For other uses, see Cro-Magnon (disambiguation).
The original "Old man of Cro-Magnon", Musée de l'Homme, Paris.
Tool from Cro-Magnon – Louis Lartet Collection

Cro-Magnon (i/krˈmænjən/ or US pronunciation: /krˈmæɡnən/; French: [kʁomaɲɔ̃]) is a common name that has been used to describe the first early modern humans (early Homo sapiens sapiens) that lived in the European Upper Paleolithic.[1] Current scientific literature prefers the term European early modern humans (EEMH), to the term Cro-Magnon, which has no formal taxonomic status, as it refers neither to a species or subspecies nor to an archaeological phase or culture.[2] The earliest known remains of Cro-Magnon-like humans are radiocarbon dated to 43-45,000 years before present that have been discovered in Italy[3] and Britain,[4] with the remains found of those that reached the European Russian Arctic 40,000 years ago.[5][6]

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. The chin was prominent. The brain capacity was about 1,600 cc (98 cu in), larger than the average for modern humans.[7]


Abri de Cro-Magnon, site of the first discovery in 1868

The name comes from the location of Abri de Cro-Magnon (abri is French for rock shelter, cro is Occitan for "hole" or "cavity",[8] and Magnon is the name of the owner of the land[9]) in the hamlet of Les Eyzies in the commune of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in southwestern France, where the first specimen was found.[10] 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, the remains of which 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.

Reconstruction of a Cro-Magnon woman and child

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.[11] However, analyses based on more current data[12] 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.[2] Current scientific literature uses 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.[13]

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

Main article: Grotta del Cavallo

In November 2011, tests were 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. These were identified as the oldest Cro-Magnon (or EEMH) remains ever discovered, dating from 43,000 to 45,000 years ago.[13]

Kents Cavern

Main article: Kents Cavern

A prehistoric maxilla (upper jawbone) fragment was uncovered in the Kents Cavern during a 1927 excavation by the Torquay Natural History Society, and named Kents Cavern 4. In 2011, the fossil was tested and redated to at least 41,500 years old and confirmed to be Cro-Magnon, making it the earliest anatomically modern human (AMH) fossil yet discovered in northwestern Europe.[14]

Peștera cu Oase

Main article: Peștera cu Oase

The oldest Cro-Magnon remains from southeastern Europe are the finds from Peștera 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 appears to be a 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 similar to those of archaic humans, with a derived modern pointed chin, and large neanderthal-like teeth. 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 that could be directly dated, and is at least 37,800 years old.[13] The Oase 1 mandible was discovered on February 16, 2002. A nearly complete skull of a young male Oase 2 and fragments of another cranium (Oase 3) were found in 2005, again with mosaic features; some of these 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.[15] In concurrence with the mixed physical traits, DNA sequences from the mandible shows 6-9 % Neanderthal ancestry in fairly long continuous portions, indicating Oase 1 had a Neanderthal ancestor as recent as 4-6 generations back.[16]

Red Lady of Paviland

Main article: Red Lady of Paviland

A complete AMH male skeleton was discovered in 1823 in a cave burial in Gower, South Wales, United Kingdom. It was the first human fossil to have been found anywhere in the world. At 33,000 years old, it is still the oldest ceremonial burial of a modern human ever discovered anywhere in Western Europe.[17] Associated finds were red ochre anointing, a mammoth skull, and personal decorations suggesting shamanism or other religious practice. Numerous tools were with the skeleton as grave goods. Genetic analysis of mtDNA yielded the haplogroup H, the most common group in Europe.[18]

Peștera Muierilor

The Peștera Muierilor (Women's Cave) find is a single, fairly complete cranium of a woman with rugged facial traits and otherwise modern skull features, found in a lower gallery of "The Women's Cave" in Romania, among numerous cave bear remains. Radiocarbon dating yielded an age of 30,150 ± 800 years, making it one of the oldest Cro-Magnon finds.[19]

Cro-Magnon site

Cro-Magnon 2, a female skull from the original site
Male Cro-Magnon skull.

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.[20] (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 the Cro-Magnon 1 specimen, along with pieces of shell and animal teeth in what appear to have been pendants or necklaces, raises the question of whether it was 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.[21]

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.[21]

UNESCO World Heritage

The Abri of Cro-Magnon is part of the UNESCO World Heritage of the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley.[22]


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. As the original material was lost during World War II, in the 1990s, new excavations were conducted.[23]

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,[24] 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.[25]

The Předmostí site is dated to 24,000 to 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.[26]


Though younger than the Oase skull and mandible, the finds from the Mladeč caves in Moravia are some 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),[27] 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.[19]


All EEMH dates are direct fossil dates provided in 14C years BP.[19]

Calendar years

Other sites, assemblages or specimens include: Brassempouy, La Rochette, Vogelherd, Engis, Hahnöfersand, St. Prokop, and Velika Pećina.[19]

Origin of the Cro-Magnon people

Migration of modern humans into Europe, based on simulation by Currat & Excoffier (2004)[31]
(YBP=Years Before Present)

Anatomically modern humans (AMHs) are believed to have first emerged in East Africa some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. According to this theory, 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.[32] 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 descendants in Central Asia.[33] The inland group is the founder of North and East Asians, Europeans, large sections of the Middle East, and North African populations. 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.

