A caveman is a stock character based upon widespread but anachronistic and conflated concepts of the way in which Neanderthals, early modern humans, or archaic humans may have looked and behaved. The term originates out of assumptions about the association between early humans and caves, most clearly demonstrated in cave painting. The term is not used in academic research.
Cavemen are typically portrayed as wearing shaggy animal hides, and capable of cave painting like behaviourally modern humans of the last glacial period. Anachronistically, they are simultaneously shown armed with rocks or cattle bone clubs, unintelligent, and aggressive, traits more like those of Neanderthals or of archaic humans from hundreds of thousands of years before this period. Popular culture also frequently represents cavemen as living with or alongside dinosaurs, even though non-avian dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period, 66 million years before the emergence of the Homo sapiens species.
The image of them living in caves arises from the fact that caves are where the preponderance of artifacts have been found from European Stone Age cultures, although this most likely reflects the degree of preservation that caves provide over the millennia rather than an indication of their typical form of shelter. Until the last glacial period, most hominins did not live in caves, being nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes living in a variety of temporary structures, such as tents (see Jerry D. Moore, "The Prehistory of Home", University of California Press, 2012) and wooden huts (e.g. at Ohalo). Their societies were similar to those of many modern day indigenous peoples. A few genuine cave dwellings did exist, however, such as at Mount Carmel in Israel.
Caveman-like heraldic "wild men" were found in European and African iconography for hundreds of years. During the Middle Ages, these creatures were generally depicted in art and literature as bearded and covered in hair, and often wielding clubs and dwelling in caves. While wild men were always depicted as living outside of civilization, there was an ongoing debate as to whether they were human or animal.
In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912), ape-men are depicted in a fight with modern humans. Edgar Rice Burroughs adapted this idea for The Land That Time Forgot (1918). A genre of caveman movies emerged, typified by D. W. Griffith's Man's Genesis (1912); they inspired Charles Chaplin's satiric take, in His Prehistoric Past (1914) as well as Brute Force (1914), The Cave Man (1912), and later Cave Man (1934). From the descriptions, Griffith's characters can't talk, and use sticks and stones for weapons, while the hero of Cave Man is a Tarzanesque figure who fights dinosaurs.
D. W. Griffith's Brute Force, a silent film released in 1914, represents one of the earliest portrayals of cavemen and dinosaurs together; more recent examples include the comic strip B.C. and the television series The Flintstones.
Stereotypical cavemen have traditionally been depicted wearing smock-like garments made of animal skin and held up by a shoulder strap on one side, and carrying large clubs approximately conical in shape. They often have grunt-like names, such as Ugg and Zog.
Expressions such as "living in a cave" have become cultural metaphors for a modern human who displays traits of great ignorance or uncivilized behavior.
In fiction, especially as pure entertainment or satire, cavemen are sometimes depicted as living contemporaneously with dinosaurs, a situation contradicted by archaeological and paleontological evidence, which shows that non-avian dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago, at which time true primates had not yet appeared.
In popular culture, the comic strips B.C., Alley Oop, the Spanish comic franchise Mortadelo y Filemón, and occasionally The Far Side and Gogs portray "cavemen" in that way. (Gary Larson, in his The Prehistory of the Far Side, stated he once felt that he needed to confess his cartooning sins in this regard: "O Father, I Have Portrayed Primitive Man and Dinosaurs In The Same Cartoon".) The animated series The Flintstones, a spoof on family sitcoms, portrays the Flintstones even using dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals as tools, household appliances, vehicles, and construction machines.
Stereotypical cavemen are also often featured in advertising, including advertisements for Minute Maid. More recently, in early 2004, GEICO launched a series of television commercials and attempts at viral marketing, collectively known as the GEICO Cavemen advertising campaign, where GEICO announcers are repeatedly denounced by modern cavemen for perpetuating a stereotype of unintelligent, backward cavemen. The GEICO advertisements spawned a short-lived TV series called Cavemen.
There are various caveman characters in popular culture:Ice World
Walking with Cavemen
Walking with Beasts
Joe & Mac (1991)
Far Cry Primal (2016)
Ark: Survival Evolved (2017)