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For other uses, see Cro-Magnon (disambiguation).

Cro-Magnon (

Cro-Magnons were robustly built and powerful. The body was generally heavy and solid with a strong musculature. The forehead was fairly straight rather than sloping like in Neanderthals, and with only slight browridges. The face was short and wide. Like other modern humans, Cro-Magnons had a prominent chin. The brain capacity was about 1,600 cubic centimetres (98 cu in), larger than the average for modern humans.[3] However, recent research suggests that the physical dimensions of so-called "Cro-Magnon" are not sufficiently different from modern humans to warrant a separate designation.[4][5]


The name comes from the Abri de Cro-Magnon (French: rock shelter of Cro-Magnon, the big cave in Occitan) near the commune of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in southwestern France, where the first specimen was found.[6] Being the oldest known modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) in Europe, the Cro-Magnons were from the outset linked to the well-known Lascaux cave paintings and the Aurignacian culture whose remains were well known from southern France and Germany. As additional remains of early modern humans were discovered in archaeological sites from Western Europe and elsewhere, and dating techniques improved in the early 20th century, new finds were added to the taxonomic classification.

The term "Cro-Magnon" soon came to be used in a general sense to describe the oldest modern people in Europe. By the 1970s the term was used for any early modern human wherever found, as was the case with the far-flung Jebel Qafzeh remains in Israel and various Paleo-Indians in the Americas.[7] However, analyses based on more current data[8] concerning the migrations of early humans have contributed to a refined definition of this expression. Today, the term "Cro-Magnon" falls outside the usual naming conventions for early humans, though it remains an important term within the archaeological community as an identifier for the commensurate fossil remains in Europe and adjacent areas.[1] Current scientific literature prefers the term "European Early Modern Humans" (or EEMH), instead of "Cro-Magnon". The oldest definitely dated EEMH specimen is the Grotta del Cavallo tooth dated in 2011 to at least 43,000 years old.[2]

Assemblages and specimens

The French geologist Louis Lartet discovered the first five skeletons of this type in March 1868 in a rock shelter named Abri de Crô-Magnon. Similar specimens were subsequently discovered in other parts of Europe and neighboring areas.

Grotta del Cavallo

In November 2011 tests conducted at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit in England on what were previously thought to be Neanderthal baby teeth, which had been unearthed in 1964 from the Grotta del Cavallo in Italy, were identified as the oldest Cro-Magnon remains ever discovered in Europe, dating from between 43,000 to 45,000 years ago.[2]

Kents Cavern

Main article: Kents Cavern

A prehistoric maxilla (upper jawbone) fragment was discovered in the cavern during a 1927 excavation by the Torquay Natural History Society, and named Kents Cavern 4. In 2011 the fossil was redated to at least 41,500 years old and confirmed to be Cro-Magnon, making it the earliest anatomically modern human fossil yet discovered in North-West Europe.[9]

Peştera cu Oase

Main article: Peştera cu Oase

The oldest Cro-Magnon remains from South East Europe are the finds from Peştera cu Oase (The bones cave) near the Iron Gates in Romania. The site is situated in the Danubian corridor, which may have been the Cro-Magnon entry point into Central Europe. The cave itself appears to be a hyena or cave bear den; the human remains may have been prey or carrion. No tools are associated with the finds.

Oase 1 holotype is a robust mandible which combines a variety of archaic, derived early modern, and possibly Neanderthal features. The modern attributes place it close to European early modern humans among Late Pleistocene samples. The fossil is one of the few finds in Europe which could be directly dated and is at least 37,800 years old.[2] The Oase 1 mandible was discovered on February 16, 2002. A nearly complete skull of a young male (Oase 2) and fragments of another (Oase 3) were found in 2005, again with mosaic features, some of which are paralleled in the Oase 1 mandible. Later, during 2005, the Oase 3 fragments were assigned as being part of the same individual as Oase 2.[10]

Red Lady of Paviland

Main article: Red Lady of Paviland

A complete anatomically modern male skeleton from a cave burial in Gower, South Wales, UK. Discovered in 1823 it is the first human fossil to have been found anywhere in the world, and at 33,000 years old is still the oldest ceremonial burial of a modern human ever discovered anywhere in Western Europe.[11] Associated finds: red ochre anointing, a mammoth skull, personal decorations suggesting shamanism or other religious practice. Numerous tools. Genetic analysis of Mitochondrial DNA yielded the Haplogroup H, the most common group in Europe.[12]

Peştera Muierilor

The Peştera Muierilor (Women`s Cave) find is that of a single, fairly complete cranium of a woman with rugged facial traits and otherwise modern skull features was found in a lower gallery of "The Women's Cave" in Romania, among numerous cave bear remains. Radiocarbon dating yield an age of 30,150 ± 800 years, making it one of the oldest Cro-Magnon finds.[13]

Cro-Magnon site

The original Cro-Magnon find was discovered in a rock shelter at Les Eyzies, Dordogne, France. The type specimen from the site is Cro-Magnon 1, carbon dated to about 28,000 14C years old.[14] (27,680 ± 270 BP). Compared to Neanderthals, the skeletons showed the same high forehead, upright posture and slender (gracile) skeleton as modern humans. The other specimens from the site are a female, Cro-Magnon 2, and male remains, Cro-Magnon 3.

