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PLEISTOCENE CLIMATE: Writing notes from Heart of Fire Time of Ice

Example Clovis Projectile Point
Example Clovis Projectile Point

I’ve decided to post some of my notes from the time I was writing Heart of Fire Time of Ice in order to give you an insight into my writing process and also to explain (partly) the context in which I set the story.

I made the decision, when I was first starting to write novels, to research the known scientific aspects of all of my stories. (Some of my stories involve pure imagination, particularly when other planets and alien life-forms are involved.) There is a fine line between spending so much time researching that the story does not get written and simply making things up to give the story a superficial aspect of reality. I try to compromise, researching enough to provide meaningful and mostly scientifically accepted facts or at least theories, but not getting hung up on becoming an expert on the topics I’m researching. This post involves analyzing the climate factors that would have impacted the world that my main characters inhabit for most of the story.

Readers will know that the story involves time travel with a modern woman inadvertently transferred into the Pleistocene period. My heroine, Kathleen, ends up in the later part of the period known as the Younger Dryas. With that being said, I’ll present my notes below:


Researching the Pleistocene forces one to become aware of the climate. The glaciers were the most prominent feature of life. Their presence modified climate, provided an avenue for man to colonize North America and impacted the migration routes and habits of animals. The glacial ice was thousands of feet thick and extended south past the present day Great Lakes.

Near the end of the Pleistocene, Earth had moved into a warming period, and the glaciers started to retreat and melt. The melt-water runoff mostly flowed down the Mississippi river valley. The water flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, was warmed in the shallows of the Gulf and eventually joined the Gulf Stream flowing north. The Gulf Stream acted as a conveyor belt to carry the warmer water’s heat to the northern part of the Atlantic.

The period of the Pleistocene known as the Younger Dryas was apparently initiated by a perfect storm of adverse events. One theory is that an asteroid struck the thickest part of the ice sheet above the Great Lake area. The impact would have vaporized the miles-thick ice, leaving no crater and no evidence and killed millions of creatures including any humans unfortunate enough to live nearby. This is the scenario that I use in the story. (Cadeyrin, the Clovis hunter who is the other main character, had heard of a huge flood when he was a child, and the weather had changed quickly after that event, causing his people to move westward.)

The meteorite (or possibly comet) would have freed melt-water and chunks of ice that could have blocked the Mississippi river. The theory is that the melt-water was then forced to find a new pathway, flowing into the north Atlantic along the St. Lawrence River.

The cold, fresh water would have the effect of displacing the Gulf Stream. Without its warming effect, the north Atlantic conveyor system would break down. This would have resulted in global temperature drops that would cause the glacial ice to begin to grow again.

The increase in glacial ice would then have locked up atmospheric water causing the climate to become vastly dryer. There is geological evidence of huge dust storms that killed vegetation during this period. This would starve the mega-fauna that depended on large amounts of easy grazing.

Based on what is called the Solutrean hypothesis (not currently held in favor by anthropologists), the Clovis people were present on the eastern coast of the North American continent (in fact, there are far more Clovis projectiles found there than elsewhere, lending credence to this idea). Dust and intense north Atlantic storms would probably have caused them to head west, searching for better conditions. It would be very cold and dry there, also, and that would result in less prey, forcing the humans to fight for resources. This scenario nicely sets up the story’s conflict between the Paleo-Indians and the Clovis people. It also works perfectly for my story, so that is why I selected it. In addition, it involves a migration of people from Europe that was quite likely possible. We know that Vikings reached the new world and possibly humans from Ireland and the British Isles, so why not an earlier migration, especially when the climate would have created very low sea levels, leaving the Grand Banks out of water and allowing men to hunt the forests which have left trees that are still found on the sea bottom there.

Thirty species of animals, including several species of rabbits and skunks, became extinct in the Younger Dryas, and Clovis technology also disappeared. Clovis projectiles were replaced with the Folsom variant and other forms of more modern arrowheads. Possibly the Clovis people themselves modified their signature projectile points into the Folsom form. There isn’t a tremendous difference in the points, save in the fluting. Extending the length of the center flute on both sides of the point seems to be a simple advancement that would allow the point to be re-sharpened and re-used more easily when broken.

The Younger Dryas period saw nearly eighty percent of the mega-fauna disappear, leaving mostly bison with a few of the other species. One would expect the carnivores to survive a little longer than herbivores. In the time of this story, the remaining carnivores have turned to scavenging hunted prey and predating on humans more than previously.

