European early modern humans

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The Grimaldi find, a pre-Mesolithic find from the Ligurian Coast represent an early European modern population.

European early modern humans is a general term for pre-modern early modern humans (early Homo sapiens sapiens) of the European Upper Paleolithic. The term is largely interchangeable with Cro-Magnon as commonly understood, but while the latter somewhat vaguely address the people associated with a number of archaeological phases that make up the Upper Paleolithic rather than any anatomically modern Palaeolithic human remains from Europe, the term European early modern humans has largely supplanted it in scientific use.[1] The two terms also differ somewhat in composition.


A number of finds in Europe are referable to early modern humans. These include the classical Cro-Magnon 1 and other skeletons found at the site, as well as the Grimaldi find from the rock shelters around the "Balzi Rossi" (the Red Cliff) near Ventimiglia in Italy.[2] The oldest known finds of anatomically modern (as opposed to Neanderthals) are from Peștera cu Oase (the bones cave) near the Iron Gates in Romania, dated to at least 37,800 years old. The find combines a variety of archaic, derived early modern, and possibly Neanderthal features, however the modern attributes place it close to European early modern humans among Late Pleistocene samples.[3] Genetic work on the Siberian finds that group with the early modern Europeans indicate the earliest modern people in Europe had a larger unbroken share of Neanderthal DNA than do modern peoples.[4]

The term "early" when applied to modern European finds is usually restricted to finds from earlier than the Mesolithic, ending about 10,000 years ago.[1] This coincides with the end of the last ice age, which also saw the end of the ice age megafauna. At this point the human population of the world switched from a culture of big game hunting to smaller game and later an early storage culture of grass seeds.[5][6] With less demands for brute strength, people all over the world became less robust, resulting in the comparatively more gracile population of today.[7] Thus, the early European modern humans are the big-game, more robustly built Ice-Age sample as opposed to the more gracile post-glacial (gracile) populations. The process leading to the development of smaller and more fine-boned humans seems to have begun at least 50,000–30,000 years ago.[8]

Asemblage and specimen[edit]

The anatomically modern humans from Europe contrasts nicely with the contemporary Neanderthals, but do not themselves constitute a homogeneous sample. The older remains are mostly from Eastern Europe, and many show a combination of modern and archaic traits not seen in the newer material. None of these finds contain tools, making it hard to fit them into the traditional archaeological stratigraphy of Europe. Finds associated with the Aurignacian and later cultures are somewhat later and shows anatomy similar to that of the original Cro-Magnon find. At the very end of the Upper Palaeolithic, finds are associated with the Magdalenian culture, physically grading into the current European population.

Pre-Aurignacian assemblage[edit]

Peștera cu Oase
The oldest modern human remains from Southeast 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 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.[3] 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.[9]

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. No associated tools were found.[10]

Muierii Cave and the Cioclovina
Cioclovina 1 is a complete neurocranium from a robust individual lacking all facial bones. The find is from a cave bear den, Cioclovina Cave, Romania. It is dated at 29,000 ± 700 radiocarbon years.[10][11]

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. These were identified as the oldest anatomically modern remains ever discovered in Europe, dating from between 43,000 and 45,000 years ago.[3] No tools were associated with the find.

Cro-Magnon assemblage[edit]

Cro-Magnon site

Cro-Magnon 2, a female skull from the original site
Male Cro-Magnon skull
The Chancalade skull exhibits a long face contrasting with the squat faces of Cro-Magnons, showing early modern Europeans were ethnically diverse

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.[12] (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.[13]

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.[13] The Abri of Cro-Magnon is part of the UNESCO World Heritage of the "Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley".[14]

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.[15]

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,[16] 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.[17]

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.[18]

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),[19] 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.[10]

Kent's Cavern The Kent's Cavern find is a prehistoric maxilla (upper jawbone) fragment was uncovered in the cavern during a 1927 excavation in Kents Cavern by the Torquay Natural History Society, and named Kent's 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 North-West Europe. Though the find is too fragmentary to compare the anatomy to the Cro-Magnon find, the associated tools are Aurignacian.[20]

Les Roisà Mouthiers
There are diagnostic modern human remains associated with a later Aurignacian assemblage at Les Roisà Mouthiers, France. The date is likely not older than 32,000 radiocarbon years.[10]

Possible Cro-Magnon finds[edit]

Red Lady of Paviland
Despite its name, the Red Lady of Paviland is a partial skeleton of a young male, lacking a skull. It was discovered in 1823 in a cave burial in Gower, South Wales, United Kingdom. The bones was stained with ochre, and 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.[21] Associated finds were red ochre anointing, a mammoth skull, and personal decorations suggesting shamanism or other religious practice. Grave goods are considered late Aurignacian or Early Gravettian in appearance. Genetic analysis of mtDNA yielded the Haplogroup H, the most common group in Europe.[22]

La Quina Aval
Consisting of a partial juvenile mandible, the find is also associated with early Augurinacal tools. The jaw have some archaic features, though is mainly modern.[23] The find is dated to max 33,000 - 32,000 radiocarbon years.[10]

Kostenki find
Dated at 32,600 ± 1,100 radio-carbon years, the find from Kostenki consists of a tibia and a fibula in a rich culture layer. The occupation layers contain bone and ivory artifacts, including possible figurative art, and fossil shells imported more than 500 kilometers.[10][24]

Other non-Cro-Magnon assemblage[edit]

The Grimaldi Man is a find from the Ligurian Coast in Italy. The caves yielded several finds, among them two fairly complete skeletons in the lower Aurignacian layer. Though the age and accompanying tools suggests Cro-Magnon, the skeletons differ physically from the large and robust Cro-Magnons, being slender and rather short.[25] The remains from one of the caves, the "Barma Grande", have in recent time been radiocarbon dated to 25 000 years old, which places it in the Upper Paleolithic.[26]

The Chancelade man, a short and stocky older man buried in Chancelade, France, was found with Magdalenian tools.[27] Several other more fragmentary finds, like the skeleton from Laugerie-Basse and the Duruthy cave near Sorde-l'Abbaye has traditionally been linked to the Chancelade man.[28]

Lapedo child
The Lapedo child from Abrigo do Lagar Velho, Portugal, about 24,000 years old, a fairly complete and quite robust skeleton, possibly showing some Neanderthal traits.[29]

Other sites, assemblages or specimens: La Rochette, Vogelherd, Hahnöfersand, St. Prokop, Velika Pećina.[10]


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