Duncan Caldwell - Fiction & Non-Fiction


In the Wadi Abdel Malik, Gilf el Khebir, at the first recorded flowering of one of the world’s rarest trees.

While pursuing prehistoric art in Africa and Europe, I have accumulated a trove of fiction and travel writing.

Many of these manuscripts are short pieces written for the sheer zest of recounting adventures. These include:

  1. 1)   A call-to-arms called “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”. It tells how my son and I slunk past guards protecting a vast forbidden zone to conduct clandestine twilit surveys of an edenic valley being submerged behind a gigantic dam. What we found was a conspiracy to doom the densest concentration of open-air Paleolithic art in Europe. The result was that I came out fighting and launched Prehistoric Art Emergency - an organization that led an international campaign to turn the Portuguese valley into the park and UNESCO World Heritage Site that it is today.

  1. 2)   A comic article called “The Drowning Client – Misadventures in the Search for a French Country Home” which recounts what happens when you step back to admire a water wheel or when a circus takes over an ancient mill. 

  1. 3)  Another comedy called “A Murder, Bombing and Excursion among Dolmens”. This story relates one of the bizarre adventures experienced during 30 years spent with prehistorians and other eccentrics in the French countryside.

  1. 4)   A story called “Lifting the Curse of Glozel”, which tells how persistent forensic prying at loose ends finally broke down informants and cracked a 90-year-old mystery surrounding the biggest can of worms in world archaeology: a supposedly fake site named Glozel that had been the subject of 6 lawsuits and police raids. It had even been involved in the assassination of the chief of France’s National Forensic Laboratory on the steps of the country’s central court! The can of worms has grown so huge that it now contains 2,630 objects from the Field of the Dead - plus others from nearby ring tunnels and the extensive tunnels themselves. Some of the most famous archaeologists of the early 20th century saw their reputations ruined by defending the site’s authenticity, causing local farmers and even scientists at dating labs to hide discoveries and data for decades until I began prying for years at inconsistencies expressed by both the site’s defenders and critics. The answer to the mystery may be unexpected by all parties. Given its revelations, the short piece is just the teaser for a full book.

  1. 5)  A history of old Nantucket, subtitled “Iron Rule with a Woman’s Touch”. Nantucket turns out to be more like a miniature continent than a small island when you get this close. You’ll discover Benjamin Franklin’s maternal grandfather delivering sermons from a pigsty and matriarchs out of heaven and hell.

  1. 6)  And, finally, my father’s biography. Part I – “Spy Catcher” - encompasses his adventures during the Spanish Civil War, and through 3 landings and 4 campaigns as one of the few soldiers in the Second World War who wore no rank on his collar, in case he ever needed to arrest a general. The climax is reached when 27-year-old Bob Caldwell is put in charge of saving the survivors of the Landsberg Concentration Camp Complex with no supplies and a staff of just 20 young GIs. Part II covers the Cold War and a world of knaves - and a few heroes – in the CIA.

My most richly conceived projects are two novels, one based on a scenario for a feature-length film, and the other on a novella.

The first of these novels, which bears the same title as the underlying screenplay, “Sleeping Dogs”, is about a brilliant, black American jazz poet who gets a job as a cultural attaché in an Arab country, only to be mistaken as the in-coming CIA chief-of-station. The scenario was given a rave review by the only studio that would read it, Gaumont, in France, which was releasing 12 to 15 films a year at the time. While an executive at the company, François Fries, tried to advance the hard-edged political comedy, he gave me a job which outlasted his own. But when he left the firm, his successor, the CEO’s 20-year-old daughter, started afresh by emptying his drawers. Although the escalating fury of Middle Eastern politics makes the tale of mistaken identities and clashing cultures seem prophetic, the project evaporated, compelling me to resurrect the story as a novel, which I finally wrote in 2014.

Gaumont’s internal review of the scenario, which Mr. Fries gave me before quitting, and which I think applies perfectly to the novel as well, is posted on this web site’s TV & Film page. After it was posted, the reviewer himself, Christian Creseveur, contacted me in some surprise, since he’d assumed that I’d become a successful screenwriter. “I was sure of it,” he said, “because Sleeping Dogs was the best screenplay that I read in my 10 years as a script reader for Gaumont.”

