The Cro-Magnons (IPA: kʀomaɲõ or anglicised IPA: kɺəʊ'mægnən) form the earliest known European examples of Homo sapiens, the species to which modern humans belong. The term falls outside the usual naming conventions for early humans and is used in a general sense to describe the oldest modern people in Europe. The oldest H. sapiens (i.e. anatomically modern humans) first emerged in Africa around 160,000 years ago.
The geologist Louis Lartet discovered the first five skeletons in March 1868 in the Cro-Magnon rock shelter at Les Eyzies, Dordogne, France. The rock shelter contained a large cavity which protected the fossils. The definitive specimen from this find bears the name "Cro Magnon I". The skeletons showed the same high forehead, upright posture and slender (gracile) skeleton as modern humans. Other specimens have since come to light in other parts of Europe and in the Middle East. The European individuals probably arrived from a East African origin via South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and even North Africa (cromagnoid populations of Mechta El Arbi and Afalou bou Rummel).
Cro-Magnons lived from about 35,000 to 10,000 years ago in the Upper Paleolithic period of the Pleistocene epoch. For all intents and purposes these people were anatomically modern, only differing from their modern day descendants in Europe by their slightly more robust physiology and brains which had about 4 % larger capacity than that of modern humans. The Cro-Magnons could be descended from any number of subspecies of Homo sapiens that emerged from Africa approximately 100,000 years ago, such as Homo sapiens idaltu.
The condition and placement of the remains along with pieces of shell and animal tooth in what appears to have been pendants or necklaces raises the question whether or not they were buried intentionally. If Cro-Magnons buried their dead intentionally it shows us 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.(1)
Analysis of the pathology of the skeletons shows that the humans of this time period led a physically tough life. In addition to 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. As these injuries would be life threatening even today, this shows that Cro-Magnons believed in community support and took care of each others' injuries. (2)
Surviving Cro-Magnon artifacts include huts, cave paintings, carvings and antler-tipped spears. The remains of tools suggest that they knew how to make woven clothing. They had huts, constructed of rocks, clay, bones, branches, and animal hide/fur. These early humans used manganese and iron oxides to paint pictures and it is believed that they created the first calendar around 34,000 years ago.
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 skeletons.
The Cro-Magnon likely came in contact with the Neanderthals, and is often credited to have caused or finalized the latter's extinction.
The place name Cro-Magnon is a compound of two elements: Cro is presumably a dialectal form of creux, meaning "cavity" or "hollow"; such forms as crau, cro, crouè are found in French dialects, and all probably derive, through Vulgar Latin *crosus (not attested), from a Celtic root. (3)
Magnon is almost certainly the augmentative form of the Old French adjective magne, from Latin magnus, meaning "large" or "great" and ultimately deriving from the Proto-Indo-European root meĝh2- (related to English much). Thus, the probable original meaning is "great cavity".