Cromagnon man facts Lascaux paintings
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ever wondered what happened before agriculture, but after the nomad prehistoric men? Let me introduce the men of the caves, your grand-grand-grand... parents.

The first representative (and thus ancestor) of the Homo Sapiens (us) is known by the name of Cro-magnon, which appeared and evolved along the Upper Paleolithic. It is believed he coexisted with the Homo Neanderthalensis and possibly he played a part in the extinction of the latter. The first skeletons of a man different to us appeared in the French Dordogne in an area called Cro-magnon, which was the name given to the new race. Moving away from the anthropological classifications and variations, this new race is considered as the last branch of the evolutionary human tree, the man of Cro-magnon. It is considered as a species responsible for human progress with advanced manufacturing techniques (consolidation of the flaked stone industry, specialization, development of tools of bone, antler and ivory) to improve its economy and Paleolithic life. The man stops moving by instinct and starts reasoning, with a spiritual life, related to religion or cult, which will lead to artistic expression.

The Cro-Magnon archeologic site

The rock shelter is located in the village of Les Eyzies de Tayac. It was discovered in 1868 when carrying out the works for the railway. The excavations were directed by Lartet. Five skeletons appeared, which were probably intentionally buried by the Cro-magnon men. These anthropological remains, composed of an elderly, two adults, a woman and a fetus were studied by Broca and later by Quatrefages and Hamy. The most complete fossil was the one of the elderly, who is thought to be about 50 years old at the moment of his death; this was the starting point for the definition of this hitherto unknown race. New findings in the Old World confirmed that this human type appeared ever since the oldest levels of the Upper Palaeolithic, from the Aurignacian to the Magdalenian. Their industrial activity dates back to 40,000 years ago.

Main characteristics that classify Cro-Magnon as a species

Quatrefages and Hamy, starting from a single finding, defined the new anthropological type. The defining characteristics have been established from the complete skeleton of a Cro-Magnon, based on the morphology of the skull and a number of traits. And the common lines are specifically cromagnoid: robust body, skull and face, strong development of the index finger, the development of the side of the skull and upper or middle rectangular shaped orbits, and the flattening of the skull base. So opposedly to the Neanderthals and current races, the Cro-Magnon man was tall (between 1.79 and 1.94 m., which was about 25 centimeters higher than his predecessors), he had a large nose, a broad forehead and a chin highlighted with a distinctive upper jaw; his skin was very white. He had a larger physical presence and his body was much better adapted to the cold. His intelligence was more limited than ours, although his cranial capacity was already important, about 1600 cubic centimeters on average.

Lifestyle of Cro-Magnons

They lived in caves for a long period of their lives because they were sedentary beings who rarely changed their village or settlement. Women were in charge of the food, supplying the caves by collecting fruits. They were hunters and gatherers. They had a physical and mental ability to speak as the modern man does. They used to live in groups of 15 to 30 individuals and for the first time in history, they built houses and towns. They covered the ground with blocks of stone, which isolated from moisture. They built roofs to protect them from the rain, with leaves or straw. Where natural shelters lacked (like in the plains of Central Europe or in the area of Russia) family cabins were built, buried halfway up, the walls were reinforced with hard bones of animals; in the Don region they also raised large collective houses. They started using bones, especially deer or reindeer antlers and elaborated a sophisticated instruments and ornaments.
They did a spectacular repertoire of graphical representations on rocks, which were called cave paintings. They also painted on tools and smaller plates. They resorted to the so-called "economic opportunism" being the first ones to use it. They produced stone weapons and tools in a standardized way, by flaking stones into thin and elongated silex from which they made ​ most of the "Upper Paleolithic tools."

Genetics of Cro-Magnon

Cro-Magnons are within the human evolutionary line. The East of Palestine is considered to be their cradle. Since the time Neanderthal remains were found, Mount Carmel caves represent a polymorphism with traits that we find fully defined in the homo sapiens sapiens. It is logical to assume that there was a large junction and the new race replaced the old one slowly. In Europe, intermediate types between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons are found: the presapiens, as for example, the cranial fragments of Swanscombe (Kent, England) which was associated with middle Acheulean, or the skull of French Fontechevade, from the tayacian industry.

Territorial spread of Cro-Magnon

The race extends throughout the Old World and the dating of their remains is wide, from the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic. They dominate Europe, western Asia and the Mediterranean. This dispersion created earlier prototypes of the current races in different subspecies. The durability is witnessed even in regions like Dordogne, Canarias and even in the Basque Country.

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