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Cro-Magnon 1

Image of Cro-Magnon 1 Skull, 3/4 view
Cro-Magnon 1
Exhibit Item
Nickname: Cro-Magnon Man
Site: Cro-Magnon, France
Year of Discovery: 1868
Discovered by: Louis Lartet
Age: About 30,000 years old
Species: Homo sapiens

Historic Homo sapiens

Discovered in 1868, Cro-Magnon 1 was among the first fossils to be recognized as belonging to our own species—Homo sapiens. This famous fossil skull is from one of several modern human skeletons found at the famous rock shelter site at Cro-Magnon, near the village of Les Eyzies, France.

Road construction in 1868 revealed the rock shelter tucked into a limestone cliff. Researchers recognized an occupation floor toward the back of the cave during excavations. The occupation area revealed the remains of four adult skeletons, one infant, and some fragmentary bones. The condition and placement of ornaments, including pieces of shell and animal teeth fashioned into what appear to be pendants or necklaces, led researchers to believe the skeletons had been intentionally buried within the shelter in a single grave. The site was one of the first to establish the ancient roots of modern humans, and fossils from this shelter represent some of the oldest Homo sapiens populations of Europe. Associated tools and fragments of fossil animal bone date the site to the uppermost Pleistocene, probably between 32,000 and 30,000 years old.

Cro-Magnon 1 is a middle-aged, male skeleton of one of the four adults found in the cave at Cro-Magnon. Scientists estimate his age at death at less than 50 years old. Except for the teeth, his skull is complete, though the bones in his face are noticeably pitted from a fungal infection.

While the Cro-Magnon remains are representative of the earliest anatomically modern human beings to appear in Western Europe, this population was not the earliest anatomically modern humans to evolve - our species evolved about 200,000 years ago in Africa. However, the skull of Cro-Magnon 1 does show traits that are unique to modern humans, including the tall, rounded skull with a near vertical forehead. A large brow ridge no longer tops the eye sockets and there is no prominent prognathism of the face and jaw.

Analysis of the skeletons found at the rock shelter indicates that the humans of this time period led a physically tough life. In addition to Cro-Magnon 1’s fungal infection, several of the individuals found at the shelter had fused vertebrae in their necks indicating traumatic injury, and the adult female found at the shelter had survived for some time with a skull fracture. The survival of the individuals with such ailments is indicative of group support and care, which allowed their injuries to heal.

Page last updated: August 5, 2016