Debra Austin Interview

September 14, 2009 interviews
the author of Daughter of Kura

author Debra AustinWe were fortunate to have Debra Grubb, who writes under the pen name Debra Austin, visit the blog on September 14, 2009, to talk about her novel Daughter of Kura, set 500,000 years ago in Africa.

Most novels set in prehistory feature characters of our own species, Homo sapiens. What gave you the idea to write about a Homo erectus girl?

Human evolution, especially the evolution of human culture, has long been my serious avocation. Since Homo erectus produced such important cultural innovations (controlled fire, complex tools), their time is the most interesting to me. Although there is no archeological evidence of artifacts such as baskets, it seems to me that any culture capable of producing such carefully made, reproducible tools must have been able to make many other complex and useful objects that couldn't fossilize. Imagining which technologies might have developed during this time is extremely entertaining (for me, at least!)

You've said you borrowed aspects of spotted hyena behavior when developing a culture for Snap's matriarchal clan group. Why spotted hyenas?

Matriarchal societies are relatively uncommon among other species and very rare (some would say non-existent) in modern hunter-gatherer societies, so I borrowed some aspects of the Kura's society from other species. Spotted hyenas have an interesting culture in which females inherit rank from their mothers and male offspring are forced out of the clan at puberty. Raising of cubs is partly shared among a group of females. Courtship is a long, complicated process controlled by the female. The novel explores how these aspects of culture might appear in humans.

Snap's people are quick to adopt an interloper's religious ideas, even though they have lived successfully without them for generations. Do you think people have an inborn longing for religion?

The evolution of religious beliefs is a huge subject; books and theories abound. The scientific literature in evolutionary psychology suggests that adopting religious beliefs was advantageous to the groups that did so, eventually allowing those groups to out-compete those that didn't, and resulting in a high percentage of people with a strong affinity for religious beliefs. The mechanisms by which this might have happened delve deep into human psychology, and I'm not an expert in this field, but I find it fascinating. There is a discussion of some of the scientific theories of the evolution of religion on my website, at Snap's World.

Review of Daughter of Kura by Debra Austin

See listing for Daughter of Kura at Powell's Books

See listing for Daughter of Kura at

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