Shanidar, Safe Return

Extended until July 14 ! at Participant After Dark << Click on the link to enter the work

Drawing of skull of Neanderthal

A long-long time ago, if I can still remember…

Shanidar, Safe Return my interactive story, now being hosted by Participant After Dark, the ONLINE venue for Participant Inc. Gallery, NY, has been extended until July 14, 2024. Shanidar is curated by Itziar Barrios.

Timeline: 40,000 years BCE. In Shanidar, Safe Return, a band of Neanderthals and their Cro-Magnon companions ncluding Haizea, Esti, Oihana, Eneko and Uda, make an epic journey from what is now southern France to a place called Shanidar, a large cave in Iraqi Kurdistan, situated along tributaries of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Along the way they learn that humanity is blessed by its heritage of mixing and sharing everything, including genes. As in all things evolutionary – including food, shelter, community and love – it’s a matter of survival. Their shaman’s lion guide keeps them on the right path.

While writing Shanidar, I did extensive research into Paleolithic Eurasia, the human species that lived there, their probable habits, foods and methods of travel, as well as their music and art. Many of the graphics are my versions of specific Paleolithic artworks, some of which I have seen in person, but many of which I have copied from the drawings by André Leroi-Gourhan’s in his 1993 book Gesture and Speech. I used other sources as well including photos and drawings in works by Jean Clottes, Marjia Gimbutas, and Max Rafael. I composed the music and recorded effects for the soundtrack and borrowed, with credits, sound effects and music from other sources.  Shanidar is a work of speculative fiction backed up by a lot of research into the deep past. Who were we?

animated gif of a hand-drawn campfire

What is Interactive Fiction, and How Can You Experience Shanidar?

Shanidar is entirely online, a work of cyber-art, interactive fiction, a computer-based experience. It’s similar to playing a game, where you go to the link provided,, view the video intro, and enter the story by clicking on the PLAY button.

Writers create all kinds of interactive stories – it’s a very active culture/sub-culture – using a variety of software platforms as a base, then adding text, images, videos, and a sound track to bring the reader/player closer to the action, or possibly even inside the action.

From Wikipedia:

Interactive fiction, often abbreviated IF, is software simulating environments in which players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment. Works in this form can be understood as literary narratives, either in the form of Interactive narratives or Interactive narrations.

So, Shanidar, Safe Return is a web-based, interactive story. Have fun with it!

Shanidar, Safe Return

Find Shanidar here:

What is Interactive Fiction? It’s a way to tell a story by having the reader, or visitor to the story site, “play” the story by making choices about what part of the story to go to next – the reader can navigate forwards and backwards throughout the story. There is no directly linear way to experience Interactive Fiction, and much of it has not only text – the story – but also graphics, animation, and sound. It provides a rich, inviting and immersive pathway into narratives.

Trailer for Shanidar, Safe Return, launched Oct. 23, 2023

Shanidar, Safe Return is an interactive story that places a young Neanderthal woman named Haizea in the center of a community’s struggle for survival, as the Cro-Magnins (Homo sapiens) migrate to their once-peaceful territories. Haizea and her band of mixed – Neanderthal and Cro-Magnin – travelers must walk the distance from danger in what is now southern France to safety in their old refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, a place called Shanidar. They meet a group of Denisovans on the way, and receive guidance from the old H. heidelbergensis shaman, Bihotz.

Created in Twine.

Who Owns Prehistory?

We do! All of us! Because it is about us!

So, no more exclamation points, please.

Cecilia Dougherty on a field trip on February 9, 2023, to the Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History with her students enrolled in HMS-340S-01, Who Owns Prehistory?  

This is one my courses at Pratt Institute. A course I designed. My baby. In the course, we non-scientists (we, artists, that is) look at the discourses of science surrounding the never-ending question to figure out what is “human,” who qualifies as “human,” and how many species of bona fide “humans” are there? The discourses are fun and interesting and always spark my imagination like crazy. And going to the American Museum of Natural History with my students was like turning on all the lights. They saw things I hadn’t seen, even after many trips. They pointed out objects, displays, topics that I had always missed or glossed over. Paleolithic music, for example – music, hearing, the development of the ear. Very important topic.

Cecilia Dougherty looking at an exhibit in the Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History, New York
Cecilia Dougherty at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by Gina Marchetti.