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Drawing maps on the computer

There are two sorts of maps here - maps of real areas, such as the plains of passage, the Iron Gates Gorge etc, and the ones that are of places Jean has imagined - the Valley of Horses, and the Sharamudoi local area.

The imaginary places give the most trouble - I have to go over the books again and again and again to get some idea of the layout. Then I open up the program "Adobe Illustrator" and start drawing the basics, such as the river in the Valley of Horses.

The advantage of doing it all on the computer and using a drawing program is that it is always able to be changed. The borders of the river are not tiny dots, they are lines which have "nodes" on them. These can be moved and altered to make different curves, very easily. You don't have to redraw the whole thing, you just move some nodes and the whole thing still hangs together. Then you can alter the colour of the edge of the river, the thickness of the line defining it, and the colour of the fill, the colour of the river, with a few clicks.

Each element gets its own layer, so there will be a layer for the river, a layer for the trees along the river, a layer for the text, and so on. The layers are laid one on top of the other, in whatever order is convenient. So you might have a base colour for the whole map, and then everything goes on top of that.

I print out the map once I've got a few things down, and put it up on the kitchen wall. When I'm having a cup of coffee in the morning I look at it, and see areas I need to add or change. I mark them on the printout, and then go to the computer and make the changes. Read the books again, add more details, move things around, and so on. One map will take weeks at the very least, or months to do.

I've looked at a lot of the ice age maps, but there's not a lot except background information I can use there. Jean had the ice come much further south than it did in Ayla's time. I was able to use the maps of ice age sea levels - but they turn out to be just the 100 - 150 metre (below sea level) contours anyway, which you can get from a good atlas.

The Sungaea, for example, are actually at Sungir near Moscow, but according to her story, that area was under a thousand metres of snow and ice. She had the ice come much further south than it did so she could have the spectacle of a mammoth hunt with the ice cliffs as a backdrop, in the Mammoth Hunters.

Where there were inconsistencies, I followed her data, since these maps are meant to follow the action of the story, not to be completely factual maps of what actually existed. When I first wrote this page, I said: I've gone along the Danube from Vienna to the Black Forest, but not in as much detail as I would have liked. One day I'll bicycle the whole journey taken by Jon and Thonolan, at least from the Vezere Valley to Budapest. I'd like to visit Dolni Vestonice as well.

I have now achieved that dream. My wife and I have cycled, unsupported, camping wherever we finished for the day, from the headwaters of the Donau to Budapest, with a very successful side trip to Dolni Vestonice, which was not without its dramas, but we lived to tell the tale.

We also cycled unsupported from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, and from the magnificent Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) along the Rhine to the Black Forest, the start of our journey to Budapest along the Donau.

In addition, I have gone to most of the major archaeological sites in France, canoed the Vezere River, and visited all the important archaeological sites near Les Eyzies, the area that Jean Auel spoke of in 'The Shelters of Stone' and much of the area covered in 'The Land of Painted Caves'. In 2015 and 2018 I visited, using public transport, all the major museums in continental Europe, and the fabulous British Museum.

The information for maps such as the maps of the Clan of the Cavebear local map are worked out by careful reading of the text. I've done a lot of bushwalking, so I know how to draw and interpret a topological map. That particular map was a dream to draw, because there were no inconsistencies, and Jean had imagined it as a complete whole. She had also lifted the description of the Neanderthal site, Shanidar, from an archaeological text, so that was also a big help. I got the text out of the local library, and went through it with a fine tooth comb. She changed the scale of the river (she made it smaller) and also the existence of Ayla's meadow (I don't think it really existed) but she tied it in well with the description of how Ayla got there from the cave, and it was particularly valuable that she had Ayla looking down on the cave from her perch high on the cliff above, reached from her meadow, but with the meadow hidden of course from below. This meant I was able to get that detail right.

For the map of the Crimean Peninsula with the location of the original Clan Cave and Ayla's parents' camp, from which she fled after the second earthquake, I carefully looked at the scale of the map, worked out how far Ayla and the Clan could have moved, both from the time of the first earthquake when her parents died, to the meeting, and then from that time to the discovery by Ayla of the new Clan Cave. Ayla was alone and young, so she could not travel quickly along the difficult terrain of the creek she was following, and later was wounded. By working backwards from the position of the new cave, the old cave and Ayla's parents' tent site could only be in a very small radius on the map, so I chose the positions of those by looking carefully at the topographical map I used as a basis for my drawn map.

For the maps of real areas such as Ukraine, I first have to find a good base map, no easy task. In most cases I have to scan at least two and possibly a lot more base maps and fit them together. It is no good getting a base map from an atlas of say Ukraine on one page and scanning that. The reason is that if it is on one page the cartographer (map drawer) leaves out huge amounts of detail, and simplifies contours and river courses. You have to scan two, three or more base maps to get the sort of detail I am after across large areas.

Compare the Ukraine part of my POP map with the one devoted to Ukraine. You will find that the Ukraine map is far more detailed than the complete POP. Contours are better defined, more rivers and tributaries are shown, and so on. The reason is that for one complete map from the Ukraine to France, I have to go to smaller scale maps which leave out detail. This is inevitable, but most map makers leave out a lot more detail than they need to.