Cro-Magnon life

Physical attributes

19th century impression of life in the upper Paleolithic. Artist: Viktor Vasnetsov, 1883.
Cave painting from Lascaux, France dated to approximately 16,000 years ago (Upper Paleolithic).

Cro-Magnons were anatomically modern, straight limbed and tall compared to the contemporaneous Neanderthals. They are thought to have stood on average 176.2 cm (5 feet 9 13 inches) tall. They differ from modern-day humans in having a more robust physique and a slightly larger cranial capacity.[34] The Cro-Magnons had long, fairly low skulls, with wide faces, narrow aquiline noses,[35] and moderate to no prognathism.[26] A distinctive trait was the rectangular eye orbits.[36] Their vocal apparatus was like that of present-day humans and they could speak.[37]

Mitochondrial DNA analysis places the early European population as sister group to the Asian groups, dating the divergence to some 50,000 years ago.[38] The very light skin tone found in modern Northern Europeans is a relatively recent phenomenon,[39] and may have appeared in the European line as recently as 6 to 12 thousand years ago, indicating Cro-Magnons had dark skin.[40] Sequencing of finds of the late post-ice-age hunter-gatherer populations in Europe indicate that some Cro-Magnons likely had blue eyes and dark hair, and an "olive" complexion.[41][42] 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.[43] They pierced bones, shells and teeth to make body ornaments. The figurines, cave-paintings, ornaments and the mysterious Venus figurines are a hallmark of Cro-Magnon culture, contrasting with the utilitarian culture of the Neanderthals.[44] Unlike earlier cultures, the Aurignacian appear to have been developed in Europe, and to have spread in the wake of the Phlegraean eruption 37 000 years ago.[45]

Like most early humans, the Cro-Magnons were primarily big-game hunters, killing mammoth, cave bears, horses, and reindeer.[46] They hunted with spears, javelins, and spear-throwers. Archery had not yet been invented. They would have been nomadic or semi-nomadic, following the annual migration of their prey, and also have eaten plant materials. In Mezhirich village in Ukraine, several huts built from mammoth bones possibly representing semi-permanent hunting camps have been unearthed.[37][47]

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.[48] 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.[49]

Other contemporary humans in Europe

The spreading of early modern humans (red) from Africa, based on genetic studies. In Europe, the first modern humans (Cro-Magnons) would have encountered the Neanderthals.
The Grimaldi skeletons from Monaco may have belonged to a different ethnic group.


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.[12][50] Other modern people, like the Qafzeh humans, seem to have co-existed with Neanderthals for up to 60,000 years in the Levant.[51]

Earlier studies argue for more than 15,000 years of Neanderthal and modern human co-existence in France.[52][53] A simulation based on a slight difference in carrying capacity in the two groups indicates that the two groups would be found together only in a narrow zone, at the front of the Cro-Magnon immigration wave.[31]

The Neanderthal Châtelperronian culture appears to have been influenced by the Cro-Magnons, indicating some sort of cultural exchange between the two groups.[54] 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.[55] 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.[30] 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. According to one study, about 1 to 4 percent of the DNA in Europeans and Asians may be derived from Neanderthals.[56]

Grimaldi Man

Main article: Grimaldi Man

Grimaldi man was a name given in the early 20th century to an Italian find of two paleolithic skeletons of short, but finely built people. When found, the skeletons were the subject of dubious scientific theories on human evolution, partly fueled by biased reconstruction of the skulls by the scientists involved.[57] In the 1960s, the Grimaldi find, together with various other European finds of early modern humans, was classified as Cro-Magnon (in the wider sense), though the term "European Early Modern Humans" is today preferred for this assemblage.

Chancelade man

Main article: Chancelade man

A fairly complete skeleton from the Magdalenian found in 1888 in Chancelade, France, was originally thought to have been an Eskimo. Though this interpretation is now abandoned, the short and stocky, but otherwise modern skeleton differs markedly from the Cro-Magnon finds.[58][59] Similar, but more fragmentary finds are known from Laugerie-Basse and the Duruthy cave near Sorde-l'Abbaye.[60]


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.[33]

A 2015 study sequenced the genome of a 13,000 year old Cro-Magnon from Switzerland. He belonged to Y DNA Haplogroup I2a and mtDNA haplogroup U5b1h.[61]

See also


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