First Discovery of Cro-Magnon Man
The term Cro-Magnon comes from the name of the rock shelter (not actually a cave) in Southwestern France where the first early human remains were discovered.
In 1868, the north-west shelter, 17 m wide and 6 or 7 m deep, was completely filled. An initial disbursement of scree slopes and the removal of a large block of limestone and an overhang occurred during the construction of the Agen-Périgueux railway line opened in 1863.
The uncovering of human remains occurred at the end of March, by workers of the firm of Berthoumeyrou and L. Delmares in charge of the earth works in the embankment for the implementation of the road linking the village to the town of Les Eyzies de Tayac.
To quote the Oxford Companion to Archaeology: Cro-magnons are, in informal usage, a group among the late Ice Age peoples of Europe. The Cro-Magnons are identified with Homo sapiens sapiens of modern form, in the time range ca. 35,000-10000 b.p. …
The term ‘Cro-Magnon’ has no formal taxonomic status, since it refers neither to a species or subspecies nor to an archaeological phase or culture. The name is not commonly encountered in modern professional literature in English, since authors prefer to talk more generally of anatomically modern humans. They thus avoid a certain ambiguity in the label ‘Cro-Magnon’, which is sometimes used to refer to all early moderns in Europe (as opposed to the preceding Neanderthals), and sometimes to refer to a specific human group that can be distinguished from other Upper Paleolithic humans in the region. Nevertheless, the term ‘Cro-Magnon’ is still very commonly used in popular texts because it makes an obvious distinction with the Neanderthals, and also refers directly to people rather than to the complicated succession of archaeological phases that make up the Upper Paleolithic. This evident practical value has prevented archaeologists and human paleontologists – especially in continental Europe – from dispensing entirely with the idea of Cro-Magnons.
Cro-Magnon is the informal word once used by scientists to refer to the people who were living alongside Neanderthals at the end of the last ice age (ca. 35,000-10,000 years ago). They were given the name ‘Cro-Magnon’ because in 1868, parts of five skeletons were discovered in the rockshelter of that name, located in the famous Dordogne Valley of France.
Scientists compared these skeletons to Neanderthal skeletons which had earlier been found in similarly dated sites such as Paviland, Wales; and a little later at Combe Capelle and Laugerie-Basse in France, and decided they were different enough from the Neanderthals, to give them a different name.
Recent research over the past 20 years or so, however, has led scholars to believe that the physical dimensions of so-called ‘Cro-Magnon’ are not sufficiently different enough from modern humans to warrant a separate designation. Scientists today use ‘Anatomically Modern Human’ (AMH) or ‘Early Modern Human’ (EMH) to designate the Upper Paleolithic human beings who looked a lot like us, but did not have the complete suite of modern human behaviors.
VIDEO: The Look Of Cro-Magnons
Where Did EMH Come From?
In Africa, early modern humans appeared at least as long ago as 160,000 years BP at sites such as Bouri in Ethiopia, and perhaps as long ago as 195,000 years ago, if the dating of Omo Kibish, also in Ethiopia, is correct. The earliest sites outside of Africa with early modern humans are at Skhul and Qafzeh caves in what is now Israel about 100,000 years ago. There’s a large gap in the record for Asia and Europe, between 100,000 and 40,000 years ago, a period in which the Middle East seems to have been occupied by Neanderthals; but around 50,000 years ago, the EMH appear again and flow back into Europe.
This is problematic, because there’s very little data for these periods of time. In addition, the relationship between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens is hotly debated in some circles. Behaviorally, in Africa and the Middle East, the Neanderthals and EMH were pretty much the same; they were physically quite different and different scholars debate on our exact relationship with them.
Before the return of EMH to the Middle East and Europe, early technological glimmers of modern behavior are in evidence at several South African sites of the Still Bay/Howiesons Poort tradition, about 75,000-65,000 years ago. But it wasn’t until about 50,000 years ago or so, that a difference in tools, in burial methods, in the presence of art and music, and probably some changes in social behaviors as well, became apparent. At the same time, early modern humans left Africa.
VIDEO: Cro-Magnon vs. Neanderthall: