Dance of the Tiger: A Novel of the Ice Age

Kurten, Bjorn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jun-02-2003
  • Last revised: Nov-10-2011


This novel takes place during the Ice Age at a time when modern humans (Cro-Magnon) have immigrated into northern Europe and begun to interact with the Neanderthal people, who have already been successful inhabitants of Europe for perhaps 100,000 years. Within several thousand years of this fateful encounter, which took place about 35,000 years ago, the Neanderthal people had completely died out. Early mitochondrial DNA evidence indicated that modern humans are unrelated to the Neanderthal--their gene pool simply disappeared--although more recent studies show that perhaps 2 to 3% of our mitochondrial DNA was inherited from the Neanderthals, who prbably died out as a result of modern humans' greater success in competing for food and other resources.

In this scenario modern humanity originated from a version of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, of brother "killing" brother, except in the paleontological case the younger brother was responsible for the demise of the elder. Bjorn Kurten, an eminent European paleontologist, used this novel to present his ingenious theory to explain what happened.

The story is told from the perspective of Tiger, a young black (Cro-Magnon) man whose father is killed in a raid by men from another band of blacks. Later, he devotes his life to searching for his father's killer. In the process he travels widely and encounters a band of whites (Neanderthal), a seemingly primitive form of humanity known to Tiger's folk as "trolls." The trolls have a high-pitched, bird-like language that Tiger is eventually able to learn, even though it is virtually impossible for whites (trolls) to learn the black language, because they are unable to articulate the broad range of vowel sounds it includes.

The whites are also different in that their bands are equalitarian, with women playing major leadership roles, while black tribes are strictly hierarchical and patriarchal. Tiger travels with the white band and mates with Veyde, one of its prominent members. However, one day the band is decimated by a marauding black tribe led by the warrior, Shelk.

In the story's climax Tiger carries out a scheme to infiltrate the "bad" tribe and kill Shelk, who he believes is his father's murderer. In fact, ther real murderer was Shelk's twin brother, also called Shelk. The two had used the same name to make it appear that "Shelk" could be in two places at once, thus proving he had supernatural powers. We learn that the Shelk twins had mixed black-white parentage. Children of such unions seem god-like in that they are stronger and more attractive and creative than "normal" people of either group. The "good" Shelk finally finds the white father he has been searching for all his life. And, Tiger lives happily ever after with his white mate Veyde, but their children, though strong and resourceful, will inevitably be sterile. 


Kurten is a good storyteller who creates his version of Paleolithic culture with care and plausibility. Many aspects of the story are shocking at first, because they fly in the face of our stereotypes. First, there is the almost self-evident fact--although I'll bet it never occurred to you--that Neanderthals, who lived in northern Europe, where almost certainly light skinned, while the Cro-Magnon newcomers were probably dark skinned.

Second, there is the anatomical difference in the angle of the larynx that makes Neanderthal language high-pitched and bird-like with only two vowels. Thus, while blacks can learn white language, the reverse is not true. Third, there is the gentle, storytelling, earth-loving Neanderthal culture--to which perhaps the myth of the Earth Mother Goddess can be traced--contrasted with the more aggressive and patriarchal, but also more artistic and innovative, black (Cro- Magnon) culture.

Kurten's ingenious theory about why the Neanderthal vanished involves six steps: (1) Cro-Magnon-Neanderthal mating occurred; (2) the children of these couples had many advantages, including a lower infant mortality rate than that of Neanderthal children and other survival benefits, such as high intelligence, healthy constitution, and creativity; (3) these advantages benefited social groups and eventually became evident, especially to Neanderthal women, who thus produced more healthy offspring; (4) however, such hybrid children were always sterile; (5) over the generations a greater and greater percentage of children in Neanderthal bands were hybrids, while this did not happen in Cro-Magnon bands; and (6) all of this occurred against a backdrop that included more versatile hunting, greater language skills, and other survival advantages for the Cro-Magnon. Thus, the Neanderthal gradually faded away.


Introduction by Stephen Jay Gould. First published: 1980


University of California

Place Published




Page Count