When "Clan and the Cave Bear" author Jean Auel was honored at the Natural History Museum of Orange County's "Mammoth" Feast on Tuesday night, she was met with more than a groaning board of glacial lake seafood salad, field-gathered dandelions, spit-roasted fowl, "mammoth" roast, wild rice, squash and stone pudding with hard sauce.
A replica of a prehistoric cave had been erected in her honor. Museum foundation members had used reams of scrunched brown paper and towering leafy branches to simulate the primitive caves described in Auel's books.
"I am so moved," Auel confided. "This is so original and creative. The American Book Assn. convention did a big party for me in San Francisco, but this is better. Look what they've done with paper! It really feels like a cave.
"Museums really do make history come to life for people," she said, sitting down to feast in the prehistoric cavern. Guests at the event at the museum, however, would argue that it was Auel's books that made the past come alive.
"I was an English major in college" said museum supporter Alice Mead. "Her books are the most interesting things I've ever read. That this author, out of her imagination, could make me feel like I'm living in those cave days. . . ."
Museum docent Mary Hobbs said she had always been fascinated by early history. "When I came upon the 'Clan,' I got so wrapped up. Not only do her books offer me a lot of good writing, they offer me good emotional material. And she goes into just enough detail about paleontology and geology so that even people who are not experts are caught up."
Dr. Peter Bryant, professor of biological science at UC Irvine and chairman of the museum's advisory committee, said Auel's books are very close to reality. "She's based them on careful research," he said. "It's very intriguing to read her and think about a time when there was not only one kind of man around, but two . . . how Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon man might have interacted."
The dinner, attended by 125 people, marked the museum's first fund-raiser. Audrey Moe, president of its Natural History Foundation, said that 20 sites were being considered to house the permanent museum "that would one day be one of the county's most exciting institutions. Right now, we have one of the three largest collections of marine mammal fossils in the U.S., probably the world," she said." (Currently, the museum is situated in a multipurpose room at the former East Bluff Elementary School at 2627 Vista del Oro in Newport Beach.)
"And the research conducted on those fossils is going to put Orange County on the map in the science field," Moe said. "Oh, we know we can't be a Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, but we do know we have the resources to show what Orange County's natural history was like." Moe was particularly proud of the fact that decor used at the benefit was authentic. "The decorating committee (headed by Bonnie Lambert) created the ice cave, and we tried to use other decorations that actually could have been."
Long rectangular tables spread with simulated animal skins had been set with squash halves--hollowed out and filled with sand--stuck with flickering votive candles. At the center of each table, bones, pine cones, Indian corn, hazel nuts, sunflower seeds and smooth black pebbles were arranged in serpentine fashion. "We even tried to come up with an authentic drink--mead, an old Viking wine," Moe said. "But we decided it wasn't old enough. So, we went with a choice of regular wine and mineral water instead."
Sand Dollar of Old
During dinner, Moe presented Auel with an authenticated, 1-million-year-old sand dollar. "I was so nervous when I was wrapping it," she told her audience. "And then I realized it had survived tumbling around in the ocean for a million years, so, what was I so worried about?" After dinner, foundation members and guests drove to South Coast Community Church in Irvine to hear Auel lecture on "The Mammoth Hunters and Other Figments of My Imagination," co-sponsored by the museum and the UC Irvine Arts and Lectures Series.
Saying that people often wonder how much of the characterization in her books is really true, Auel said, "None of it! It's all make-believe. But I'd like to think it could have been. I began with an idea of a young girl living with people who were different, physically not as advanced. I knew I was thinking prehistory. . . . I found it kind of fun, watching the characters come together."
But then, she explained, the story line compelled her to do extensive research, which in turn, stimulated further ideas. "I know it's important to write about what you know," she said, "but I learned it was more important to write what you know about."