes, and she is hard at work ~ good news Earth's Children fans! ~ on book 5.]

Looking for information on construction of such a pot, I came across the book Plains Indian and Mountain Man Arts and Crafts: An Illustrated Guide, by Charles W. Overstreet (1993). Herein I found information on the difference between rawhide and tanned leather, and several projects, none of which were a pot, but interesting for construction methods.

I ordered two half hides of rawhide. Overstreet's book had not prepared me for what I picked up at the Greyhound parcel depot two rolls of a stiff material not unlike plastic! I had thought that I would essentially be making a couple of leather bags, and that rawhide was simply a more robust form of leather.


Two pots were simply constructed from a single piece of skin each. The first step was cutting out circular pieces which would eventually be attached to metal rings purchased from Tandy Leather in Vancouver. Had I chosen to go all the way with an accurate reconstruction of a hypothetical Neanderthal pot, the rings could possibly have been fashioned from green willow (Overstreet, 1993). However, my main concern was to test whether this method of cooking was indeed possible.

Due to the difference in size of the half-hides and their irregularities, one pot would have a diameter of 14", the other of 18". There is a mathematical correspondence between the diameter of the circle cut from the hide, and the diameter of the ring it is to be attached to to form the mouth of the pot. Unfortunately, not being a mathematician, I used trial and error, starting with roughly twice the diameter of the ring and cut back from there, winding up with approximately 24" for the 14" ring and 28" inches for the 18" ring. The 14" inch was the first made and the diameter I finally arrived at made it a bit deeper than what I'd envisioned, and it had a 'scrunchier' (more pleats) rim than the 18" pot I created subsequently. Thus I called it 'the ugly pot', and the 18" one 'the good pot'.

To construct them I first drew circles of the incorrect diameter (2X) on the rawhide, also taking care to mark points 1/3 of the circumference apart around the edges for support thongs to be attached later, and then cut the circles out using Wiss Metal Master tin snips ("Made from special molybdenum steel, the non-slip serrated jaws cut up to 18-gauge low carbon cold rolled steel."). I marveled that anyone could have worked with this material using only stone tools, but I also suspect that necessary cutting was either done prior to it drying, or else there was water enough to spare nearby to soak it in. That's the next step. For my purposes the bath tub served well enough for soaking the rawhide circles.

scrap image


I made rawhide strips for attaching the hide to the rings. These are easily made from scrap, starting from the edge of a piece and cutting around in a spiral pattern towards the center. This then needs to be soaked as well to make it pliable enough to work with.

spiral cut to make rawhide
thongs from a piece of scrap

holes image


The next step was to make a dual set of holes around the circumference, as well as three extra sets of two for the support thongs at the points previously marked.

Then I pressed the circle into the ring and began attaching it.

thread image The long rawhide 'string' went through one hole, under the ring, then through the corresponding hole in towards the centre. From thence it went over to the next hole, through and under the ring to the corresponding hole and through towards the outside. And so on, stopping only a moment at the support holes to attach a thong ring, until the pot was complete and ready to hang-dry by the three thong rings.

potsml image Unfortunately, I lacked the wit to take clear pictures of the pots prior to their exposure to fire, but I did make a small (5" diameter) trial pot, shown here.

This has roughly the proportions of the good pot, perhaps a little shallower. I wanted the pots to be wider than tall on the premise that cooking would be more efficient if a wider area was exposed to the flames.


The first trials took place on Sunday the 10th of March, 1996 at Rosewood Gardens (a garden centre) in Hope, British Columbia, the proprietor of which is my sister Betty.

tripod image The pots were suspended over a fire from a tripod constructed of bamboo. While Auel's Neandertals wouldn't have had access to this material, it is strong and readily available when scavenging around a garden centre, since such poles are used as supports for plants. The circular thongs on the pot were attached to leather thongs which in turn were attached to a wire ring with a hook on it (another material Neandertals wouldn't have had access to, but since the home of my sister and her partner is on the site of the garden centre, coat hangers were easy to scavenge as well). The pot could be hung from a ring attached to another long thong, this also of leather, which passed through a metal ring secured to the top of the tripod. The tripod itself was held together with a strip of rawhide tied wet so that when it dried it bound everything quite securely. On one leg of the tripod was a metal loop (again coat hanger) to which the long thong could be attached, and the height of the pot could thereby be adjusted.

The Icons below will guide you to the other Cooking Clan of the Cave Bear Style Pages

Page Icon Page Icon Page Icon
Home Icon E-Mail Icon

 Date & Inn Image