Cro-Magnon is name that has been used to describe the first early modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) who lived during the European Upper Paleolithic era. Cro-Magnons were anatomically similar to modern humans, straight limbed and tall compared to the contemporaries, the Neanderthals, also more robustly built and powerful than they were. Their foreheads were fairly straight rather than sloping like those of the Neanderthals, and they only had slight brow ridges. Their faces were short and wide, with prominent chins. Their brain capacity was about 1,600 cc (98 cu in), larger than the average for modern humans.

Anatomically modern humans are believed to have first emerged in East Africa some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. According to this theory, an exodus from Africa over the Arabian Peninsula around 60,000 years ago brought modern humans to Eurasia, with one group rapidly settling the coastal areas around the Indian Ocean and one group migrating north to the steppes of Central Asia.

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 may have created the first calendar around 15,000 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-Magnons must have come into contact with the Neanderthals, and are often credited with causing the latter's extinction, although morphologically modern humans seem to have coexisted with Neanderthals for some 60,000 years in the Levant and for more than 1000 years in France.


The average cro-magnon skull's proportion to the body was considerably greater than what ours is today. Which would indicate a much larger brain in proportion to the rest of the body than ours. Were they considerably more intelligent as well? Given that they did not have a huge repository of prior discoveries to work with, that they had to pretty much invent/discover most things from scratch, this may well have been the case, even if brain size cannot be taken as a reliable indicator.

They pierced bones, shells and teeth to make body ornaments. The figurines, cave-paintings, ornaments and the mysterious Venus figurines are a hallmark of Cro-Magnon culture, contrasting with the utilitarian culture of the Neanderthals. Like most early humans, the Cro-Magnons were primarily big-game hunters, killing mammoth, cave bears, horses, and reindeer. They hunted with spears, javelins, and spear-throwers. Archery had not yet been invented. They would have been nomadic or semi-nomadic, following the annual migration of their prey, and would also have eaten plant materials.

The flint tools found in association with the remains at Cro-Magnon sites have associations with the Aurignacian culture. The Aurignacian differ from the earlier cultures by their finely worked bone or antler points and flint points made for hafting, the production of Venus figurines and cave painting.

In Mezhirich village in the Ukraine, several huts built from mammoth bones possibly representing semi-permanent cro-magnon hunting camps have been unearthed.

Cro-magnon figurines: The Venus of Hohle Fels is an Upper Paleolithic figurine of a woman hewn from the ivory of a mammoth tusk which is dated to between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago, belonging to the early Aurignacian, which is associated with the earliest presence of Cro-Magnon in Europe. This female figure is the oldest undisputed example of a depiction of a human being yet discovered. (left) The lion-headed figurine is the oldest-known zoomorphic sculpture in the world, and the oldest-known uncontested example of figurative art. It has been determined to be between 35,000 and 40,000 years old by carbon dating, and is thus associated with the archaeological Aurignacian culture. (right)

Cave paintings are painted drawings on cave walls or ceilings, mainly of prehistoric origin, to some 40,000 years ago (around 38,000 BCE) in both Asia and Europe. The exact purpose of the Paleolithic cave paintings is not known. Evidence suggests that they were not merely decorations of living areas since the caves in which they have been found do not have signs of ongoing habitation. They are also often located in areas of caves that are not easily accessible.


Some theories hold that cave paintings may have been a way of communicating with others, while other theories ascribe a religious or ceremonial purpose to them and that the paintings were made by paleolithic shamans. The shaman would retreat into the darkness of the caves, enter into a trance state, and then paint images of their visions, perhaps with some notion of drawing power out of the cave walls themselves.


Cave paintings are remarkably similar around the world, with animals being common subjects that give the most impressive images; as is the case with these images from what we know was once a lush expanse of land, on which myriad animals and humans roamed - the African Sahara.

Bull and horse paintings in European caves: Lascaux, Altamira and Niaux.

Humans mainly appear as images of hands, mostly hand stencils made by blowing pigment on a hand held to the wall, as shown here with images from the Cave of Chauvet in France.

Petroglyphs are images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, or abrading, as a form of rock art. Outside North America, scholars often use terms such as "carving", "engraving", or other descriptions of the technique to refer to such images.


Petroglyphs are found world-wide, and are often associated with prehistoric peoples. There are many theories to explain their purpose, depending on their location, age, and the type of image. Some petroglyphs are thought to be astronomical markers, maps, and other forms of symbolic communication, including a form of "pre-writing."


Some researchers have noticed the resemblance of different styles of petroglyphs across different continents; while it is expected that all people would be inspired by their surroundings, it is harder to explain the common styles. This could be mere coincidence, an indication that certain groups of people migrated widely from some initial common area, or indication of a common origin. Many of the geometric patterns (known as form constants) which recur in petroglyphs and cave paintings have been shown to be "hard-wired" into the human brain; they frequently occur in visual disturbances and hallucinations brought on by drugs, migraine and other stimuli. More controversial explanations this phenomenon are grounded in Jungian psychology and the views of Mircea Eliade. According to these theories it is possible that the similarity of petroglyphs (and other atavistic or archetypal symbols) from different cultures and continents is a result of the genetically inherited structure of the human brain.


Many petroglyphs are thought to represent some kind of not-yet-fully understood symbolic or ritual language. They may also show trails, symbols communicating time and distances traveled, as well as the local terrain in the form of rivers, landforms and other geographic features; as may also be the case with these ones from North America.

Petroglyph images have deep cultural and religious significance for the societies that created them and in many cases this significance remains in place among their descendants as well. Shown here are animal rock paintings from Kakadu Park in Australia.

A geoglyph is a large design or motif produced on the ground and typically formed by clastic rocks or similarly durable elements of the landscape, such as stones, stone fragments, live trees, gravel, or earth. A positive geoglyph is formed by the arrangement and alignment of materials on the ground, while a negative geoglyph is formed by removing patinated clasts to expose unpatinated ground.


The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, in southern Peru. The high, arid plateau stretches more than 80 km between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana, about 400 km south of Lima. Because of its isolation and the dry, windless, stable climate of the plateau, the lines have mostly been naturally preserved. Scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 500 B.C. and A.D. 500. Hundreds of figures are simple lines and geometric shapes; more than 70 are designs of animals, or human figures. The designs are shallow lines made in the ground by removing the reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish/grayish ground beneath. The largest figures are up to 370 m long. Scholars differ in interpreting the purpose of the designs but, in general, they ascribe religious significance to them.

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Disclaimer: This site was initially built for the usage of my own students at Sabancı University. It consists of material that has been collected from many different resources online, in order to facilitate their instruction. In other words, none of this material is original or a result of my own personal research. Therefore this site cannot be cited from for academic purposes.

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