The condition and placement of the remains of Cro-Magnon 1, along with pieces of shell and animal teeth in what appear to have been pendants or necklaces, raises the question of whether they were buried intentionally. If Cro-Magnons buried their dead intentionally, it suggests they had a knowledge of ritual, by burying their dead with necklaces and tools, or an idea of disease and that the bodies needed to be contained.[15]

Analysis of the pathology of the skeletons shows that the humans of this period led a physically difficult life. In addition to infection, several of the individuals found at the shelter had fused vertebrae in their necks, indicating traumatic injury; the adult female found at the shelter had survived for some time with a skull fracture. As these injuries would be life threatening even today, this suggests that Cro-Magnons relied on community support and took care of each other's injuries.[15]


A fossil site at Předmostí is located near Přerov in the Moravian region of what is today the Czech Republic. The site was discovered in the late 19th century. Excavations were conducted between 1884 and 1930. The original material was lost during World War II. In the 1990s new excavations were conducted.[16]

The Předmostí site appear to have been a living area with associated burial ground with some 20 burials, including 15 complete human interments, and portions of five others, representing either disturbed or secondary burials. Cannibalism has been suggested to explain the apparent subsequent disturbance,[17] though it is not widely accepted. The non-human fossils are mostly mammoth. Many of the bones are heavily charred, indicating they were cooked. Other remains include fox, reindeer, ice-age horse, wolf, bear, wolverine, and hare. Remains of three dogs were also found, one of which had a mammoth bone in its mouth.[18]

The Předmostí site is dated to between 24,000 and 27,000 years old. The people were essentially similar to the French Cro-Magnon finds. Though undoubtedly modern, they had robust features indicative of a big-game hunter lifestyle. They also share square eye socket openings found in the French material.[19]


Though younger than the Oase skull and mandible, the finds from Mladeč Caves in Moravia (Czech Republic) is one of the oldest Cro-Magnon sites. The caves have yielded the remains of several individuals, but few artifacts. The artifacts found have tentatively been classified as Aurignacian. The finds have been radiocarbon dated to around 31,000 radiocarbon years (somewhat older in calendar years),[20] Mladeč 2 is dated to 31,320 +410, -390, Mladeč 9a to 31,500 +420, -400 and Mladeč 8 to 30,680 +380, -360 14C years.[13]


All EEMH dates are direct fossil dates provided in 14C years B.P.[13]

  • Kostenki 1 = 32,600 ± 1,100. tibia and fibula[13][21][22]
  • Cioclovina 1 = 29,000 ± 700, complete neurocranium from a robust individual, Cioclovina Cave, Romania[13][23]
  • Les Roisà Mouthiers << 32,000[13]
  • La Quina Aval ≈ max 33,000 - 32,000 (juvenile partial mandible)[13]

Calendar years

Other sites, assemblages or specimens: Brassempouy, La Rochette, Vogelherd, Engis, Hahnöfersand, St. Prokop, Velika Pećina.[13]

Origin of the Cro-Magnon people

Anatomically modern humans first emerged in East Africa, some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. An exodus from Africa over the Arabian Peninsula around 60,000 years ago brought modern humans to Eurasia, with one group rapidly settling coastal areas around the Indian Ocean and one group migrating north to steppes of Central Asia.[25] A mitochondrial DNA sequence of two Cro-Magnons from the Paglicci Cave, Italy, dated to 23,000 and 24,000 years old (Paglicci 52 and 12), identified the mtDNA as Haplogroup N, typical of the latter group.[26] The inland group is the founder of North and East Asians (the "Mongol" people), Caucasoids and large sections of the Middle East and North African population. Migration from the Black Sea area into Europe started some 45,000 years ago, probably along the Danubian corridor. By 20,000 years ago, modern humans had reached the Western margin of the continent.

Migration of modern humans into Europe, based on simulation by Currat & Excoffier (2004)[27]
(YBP=Years Before Present)

Cro-Magnon life

Physical attributes

Cro-Magnons were anatomically modern, straight limbed and tall compared to the contemporaneous Neanderthals. They are thought to have been 166 to 171 centimeters (about 5' 5" to 5' 7") tall,[28] though large males may have stood as tall as 195 cm (6' 5") and taller.[29] They also differ from modern-day humans in having a more robust physique and a slightly larger cranial capacity.[28] The Cro-Magnons had long, fairly low skulls, with wide faces, prominent noses, and moderate to no prognathism.[19] A distinctive trait was the rectangular eye orbits.[30] Cro-Magnon vocal apparatus was like that of present day humans and they could probably speak.[31]