While it’s easy to make the assumption that the presence of humans with enhanced killing skills was responsible for the extinction of the large herd animals, it seems more probable to me that the harsh climate and lack of vegetation impacted the mega-fauna to a greater degree than the relatively few human hunters. Despite the near extinction of the American Bison by meat and hide hunters using firearms in the 1800’s, the Bison survived quite nicely for thousands of years prior to that, even while being hunted by the American Indians using Paleolithic weapons and fire-drives.

As to the thought that fire-drives caused the extinction of most of the mega-fauna, I would say that fire-drives depend upon large, open grasslands with dry grass to provide fuel. Lightning-caused fires often burn such areas, and the fauna would have been at least somewhat used to surviving burning prairies as a matter of course.

Still, without time-travel, it’s mostly speculation. However, this is a fictional story, after all, and who is to say that the world of Cadeyrin didn’t exist?

Should you want to read more, here’s a link to the story: Heart of Fire Time of Ice and to the sequel: All the Moments in Forever.

Thanks for reading!


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Science Fiction’s Relationship to Science

Science Fiction and Science graphicThe title of this post may lead some readers to quip, “There is none,” but I think it can be demonstrated that speculative science fiction can play a valuable role in scientific endeavors.

Let’s begin by considering the scientific method. It’s basically a mental tool that has evolved to explain the phenomena of nature. It is supposed to be used in a way that leads to testable predictions that can be used by humans to manipulate their environment in a reproducible way. The steps of the method involve creating an hypothesis – a thought story or explanation of an observed phenomenon. The hypothesis must fit well with other known facts related to the phenomenon. Tools such as Occam’s Razor are often applied to ensure the hypothesis is as simple as possible.

The primary criterion for an hypothesis is that it lead to testable predictions. If it can’t be tested, then its explanatory value is roughly akin to that of magic. Science generally doesn’t operate on the basis of, “It happens because it happens,” or “It happens because of a wizard who wants it that way.” For those who are so minded, one can say, “It happens because the universe is so constituted,” but that still doesn’t fit the criteria for testability.

The hypothesis is used to create predictions and then experiments are designed to (hopefully) test the predictions. I’m not going to delve into the problems with experimenter bias except to state that it exists and can innocently lead to mistaken assumptions about how to test the predictions. Of course, there are those who are biased and who intentionally design experiments to prove their bias, or even falsely report the data. Modern science is vulnerable to such problems due to the selection of experiments with sexy, positive results for publication and the relationship of being published with tenure and grants. But, that’s a structural problem that can and mostly is overcome by careful and conscientious researchers. There can also be bias due to established scientific fables; things that are believed by a consensus of scientists that later turn out to be incorrect.

When a hypothesis generates predictions that turn out to be correct, it can be woven into existing knowledge to create a scientific theory – a logically reasoned and self-consistent model.

The benefits of this approach are well known. In essence, modern society is largely due to our use of science as a tool for manipulating our reality.

Now that we’ve looked at what science is, lets back up for a moment to the point before an hypothesis is generated. This may be during the progression of a course of research by a scientist or scientists, but it might also be the result of curiosity about a novel question asked by nearly anyone. This is where science fiction can come into play as an entertaining, but possibly useful method of asking questions.

The science fiction genre covers all sorts of stories ranging from those that postulate fictional (and often impossible) worlds, those that deal with social issues such as gender identity or political structures, and those which deal with worlds that are more in line with the reality we’re presented with daily. Those latter forms of speculative science fiction can postulate devices, principles, and discoveries. Devices can range from communication devices (who knew that Captain Kirk’s communicator would end up as a personal cell phone with an unlimited number of functions) to weapons such as rail guns, plasma cannon, etc. to space ships of various types.

Speculative science fiction read by the right person can lead that person to ask critical “what if” questions in a form that might eventually lead to scientific discoveries and thus to the creation of new tools that can be used by humans to, “Boldly go where no man has gone before,” and this result is not an insignificant or trivial thing. To the extent that speculative thought leads to creation of novel hypotheses, science fiction likely plays an heuristic role in human development.

In light of this conclusion, I’ve tried to create devices such as FTL engines, matter transporters, and weapons that are loosely related to current research or, at least, speculative theories. My crystal ball broke the day before I started writing, though, so I doubt that my speculative devices will come into existence – at least in the form that I’ve described in my books.