I get the base maps from all over. No one atlas contains everything. I bought the latest edition of the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the world, but found that the contours are very difficult to read, so that I cannot use those (admittedly excellent) maps for my purposes.

If you are going to fit maps together, they should be the same scale, and the same projection. Different scales can be compensated for, not always terribly satisfactorily, but different projections make a combined map impossible.


I scan the maps with my computer and scanner into PhotoShop, the best imaging software for scans and photos that I know of. I adjust the brightness and contrast so that I can see rivers, coastlines and contours clearly. I put each scan in a separate layer. I can tell the computer to allow the maps to be transparent, so that I can see one below the other, or to hide a particular layer and its map temporarily. Then I can take each scan and slide it across and up and down, then rotate it until the maps coincide.

I was amazed to discover how wrong some maps can be, and how much they disagree with each other, even at the same scale, same projection, and even the same atlas. Maps often overlap, and features on one map may not exist on another, or may be in a different place entirely. Coastlines and contours do not always match exactly especially from different atlases. The problem gets worse as you add more base maps for something like the complete POP map. I have to make the best compromise I can.

When all the layers are correctly aligned, I can then rotate the entire canvas so that the features are in the best alignment for printing a rectangular map. This always leaves parts of maps hanging out over the edge, sticking up at all angles, and so I then crop the entire canvas to leave the rectangular base map I needed in the first place. This saves memory and hard disk space as well as being tidier.

I now save this as a Photoshop file.

I open a new Illustrator file, and 'place' the Photoshop file onto one layer of Illustrator. This means that when I open the Illustrator file, it goes to the Photoshop file and puts it into memory, and it is apparently part of the file. But it is not, so when I save the Illustrator file, the very large scanned file is not part of the Illustrator file, which means that the map file is very much smaller, and saves quickly. And if I have multiple copies of the Illustrator file, I am not saving the large scanned file each time, only a pointer to where the original Photoshop scanned file is. This saves large amounts of disk space, as well as being faster.

Now I am ready to start!

Each feature gets its own layer, so I have a layer for the present coastline, one for the ice age coastline, one for the rivers, one for each of the contours, the text used, the journeys and so on. This simplifies changes tremendously, because if you decide to change the width or colour of the rivers for example, you hide all the other layers, select all objects on the rivers layer, change the colour and width, and it is done. Otherwise changes would take forever. And there are always changes.

Illustrator is what is called a vector, or draw program. This means that all features are drawn as lines with nodes and fill colours and thicknesses that can be changed at any time. Vector programs use very little memory compared with a paint program. Drawing my maps with a paint program would be a nightmare. I trace the outline of the present coast first, and Illustrator allows you to drag little handles so that just a few nodes can trace a smooth curve. Still, these work out to be a lot of nodes! I now use my left hand for the mouse even though I am right handed, because I started to get RSI (sore hand, wrist and forearm) from all that clicking and dragging on the Ukraine map. It gradually cleared up, and I haven't had the problem since.

The coastline is actually the outline for the sea, so I come to the thick black border of the map, then click and drag around the corners back to the start, and fill with blue. I use another rectangle the size of the border for the lowlands from say 0-100 metres elevation to give a colour to the lowlands. Then I draw the 100 metre contour, the 200, and so on, up to the highest elevation. Since the 100 metre contour when given a fill colour covers up the scanned image, when I do the 200 I hide the 100 metre so I can see the base map and trace the lines. I can adjust which layer goes on top, and add more layers as needed. This gives tremendous flexibility. The very top layer is the fairly thick black border, which hides a lot of lines connecting various parts of coastline and contours. It's not just there for decoration!

When it is finished, I delete the scanned image layer (from a copy! It is amazing how often you have to go back and do bits and pieces) and save with a new name in a separate folder. If there are to be two versions, a large and a small, then I select all and change scale to 50% of the large version, and save, still as an Illustrator file.

I then save each of these again as GIF files with antialiasing turned on. This is a wonderful feature of Illustrator.

On the internet, JPG is used for scans and photos. GIF is used for large areas of flat colour such as maps. Most graphics programs simply take what you see on your screen, dot for dot, and save that with the 256 colours allowed by the GIF format. But that 72 dots per inch screen resolution is very dotty, especially when printed from a good quality printer at say 600 dots per inch. You really notice the 'jaggies'. What antialiasing does is to smooth out the rough edges, giving a much better result.

Then I upload the complete GIF file to my web site, and put a note on the Jean Auel Message Board saying that there is a new map of whatever.

In the case of the areas such as the Valley of Horses and the Sharamudoi and the Local maps of the clan cave and the Mammoth Camp, I have to make them up without a base scanned map, since there is none. I turn down the corners of the pages of the book that relate to the map in question, then gradually build it up over time, adding and subtracting until it fits as best as possible with the book and reality if there is any. The Sharamudoi/Iron gates map took a very long time, since Jean described the area twice, once in VOH and again in POP, and the two versions do not coincide well. I made the best compromise I could. If you read the two versions extremely carefully you may find some slight inconsistencies with my map, but not many. I've also added a few minor things not in the book but which Jean would have put in if she had thought of them! Getting the trails right was the most difficult part.

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