After putting so much effort into a critical success but financial dead-end, I shifted the focus of my writing towards science, where peer review may be brutal, but has the saving grace of guaranteeing a writer that his work will be read and judged on its merits. Although I was loath to waste time once again on a work of fiction, which might be blocked despite its potential or quality, my wife finally overcame my reluctance in November 2010 by persuading me to write a novella for a competition called the Paris Literary Prize. Starting a week before the deadline and leaving to work at the Cairo International Film Festival, I wrote the initial submission of 3000 words around the clock. Once again, my effort was nearly successful. “The Days Between”, which is set on a mined island opposite Albania during the fleeting interval between the American evacuation and Communist entry into Saigon, made it to the long list, putting it among the last 10% of manuscripts, out of more than four hundred, which were still under consideration.

After the contest, I decided to transform the novella into a short novel entitled “Beyond Reprieve”, which uses the same state of suspense to explore tipping points in history and individual lives, and is textured by the spontaneous superstitions of a man composting memories as he strives to consolidate his marriage and turn incipient madness into grace.

Finally, I plan to bring several radical but peer-reviewed hypotheses about prehistoric subjects to a broader audience. The Barbier-Mueller Museums of Geneva and Barcelona published my new interpretation of many of the Paleolithic “venuses”, entitled “Supernatural Pregnancies”, in the lavishly illustrated 2010 edition of Arts & Cultures. You can download a  PDF of the article by clicking on the relevant icon at the bottom of this page. Along with its companion piece – a long article entitled “Palaeolithic Whistles or Figurines?”, which appeared in the May 2009 issue of Rock Art Research – the essay for the Barbier-Mueller Museums argues that many of the Paleolithic figurines and engravings have been misinterpreted – often glibly as pornography – when the truth is richer, more surprising, and consistent with economic and social roles that women play in groups dependent on hunting (and sewing) in cold climates. A synopsis of thePrey-Mother” Hypothesis can also be found on this web site.


My thoughts on the subject, which have now reached critical mass and book-length, are laid out in a series of 3 richly garnished lectures and a 100-page essay entitled “The Prehistory of the Sacred Feminine” that was written for a Spanish exhibition catalog. I’m currently transforming them into a compelling book for a broad audience.

After finishing the book, I hope to whip my comprehensive re-interpretation of Neanderthals into a second prehistory volume. The story unfolds like a forensic mystery in which the common verdict is suddenly overturned by a flurry of new evidence like sites in Finland and within the Arctic Circle that are 700 miles farther north than the previously known range. But, befitting such a cold case, some of the clues have been overlooked for nearly a century - including an odd distribution of hand-axes on the plateaus surrounding the Burgundian city of Sens that was first noticed in the 1920s by a hatter and lay prehistorian named Augusta Hure. Despite the fact that the conclusions of this book will be so novel, once again they are all peer-reviewed.

My final book-length prehistory project is the most radical of all, since it challenges the conventional explanation of how our entire genus, Homo, evolved. It does so while exalting the first baby-carrying devices to the rank of the most important invention of all time by showing how our lineage would have been stuck with small brains and fur if females had not starting carrying babies in slings over 1.2 million years ago. The genetics, osteology and other hard science are incorporated in an article called "Human Hair Distribution, Immuno-resistance and Juvenile Adaptations to the First Baby Slings" (2013. Anthropologie - International Journal of Human Diversity and Evolution; formerly Anthropologie - International Journal of the Science of Man.  Volume 51, Issue 3: 349-374), which Robert Bednarik, the editor of Rock Art Research, for example, praised in December 2008 as being "very well argued" and exceptional for its "sophistication." Francesco d'Errico, who is a CNRS Director of Research at the University of Bordeaux and Honorary Professor at the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand, in South Africa, wrote in January 2010: “... I found the idea and integrated interdisciplinary way you deal with the question fascinating. It is certainly worth publishing.” I hope to bring the full significance of this new hypothesis concerning the invention which triggered the rise of Homo habilis and our genus down to earth for the general public while celebrating the history of baby-carrying devices and women’s roles as the inventors of many of humanity’s most crucial inventions.

Please contact me if you are interested in representing or publishing any of the above books.