Several works on genetics, their blood types and cranial morphology indicate that the Basque people may be part descendents of the original Cro-Magnon population.[32] A study of Basque DNA in 2006 showed a one percent incidence of mtDNA haplogroup U8a that was dated to the time of Cro-Magnon, but the authors noted that the low incidence of this ancestry and recent gene flow from neighboring populations meant that the current Basque population cannot be considered to be reliable examples of the physical characteristics of Cro-Magnon men.[33]

Mitochondrial DNA analyses place the early European population as sister group to the Asian ("Mongol") groups, dating the divergence to some 50,000 years ago.[34] While the skin and hair colour of the Cro-Magnons can at best be guessed at, light skin is known to have evolved independently in both the Asian and European lines,[35] and may have only appeared in the European line as recently as 6,000 years ago[36] suggesting Cro-Magnons could have been medium brown to tan-skinned.[37] A small ivory bust of a man found at Dolní Věstonice and dated to 26,000 years indicates the Cro-Magnons had straight hair, though the somewhat later Venus of Brassempouy may show wavy or curly hair, possibly braided.

Cro-Magnon culture

Main article: Aurignacian

The flint tools found in association with the remains at Cro-Magnon have associations with the Aurignacian culture that Lartet had identified a few years before he found the first skeletons. The Aurignacian differ from the earlier cultures by their finely worked bone or antler points and flint points made for hafting, the production of Venus figurines and cave painting.[38] They pierced bones, shells and teeth to make body ornaments.

Like Neanderthals, the Cro-Magnons were primarily big-game hunters, killing mammoth, cave bears, horses and reindeer.[39] They hunted with spears, javelins and atlatl. Archery had not yet been invented. They would have been nomadic or semi-nomadic, following the annual migration of their prey but were less carnivorous than Neanderthals and also ate plant materials. In Mezhirich village in Ukraine, several huts built from mammoth bones possibly representing semi-permanent hunting camps have been unearthed.[31][40]

Finds of spun, dyed, and knotted flax fibers among Cro-Magnon artifacts in Dzudzuana shows they made cords for hafting stone tools, weaving baskets, or sewing garments.[41] Apart from the mammoth bone huts mentioned, they constructed shelter of rocks, clay, branches, and animal hide/fur. These early humans used manganese and iron oxides to paint pictures and may have created one early lunar calendar around 15,000 years ago.[42]

Other contemporary humans in Europe


Main article: Neanderthal

The Cro-Magnons shared the European landscape with Neanderthals for some 10,000 years or more, before the latter disappeared from the fossil record. The nature of their co-existence and the extinction of Neanderthals has been debated. Suggestions include peaceful co-existence, competition, interbreeding, assimilation and genocide.[8][43] Other modern people, like the Qafzeh humans, seem to have co-existed with Neanderthals for up to 60,000 years in the Levant.[44]

Earlier studies argue for more than 15,000 years of Neanderthal and modern human co-existence in France.[45][46] A simulation based on a slight difference in carrying capacity in the two groups indicates that the two groups would only be found together in a narrow zone, at the front of the Cro-Magnon immigration wave.[27]

The Neanderthal Châtelperronian culture appears to have been influenced by the Cro-Magnons, indicating some sort of cultural exchange between the two groups.[47] At the original Châtelperronian site layers of Châtelperronian artifacts alternate with Aurignacian, though this may be a result of interstratified ("chronologically mixed") layers, or disturbances from earlier excavations.[48] The "Lapedo child" found at Abrigo do Lagar Velho in Portugal has been quoted as being a possible Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon hybrid, though this interpretation is disputed.[24] Recent genetic studies of a wide selection of modern humans do however indicate some form of hybridization with archaic humans took place after modern humans emerged from Africa. About 1 to 4 percent of the DNA in Europeans and Asians appears to be derived from Neanderthals, though none of it can conclusively be tied to a European event.[49]

Contemporary early modern humans in Europe?

Main article: Grimaldi Man

The so-called Grimaldi Man may have been a contemporary group of modern humans, distinct from the Cro-Magnons.[50] The find is from the "Grotte des Enfants" near Menton on the French Riviera. The two known skeletons are shorter and more gracile than the Cro-Magnons, and the skulls are taller and less robust, with signs of prognathism, all interpreted as African traits.[51][52] The interpretation of the Grimaldi finds as belonging to a negroid race is complicated by the two skeletons being that of an older pathologic woman and an adolescent combined with some dubious reconstruction work.[53] The finds were classified as Cro-Magnon under the wide use of the term in the mid-20th century.[51] Due to the reconstruction forwarded by the early description and its use in racist theories, the Grimaldi finds have been largely ignored in recent literature.[54]


A 2003 sequencing on the mitochondrial DNA of two Cro-Magnons (23,000-year-old Paglicci 52 and 24,720-year-old Paglicci 12) identified the mtDNA as Haplogroup N.[26]

See also

Further reading

  • Brian Fagan Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans (Bloomsbury Press; 2010) 295 pages


External links

  • Cro-Magnon 1: Smithsonian Institution – The Human Origins Program

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