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A cavemen or troglodyte is a stock character based upon widespread concepts of the way in which early prehistoric humans may have looked and behaved. The term caveman, sometimes used colloquially to refer to Neanderthal people, originates out of assumptions about the association between early humans and caves, most clearly demonstrated in cave painting or bench models.
Cavemen are frequently represented as living with dinosaurs in popular culture, despite the fact dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period, some 66 million years before the emergence of the human species. One of the earliest portrayals of cavemen and dinosaurs together is D. W. Griffith's Brute Force, a silent film released in 1914, while more recent examples include the comic strip B.C. and the television series The Flintstones.
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.
Cavemen are portrayed as wearing shaggy animal hides, armed with rocks or cattle bone clubs, unintelligent, and aggressive. The image of them living in caves arises from the fact that caves are where the preponderance of ritual paintings and artifacts from prehistoric cultures have been found, 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. 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 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.
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.
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 and occasionally The Far Side and Gogs portray "cavemen" in that way. (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 television series The Flintstones, a spoof on family sitcoms, portrays the Flintstones not in caves, but in 1950s–1960s ranch-style homes that suggested caves and had stone fittings.
Stereotypical cavemen are also often featured in advertising, including advertisements for Minute Maid. More recently, 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.
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There are various caveman characters in popular culture: