European early modern humans

Doi (identifier) PMID (identifier) Bibcode (identifier)
Skull of the elderly man Cro-Magnon 1

"European early modern humans" (EEMH) is a term for the earliest populations of anatomically modern humans in Europe, during the Upper Paleolithic. It is taken to include fossils from throughout the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), covering the period of about 48,000 to 15,000 years ago (48–15 ka), spanning the Bohunician, Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian periods.

The term EEMH is equivalent to Cro-Magnon Man, or "Cro-Magnons", a term derived from the Cro-Magnon rock shelter in southwestern France, where the first EEMH were found in 1868. Louis Lartet (1869) proposed Homo sapiens fossilis as the systematic name for "Cro-Magnon Man". W. K. Gregory (1921) proposed the subspecies name Homo sapiens cro-magnonensis. In literature published since the late 1990s, the term EEMH is generally preferred over the common name Cro-Magnon, which has no formal taxonomic status, as "it refers neither to a species or subspecies nor to an archaeological phase or culture".[note 1] Use of "Cro-Magnon" is mostly restricted to times after the beginning of the Aurignacian proper, c. 37 to 35 ka.[1]

The oldest known EEMH fossil remains are found in Bacho Kiro cave, Bulgaria.[2] They are dated from c. 47,000 BC. up to c. 44,000 BC.[3] Other known remains of EEMH confidently dated to before 40 ka were found at Riparo Mochi (Italy), Geissenklösterle (Germany), and Isturitz (France).[4][5] Other known remains of EEMH can be dated to before 40 ka with some certainty: those from Grotta del Cavallo in Italy, and from Kents Cavern in England, have been radiocarbon dated to 43±2 ka.[6][7] A number of other early fossils are dated close to or just after 40 ka, including fossils found in Romania (Peștera cu Oase, 39.5±2.5 ka) and Russia (Kostenki-14, 37.5±2.5 ka).[8]

The description as "modern" is used as contrasting with the "archaic" Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis, who lived within Europe during about 400 ka to 37 ka, and who with the arrival of EEMH became extinct or absorbed into their lineage.

The EEMH lineage in the European Mesolithic is also known as "West European Hunter-Gatherer" (WHG). These mesolithic hunter-gatherers emerge after the end of the LGM c. 15 ka and are described as more gracile than the Upper Paleolithic Cro-Magnons.[note 2] The WHG lineage survives in contemporary Europeans, albeit only as a minor contribution overwhelmed by the later Neolithic and Bronze Age migrations.


Map of the distribution of the main pre-LGM Aurignacian sites.

There appear to have been multiple early modern human (Homo sapiens) immigration and disappearance events on the European continent, whereupon they interacted with the indigenous Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) which had already inhabited Europe for hundreds of thousands of years. In the Middle Palaeolithic, modern humans have been identified 210,000 years ago in Apidima Cave, Greece, and they were replaced by Neanderthals by 170,000 years ago.[10] About 60,000 years ago, marine isotope stage 3 begins, characterised by volatile climatic patterns and sudden retreat and recolonisation events of forestland in way of open steppeland.[11]

The earliest indication of Upper Palaeolithic modern human immigration into Europe is the Balkan Bohunician industry beginning 48,000 years ago, likely deriving from the Levantine Emiran industry,[12] and the earliest bones in Europe date to roughly 45–43 thousand years ago in Bulgaria,[13] Italy,[14] and Britain.[15] It is unclear, while migrating westward, if they followed the Danube or went along the Mediterranean coast.[5] About 45 to 44 thousand years ago, the Proto-Aurignacian culture spread out across Europe, probably descending from the Near Eastern Ahmarian culture. After 40,000 years ago with the onset of Heinrich event 4, the Aurignacian proper evolved perhaps in South-Central Europe, and rapidly replaced other cultures across the continent.[16] This wave of modern humans replaced Neanderthal and their Mousterian culture.[17] In the Danube Valley, the Aurignacian features sites far and few between, compared to later traditions, until 35,000 years ago. From here, the "Typical Aurignacian" becomes quite prevalent, and extends until 29,000 years ago.[18]

The Aurignacian was gradually replaced by the Gravettian culture, but it is unclear when the Aurignacian went extinct because it is poorly defined. "Aurignacoid" or "Epi-Aurignacian" tools are identified as late as 18 to 15 thousand years ago.[18] It is also unclear where the Gravettian originated from as it diverges strongly from the Aurignician (and therefore may not have descended from it).[19] Nonetheless, genetic evidence indicates not all Aurignacian bloodlines went extinct.[20] Hypotheses for Gravettian genesis include evolution: in Central Europe from the Szeletian (which developed from the Bohunician) which existed 41 to 37 thousand years ago; or from the Ahmarian or similar cultures from the Near East or the Caucasus which existed before 40,000 years ago.[19] It is further debated where the earliest occurrence is identified, with the former hypothesis arguing for Germany about 37,500 years ago,[21] and the latter Buran-Kaya III rockshelter in Crimea about 38 to 36 thousand years ago.[22] In either case, the appearance of the Gravettian coincides with a significant temperature drop.[11] Also around 37,000 years ago, the founder population of all later EEMH existed, and Europe would remain in genetic isolation from the rest of the world until 14,000 years ago.[20]

LGM refugia, c. 20,000 years ago

Around 29,000 years ago, marine isotope stage 2 begins and cooling intensifies. This peaked about 21,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) when Scandinavia, the Baltic region, and the British Isles were covered in glaciers, and winter sea ice reached the French seaboard. The Alps were also covered in glaciers, and most of Europe was polar desert, with mammoth steppe and forest steppe dominating the Mediterannean coast.[11] Consequently, large swathes of Europe were uninhabitable, and two distinct cultures emerged with unique technologies to adapt to the new environment: the Solutrean in Southwestern Europe which invented brand new technologies, and the Epi-Gravettian from Italy to the Russian Plain which adapted the previous Gravettian technologies. Solutrean peoples inhabited the permafrost zone, whereas Epi-Gravettian peoples appear to have stuck to less harsh, seasonally frozen areas. Relatively few sites are known through this time.[23] The glaciers began retreating about 20,000 years ago, and the Magdalenian appears and recolonises Western and Central Europe (succeeding the Solutrean) over the next couple thousand years.[11] Starting during the Older Dryas roughly 14,000 years ago, Final Magdalenian traditions appear, namely the Azilian, Hamburgian, and Creswellian.[24] During the Bølling–Allerød warming, Near Eastern genes began showing up in the indigenous Europeans, indicating the end of Europe's genetic isolation.[20] Possibly due to the continual reduction of European big game, the Magdalenian and Epigravettian were completely replaced by the Mesolithic by the beginning of the Holocene.[24][25]

Europe was completely re-peopled during the Holocene climatic optimum from 9 to 5 thousand years ago. Mesolithic West European Hunter-Gatherers (WHG) contributed significantly to the present-day European genome, alongside Ancient North Eurasians (ANE) which descended from the Siberian Mal'ta–Buret' culture[26] (and split from EEMH before 37,000 years ago[20]). Unlike ANE, the WHG genome is not prevalent on both sides of the Caucasus, and is only seen in any significant measure west of the Caucasus. Most present-day Europeans have a 60–80% WHG/(WHG+ANE) ratio, and the 8,000 year old Mesolithic Loschbour man seems to have had a similar pattern. Near Eastern Neolithic farmers which split from the European hunter-gatherers about 40,000 years ago started to spread out across Europe starting 8,000 years ago, ushering in the Neolithic with Early European Farmers (EEF). EEF contribute about 30% of ancestry to present-day Baltic populations, and up to 90% in present-day Mediterranean populations. The latter may have inherited WHG ancestry via EEF introgression.[26][27] The Eastern Hunter-Gatherers (EHG) population identified around the steppes of the Urals also spread eastward, and the Scandinavian Hunter-Gatherers appear to be a mix of WHG and EHG. Around 4,500 years ago, the immigration of the Yamnaya and Corded Ware cultures from the eastern steppes brought the Bronze Age, the Proto-Indo-European language, and more or less the present-day genetic makeup of Europeans.[28]


1916 reconstruction of the elderly Cro-Magnon 1

EEMH have historically been referred to as "Cro-Magnons" in scientific literature until around the 1990s when the term "anatomically modern humans" became more popular.[29] The name "Cro-Magnon" comes from the 5 skeletons discovered by French palaeontologist Louis Lartet in 1868 at the Cro-Magnon rock shelter, Les Eyzies, Dordogne, France, after the area was accidentally discovered while clearing land for a railway station.[30] Fossils and artefacts from the Palaeolithic had actually been known for decades, but these were interpreted in a creationist model (as the concept of evolution had not been coined yet). For example, the Aurignacian Red Lady of Paviland (a young man) from South Wales was described by geologist Reverend William Buckland in 1822 as a citizen of Roman Britain, and subsequent authors contended the skeleton was either evidence of antediluvian (before the Great Flood) people in Britain, or was swept far from the inhabited lands farther south by the powerful floodwaters. Buckland assumed the specimen was a woman because he was adorned with jewellery (shells, ivory rods and rings, and a wolf-bone skewer), and he also stated (possibly in jest) the jewellery was evidence of witchcraft. Around this time, the uniformitarianism movement was gaining traction, headed principally by Charles Lyell, arguing that fossil materials well predated the biblical chronology.[31]

Following Charles Darwin's 1859 On the Origin of Species, racial anthropologists and raciologists began splitting off putative subspecies and sub-races of present-day humans based on unreliable and pseudoscientific metrics gathered from anthropometry, physiognomy, and phrenology continuing into the 20th century.[32]:93–96 This was a continuation of Carl Linnaeus' 1735 Systema Naturae, where he invented the modern classification system, in doing so classifying humans as Homo sapiens with several putative subspecies classifications for different races based on racist behavioural definitions (in accord with historical race concepts): "H. s. europaeus" (European descent, governed by laws), "H. s. afer" (African descent, impulse), "H. s. asiaticus" (Asian descent, opinions), and "H. s. americanus" (Native American descent, customs).[33] The racial classification system was quickly extended to fossil specimens, including both EEMH and the Neanderthals, after the true extent of their antiquity was recognised.[32]:110 In 1869, Lartet had proposed the subspecies classification "H. s. fossilis" for the Cro-Magnon remains.[29] Other supposed subraces of the 'Cro-Magnon race' included: "H. pre-aethiopicus" for a skull from Dordogne which had "Ethiopic affinities"; "H. predmosti" or "H. predmostensis" for a series of skulls from Brno, Czech Republic, purportedly transitional between Neanderthals and EEMH;[34]:110–111 H. mentonensis for a skull from Menton, France;[34]:88 "H. grimaldensis" for Grimaldi man and other skeletons near Grimaldi, Monaco;[34]:55 and "H. aurignacensis" or "H. a. hauseri" for the Combe-Capelle skull.[34]:15

These 'fossil races', alongside Ernst Haeckel's idea of there being backwards races which require further evolution (social darwinism), popularised the view in European thought that the civilised white man had descended from primitive, low browed ape ancestors through a series of savage races. Prominent brow-ridges were classified as an ape-like trait, and consequently Neanderthals (as well as Aboriginal Australians) were considered a lowly race.[32]:116 These European fossils were considered to have been the ancestors to specifically living European races.[32]:96 Among the earliest attempts to classify EEMH was done by racial anthropologists Joseph Deniker and William Z. Ripley in 1900, who characterised them as tall and intelligent proto-Aryans, superior to other races, who descended from Scandinavia and Germany. Further race theories revolved around progressively lighter, blonder, and superior races (subspecies) evolving in Central Europe and spreading out in waves to replace their darker ancestors, culminating in the "Nordic race". These aligned well with Nordicism and Pan-Germanism (that is, Aryan supremacy), which gained popularity just before World War I, and was notably used by the Nazis to justify the conquest of Europe and the supremacy of the German people in World War II.[32]:203–205 Stature was among the characteristics used to distinguish these sub-races, so taller EEMH such as specimens from the French Cro-Magnon, Paviland, and Grimaldi sites were classified as ancestral to the "Nordic race", and smaller ones such as Combe-Capelle and Chancelade man (also from France) were considered the forerunners of either the "Mediterranean race" or "Eskimoids".[35] By the 1940s, the positivism movement—which fought to remove political and cultural bias from science and had begun about a century earlier—had gained popular support in European anthropology. Due to this movement and raciology's associations with Nazism, raciology fell out of practice.[32]:137

Early depictions of EEMH
Charles R. Knight's 1920 reconstruction of Magdalenian painters at Font-de-Gaume, France
Hugo Darnaut's 1885 Ideal picture from the Stone Age
Viktor Vasnetsov's 1882–1885 Stone Age
Viktor Vasnetsov's 1883 The Feast


The beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic is thought to have been characterised by a major population increase in Europe, with the human population of Western Europe possibly increasing by a factor of 10 in the Neanderthal/modern human transition.[36] However, the archaeological record indicates that the overwhelming majority of Palaeolithic people (both Neanderthals and modern humans) died before reaching the age of 40, with few elderly individuals recorded. It is possible the population boom was caused by a significant increase in fertility rates.[37]

A 2005 study estimated the population of Upper Palaeolithic Europe by calculating the total geographic area which was inhabited based on the archaeological record; averaged the population density of Chipewyan, Hän, Hill people, and Naskapi Native Americans which live in cold climates and applied to this to EEMH; and assumed that population density continually increased with time calculated by the change in the number of total sites per time period. They calculated that: from 40–30 thousand years ago the population was 1,738–28,359 (average 4,424); from 30–22 thousand years ago 1,879–30,589 (average 4,776); from 22–16.5 thousand years ago 2,313–37,693 (average 5,885); and 16.5–11.5 thousand years ago 11,343–72,635 (average 28,736).[38]


Physical attributes

Skull of the Abri Pataud woman

For 28 modern human specimens from 190–25 thousand years ago, average brain volume was estimated to have been about 1,478 cc (90.2 cu in), and for 13 EEMH about 1,514 cc (92.4 cu in). In comparison, present-day humans average 1,350 cc (82 cu in), which is notably smaller. This is because the EEMH brain, though within the variation for present-day humans, exhibits longer average frontal lobe length and taller occipital lobe height. The parietal lobes, however, are shorter in EEMH. It is unclear if this could equate to any functional differences between present-day and early modern humans.[39]

EEMH are physically similar to present-day humans, with a globular braincase, completely flat face, gracile brow ridge, and defined chin. However, the bones of EEMH are somewhat thicker and more robust.[40] Compared to present-day Europeans, EEMH have broader and shorter faces, more prominent brow ridges, bigger teeth, shorter upper jaws, more horizontally oriented cheekbones, and more rectangular eye sockets. The latter three are seen in present-day East Asians.[41]

Reconstruction of the 40,000 year old Oase 2

In early Upper Palaeolithic Western Europe, 20 men and 10 women were estimated to have averaged 176.2 cm (5 ft 9 in) and 162.9 cm (5 ft 4 in), respectively. This is similar to post-industrial modern Northern Europeans. In contrast, in a sample of 21 and 15 late Upper Palaeolithic Western European men and women, the averages were 165.6 cm (5 ft 5 in) and 153.5 cm (5 ft), similar to pre-industrial modern humans. It is unclear why earlier EEMH were taller, especially considering that cold-climate creatures are short-limbed and thus short-statured to better retain body heat. This has variously been explained as: retention of a hypothetically tall ancestral condition; higher-quality diet and nutrition due to the hunting of megafauna which later became extinct; functional adaptation to increase stride length and movement efficiency while running during a hunt; increasing territorialism among later EEMH reducing gene flow between communities and increasing inbreeding rate; or statistical bias due to small sample size or because taller people were more likely to achieve higher status in a group and thus were more likely to be buried and preserved.[35]

It was generally assumed that EEMH, like present-day Europeans, were light skinned as an adaptation to absorb vitamin D from the less luminous sun farther north. However, of the 3 predominant genes responsible for lighter skin in present-day Europeans—KITLG, SLC24A5, and SLC45A2—the latter two, as well as the TYRP1 gene associated with lighter hair and eye colour, experienced positive selection as late as 19 to 11 thousand years ago during the Mesolithic transition. These three became more widespread across the continent in the Bronze Age.[42][43] The variation of the gene which is associated with blue eyes in present-day humans, OCA2, seems to have descended from a common ancestor about 10–6 thousand years ago somewhere in Northern Europe.[44] Such a late timing was potentially caused by overall low population and/or low cross-continental movement required for such an adaptive shift in skin, hair, and eye colouration. However, KITLG experienced positive selection in EEMH (as well as East Asians) beginning approximately 30,000 years ago.[43][45]


While anatomically modern humans have been present outside of Africa during some isolated time intervals potentially as early as 250,000 years ago,[46] present-day non-Africans descend from the out of Africa expansion which occurred around 65–55 thousand years ago. This movement was an offshoot of the rapid expansion within East Africa associated with mtDNA haplogroup L3.[47][48] Mitochondrial DNA analysis places EEMH as the sister group to Upper Palaeolithic East Asian groups ("Proto-Mongoloid"), divergence occurring roughly 50,000 years ago.[49]

Initial genomic studies on the earliest EEMH in 2014, namely on the 37,000-year-old Kostenki-14 individual, identified 3 major lineages which are also present in present-day Europeans: one related to all later EEMH; a "Basal Eurasian" lineage which split from the common ancestor of present-day Europeans and East Asians before they split from each other; and another related to a 24,000-year-old individual from the Siberian Mal'ta–Buret' culture (near Lake Baikal). Contrary to this, a 2016 study looking at much earlier European specimens, including Ust'-Ishim and Oase-1 dating to 45,000 years ago, found no evidence of a "Basal Eurasian" component to the genome, nor did they find evidence of Mal'ta–Buret' introgression when looking at a wider range of EEMH from the entire Upper Palaeolithic. They instead concluded that such a genetic makeup in present-day Europeans stemmed from Near Eastern and Siberian introgression occurring predominantly in the Neolithic and the Bronze Age (though beginning by 14,000 years ago), but all EEMH specimens including and following Kostenki-14 contributed to the present-day European genome and were more closely related to present-day Europeans than East Asians. Earlier EEMH (10 tested in total), on the other hand, did not seem to be ancestral to any present-day population, nor did they form any cohesive group in and of themselves, each representing either completely distinct genetic lineages, admixture between major lineages, or have highly divergent ancestry. Because of these, they also concluded that, beginning roughly 37,000 years ago, EEMH descended from a single founder population and were reproductively isolated from the rest of the world. They reported that an Aurignacian individual from Grottes de Goyet, Belgium, has more genetic affinities to the Magdalenian inhabitants of Cueva de El Miròn than to more or less contemporaneous Eastern European Gravettians.[20]

Haplogroups identified in EEMH are the patrilineal (from father to son) Y-DNA haplogroups IJ, C1, and K2a;[note 3][8] and matrilineal (from mother to child) mt-DNA haplogroup N, R, and U.[note 4] Y-haplogroup IJ descended from Southwest Asia. Haplogroup I emerged about 35 to 30 ka, either in Europe or West Asia. Mt-haplogroup U5 arose in Europe just prior to the LGM, between 35 and 25 ka.[50] The 14,000 year old Villabruna 1 skeleton from Ripari Villabruna, Italy, is the oldest identified bearer of Y-haplogroup R1b (R1b1a-L754* (xL389,V88)) found in Europe, likely brought in from Near Eastern introgression.[20] The Azilian "Bichon man" skeleton from the Swiss Jura was found to be associated with the WHG lineage. He was a bearer of Y-DNA haplogroup I2a and mtDNA haplogroup U5b1h.[45]

Genetic evidence suggests early modern humans interbred with Neanderthals. Genes in the present-day genome are estimated to have entered about 65 to 47 thousand years ago, most likely in West Asia soon after modern humans left Africa.[52][53] In 2015, the 40,000 year old modern human Oase 2 was found to have had 6–9% (point estimate 7.3%) Neanderthal DNA, indicating a Neanderthal ancestor up to four to six generations earlier, but this hybrid Romanian population does not appear to have made a substantial contribution to the genomes of later Europeans. Therefore, it is possible that interbreeding was common between Neanderthals and EEMH which did not contribute to the present-day genome.[54] The percentage of Neanderthal genes gradually decreased with time, which could indicate they were maladaptive and were selected out of the gene pool.[20]


There is a notable technological complexification coinciding with the replacement of Neanderthals with EEMH in the archaeological record, and so the terms "Middle Palaeolithic" and "Upper Palaeolithic" were created to distinguish between these two time periods. Largely based on Western European archaeology, the transition was dubbed the "Upper Palaeolithic Revolution," (extended to be a worldwide phenomenon) and the idea of "behavioural modernity" became associated with this event and early modern cultures. It is largely agreed that the Upper Palaeolithic seems to feature a higher rate of technological and cultural evolution than the Middle Palaeolithic, but it is debated if behavioural modernity was truly an abrupt development or was a slow progression initiating far earlier than the Upper Paleolithic, especially when considering the non-European archaeological record. Behaviourly modern practices include: the production of microliths, the common use of bone and antler, the common use of grinding and pounding tools, high quality evidence of body decoration and figurine production, long distance trade networks, and improved hunting technology.[55][56] In regard to art, the Magdalenian produced some of the most intricate Palaeolithic pieces, and they even elaborately decorated normal, everyday objects.[57]


It has typically been assumed that EEMH closely studied prey habits in order to maximise return depending on the season. For example, large mammals (including red deer, horses, and ibex) congregate seasonally, and reindeer were possibly seasonally plagued by insects rendering fur sometimes unsuitable for hideworking.[58] There is much evidence that EEMH, especially in Western Europe following the LGM, corralled large prey animals into natural confined spaces (such as against a cliff wall, a cul-de-sac, or a water body) in order to efficiently slaughter whole herds of animals (game drive system). They seem to have scheduled mass kills to coincide with migration patterns, in particular for red deer, horses, reindeer, bison, aurochs, and ibex, and occasionally wooly mammoths.[59] There are also multiple examples of consumption of seasonally abundant fish, becoming more prevalent in the mid-Upper-Palaeolithic.[60] Nonetheless, Magdalenian peoples appear to have had a greater dependence on small animals, aquatic resources, and plants than predecessors, probably due to the relative scarcity of European big game following the LGM (Quaternary extinction event).[11] Post-LGM peoples tend to have a higher rate of nutrient deficiency related ailments, including a reduction in height, which indicates these bands (probably due to decreased habitable territory) had to consume a much broader and less desirable food range to survive.[61] The popularisation of game drive systems may have been an extension of increasing food return.[59] In particularly southwestern France, EEMH depended heavily upon reindeer, and so it is hypothesised that these communities followed the herds, with occupation of the Perigord and the Pyrenees only occurring in the summer.[62] Epi-Gravettian communities, in contrast, generally focused on hunting 1 species of large game, most commonly horse or bison.[25] It is possible that human activity, in addition to the rapid retreat of favourable steppeland, inhibited recolonisation of most of Europe by megafauna following the LGM (such as mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, Irish elk, and cave lions), in part contributing to their final extinction which occurred by the beginning of or well into the Holocene depending on the species.[63]

For weapons, EEMH crafted spearpoints using predominantly bone and antler, possibly because these materials were readily abundant. Compared to stone, these materials are compressive, making them fairly shatterproof.[58] These were then hafted onto a shaft to be used as javelins. It is possible that Aurignacian craftsmen further hafted bone barbs onto the spearheads, but firm evidence of such technology is recorded earliest 23,500 years ago, and does not become more common until the Mesolithic.[64] Aurignacian craftsmen produced lozenge-shaped (diamond-like) spearheads. By 30,000 years ago, spearheads were manufactured with a more rounded-off base, and by 28,000 years ago spindle-shaped heads were introduced. During the Gravettian, spearheads with a bevelled base were being produced. By the beginning of the LGM, the spear-thrower was invented in Europe, which can increase the force and accuracy of the projectile.[58] A possible boomerang made of mammoth tusk was identified in Poland (though it may have been unable to return to the thrower), and dating to 23,000 years ago, it would be the oldest known boomerang.[65] Stone spearheads with leaf- and shouldered-points become more prevalent in the Solutrean. Both large and small spearheads were produced in great quantity, and the smaller ones may have been attached to projectile darts. Archery was possibly invented in the Solutrean, though less ambiguous bow technology is first reported in the Mesolithic. Bone technology was revitalised in the Magdalanian, and long-range technology as well as harpoons become much more prevalent. Some harpoon fragments are speculated to have been leisters or tridents, and true harpoons are commonly found along seasonal salmon migration routes.[59]

Gravettian point
Solutrean point
Butt-end of the Magdalenian mammoth spear thrower
Butt-end of the Magdalenian creeping hyena spear thrower
Magdalenian harpoon tip

At some point in time, EEMH domesticated the dog, probably as a result of a symbiotic hunting relationship. DNA evidence suggests that present-day dogs split from wolves around the beginning of the LGM. However, potential Palaeolithic dogs have been found preceding this—namely the 36,000 year old Goyet dog from Belgium and the 33,000 year old Altai dog from Siberia—which could indicate there were multiple attempts at domesticating European wolves.[66] These "dogs" had a wide size range, from over 60 cm (2 ft) in height in Eastern Europe to less than 30–45 cm (1 ft–1 ft 6 in) in Central and Western Europe,[67] and 32–41 kg (71–90 lb) in all of Europe. These "dogs" are identified by having a shorter snout and skull, and wider palate and braincase than contemporary wolves. Nonetheless, an Aurignacian origin for domestication is controversial. At the 27 to 24 thousand year old Předmostí site, Czech Republic, 3 "dogs" were identified with their skulls perforated (probably to extract the brain), and 1 had a mammoth bone in its mouth. The discoverers interpreted this as a burial ritual.[68] The 14,500 year old Bonn-Oberkassel dog from Germany was found buried alongside a 40 year old man and a 25 year old woman, as well as traces of red hematite, and is genetically placed as an ancestor to present-day dogs. It was diagnosed with canine distemper virus and probably died between 19–23 weeks of age. It would have required extensive human care to survive without being able to contribute to anything, suggesting that, at this point, humans and dogs were connected by emotional or symbolic ties rather than purely materialistic personal gain.[69] It is hypothesised these proto-dogs provided a vital role in hunting, as well as domestic services such as transporting items or guarding camp or carcasses, but the exact utility of these dogs is unclear.[70]


Social system

The first Venus discovered, the "Vénus impudique" ("immodest Venus"), possibly of a young girl[71]

As opposed to the patriarchy prominent in historical societies, the idea of a prehistoric predominance of either matriarchy or a society centred on motherhood was first supposed in 1861 by legal scholar Johann Jakob Bachofen. The earliest models of this believed that monogamy was not widely practiced in ancient times, and the paternal line was resultantly more difficult to keep track of than the maternal, and matriarchal societies were conquered by patriarchs at the dawn of civilisation. The switch from matriarchy to patriarchy was seen as a leap forward.[72] However, when the first Palaeolithic representations of humans were discovered, the so-called Venus figurines—which typically feature pronounced breasts, buttocks, and vulvas (areas generally sexualised in present-day Western Culture)—they were initially interpreted as pornographic in nature. The first Venus discovered was named the "Vénus impudique" ("immodest Venus") by the discoverer Paul Hurault, 8th Marquis de Vibraye, because it lacked clothes and had a prominent vulva.[71] The name "Venus", after the Roman goddess of beauty, in itself implies an erotic purpose. Such a pattern in the representation of the human form led to suggestions that human forms were generally pornography for men, meaning men were primarily responsible for artwork and craftsmanship in the Palaeolithic whereas women were tasked with child rearing and various domestic works. This would equate to a patriarchal social system.[73]

The Palaeolithic matriarchy model was adapted by prominent communist Friedrich Engels who instead argued that women were robbed of power by men, due to economic changes which could only be undone with the adoption of communism (Marxist feminism). The former sentiment was adopted by the first-wave feminism movement, who attacked the patriarchy by making Darwinist arguments of a supposed natural egalitarian or matrifocal (mother-centric) state of human society instead of patriarchal, as well as interpreting the Venuses as evidence of mother goddess worship as part of some matriarchal religion. Consequently, by the mid-20th century, the Venuses were primarily interpreted as evidence of some Palaeolithic fertility cult. Such claims died down in the 1970s as archaeologists moved away from the highly theoretical models produced by the previous generation. Through the second-wave feminism movement, the prehistoric matriarchal religion hypothesis was primarily propelled by Lithuanian-American archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Her interpretations of the Palaeolithic were notably involved in the Goddess movement.[72] Equally ardent arguments against the matriarchy hypothesis have also been prominent, such as American religious scholar Cynthia Eller's 2000 The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory.[73]

Looking at the archaeological record, depictions of women are markedly more common than of men. In contrast to the commonplace Venuses in the Gravettian, Gravettian depictions of men are rare and contested, the only reliable one being a fragmented ivory figurine from the grave of a Pavlovian site in Brno, Czech Republic (it is also the only statuette found in a Palaeolithic grave). 2-D Magdalenian engravings from 15 to 11 thousand years ago do depict males, indicated by an erect penis and facial hair, though profiles of women with an exaggerated buttock are much more common.[74] There are less than 100 depictions of males in the EEMH archaeological record (of them, about a third are depicted with erections.)[75] On the other hand, most individuals which received a burial (which may have been related to social status) were men.[76] Anatomically, the robustness of limbs (which is an indicator of strength) between EEMH men and women were consistently not appreciably different from each other. Such low levels of sexual dimorphism through the Upper Pleistocene could potentially mean that sexual division of labour, which characterises historic societies (both agricultural and hunter-gatherer), only became commonplace in the Holocene.[61]


Perforated Homalopoma sanguineum shells (top and underside views) from Poiana Cireşului, Romania, sourced at least 900 km (560 mi) away[77]

The Upper Palaeolithic is characterised by evidence of expansive trade routes and the great distances at which communities could maintain interactions. The early Upper Palaeolithic is especially known for highly mobile lifestyles, with Gravettian groups (at least those analysed in Italy and Moravia, Ukraine) often sourcing some raw materials upwards of 200 km (120 mi). However, it is debated if this represents sample bias, and if Western and Northern Europe were less mobile. Some cultural practices such as creating Venus figurines or specific burial rituals during the Gravettian stretched 2,000 km (1,200 mi) across the continent.[61] Genetic evidence suggests that, despite strong evidence of cultural transmission, Gravettian Europeans did not introgress into Siberians, meaning there was a movement of ideas but not people between Europe and Siberia.[20] At the 30,000 year old Romanian Poiana Cireşului site, perforated shells of the Homalopoma sanguineum sea snail were recovered, which is significant as it inhabits the Mediterranean at nearest 900 km (560 mi) away.[77] Such interlinkage may have been an important survival tool in lieu of the steadily deteriorating climate. Given low estimated population density, this may have required a rather complex, cross-continental social organisation system.[61]

By and following the LGM, population densities are thought to have been much higher with the marked decrease habitable lands, resulting in more regional economies. Decreased land availability could have increased travel distance, as habitable refugia may have been far and few between, and increasing population density within these few refugia would have made long-distance travel less economic. This trend continued into the Mesolithic with the adoption of sedentism.[61] Nonetheless, there is some evidence of long-distance Magdalenian trade routes. For example, at Lascaux, a painting of a bull had remnants of the manganese mineral hausmannite, which can only be manufactured in heat in excess of 900 °C (1,650 °F), which was probably impossible for EEMH; this means they likely encountered natural hausmannite which is known to be found 250 km (160 mi) away in the Pyrenees. Unless there was a hausmannite source much closer to Lascaux which has since been depleted, thise could mean that there was a local economy based on manganese ores. Also, at Ekain, Basque Country, the inhabitants were using the locally rare manganese mineral groutite in their paintings, which they possibly mined out of the cave itself.[78] Based on the distribution of Mediterranean and Atlantic seashell jewellery even well inland, there may have been a network during the Late Glacial Interstadial (14 to 12 thousand years ago) along the rivers Rhine and Rhône in France, Germany, and Switzerland.[77]


13,800 year old slab from Molí del Salt, Spain, with engravings speculated to be huts[79]

EEMH cave sites quite often feature distinct spatial organisation, with certain areas specifically designated for specific activities, such as hearth areas, kitchens, butchering grounds, sleeping grounds, and trash pile. It is difficult to tell if all material from a site was deposited at about the same time, or if the site was used multiple times.[55] EEMH are thought to have been quite mobile, indicated by the great lengths of trade routes, and such a lifestyle was likely supported by the constructions of temporary shelters in open environments, such as huts. Evidence of huts is typically associated with a hearth.[80]

Magdalenian peoples, especially, are thought to have been highly migratory, following herds while repopulating Europe, and several cave and open-air sites indicate the area was abandoned and revisited regularly. The 19,000 year old Peyre Blanque site, France, and at least the 260 km2 (100 sq mi) area around it may have been revisited for thousands of years.[80] In the Magdalenian, stone lined rectangular areas typically 6–15 m2 (65–161 sq ft) were interpreted as having been the foundations or flooring of huts. At Magdalenian Pincevent, France, small, circular dwellings were speculated to have existed based on the spacing of stone tools and bones; these sometimes featured an indoor hearth, work area, or sleeping space (but not all at the same time). A 23,000 year old hut from the Israeli Ohalo II was identified as having used grasses as flooring or possibly bedding, but it is unclear if EEMH also lined their huts with grass or instead used animal pelts.[81] A 13,800 year old slab from Molí del Salt, Spain, has 7 dome-shaped figures engraved onto it, which are postulated to represent temporary dome-shaped huts.[79]

Reconstruction of a mammoth hut from Mezhyrich, Ukraine

Over 70 dwellings constructed by EEMH out of mammoth bones have been identified, primarily from the Russian Plain,[82] possibly semi-permanent hunting camps.[83] They seem to have built tipis and yarangas.[84] These were typically constructed following the LGM after 22,000 years ago by Epi-Gravettian peoples;[85] the earliest hut identified comes from Moldova, Ukraine, which was dated to 44,000 years ago (making it possible it was built by Neanderthals).[86] Typically, these huts measured 5 m (16 ft) in diameter, or 4 m × 6 m (13 ft × 20 ft) if oval shaped. Huts could get as small as 3 m × 2 m (9.8 ft × 6.6 ft).[84] One of the largest huts has a diameter of 12.5 m (41 ft)—a 25,000 year old hut identified in Kostenki, Russia—and was constructed out of 64 mammoth skulls, but given the little evidence of occupation, this is postulated to have been used for food storage rather than as a living space.[85] Some huts have burned bones, which has typically been interpreted as bones used as fuel for fireplaces due to the scarcity of firewood, and/or disposal of waste. A few huts, however, have evidence of wood burning, or mixed wood/bone burning.[85]

Mammoth hut foundations were generally made by pushing a great quantity of mammoth skulls into the ground (most commonly, though not always, with the tusks facing up to possibly be used as further supports), and the walls by putting into the ground vertically shoulder blades, pelvises, long bones, jaws, and the spine. Long bones were often used as poles, commonly placed on the end of another long bone or in the cavity of where tusk used to be.[84] Foundation may have extended as far as 40 cm (16 in) underground. Generally, multiple huts were built in a locality, placed 1–20 m (3 ft 3 in–65 ft 7 in) apart depending on location. Tusks may have been used to make entrances, skins pulled over for roofing,[82] and the interior sealed up by loess dug out of pits. Some architectural decisions seem to have been purely for aesthetics, best seen in the 4 Epi-Gravettian huts from Mezhyrich, Mezine, Ukraine, where jaws were stacked to create a chevron or zigzag pattern in 2 huts, and long bones were stacked to create horizontal or vertical lines in respectively 1 and 2 huts. The chevron seems to have been commonly used symbol on the Russian Plain, painted or engraved on bones, tools, figurines, and mammoth skulls.[84]


Cave art

Manganese and iron oxides were used in rock paintings.[citation needed]

Magdalenian horses at Lascaux, France
Rhinos at Chauvet Cave, France
Wounded deer from Peña de Candamo, Spain
Bison clay sculptures at Tuc d'Audoubert, France
Dots and lines from Cueva del Castillo, Spain
Hand stencils from the Gravettian of the Grottes de Gargas, France

Portable art

Venus figurines are commonly found associated with EEMH and are the earliest well-acknowledged representation of human figures. These are most commonly found in the Gravettian (notably in the French Upper Périgordian, the Czech Pavlovian, and West Russian Kostenkian) most commonly from 29 to 23 thousand years ago. Almost all Venuses depict naked women, and are generally hand-held sized, and feature a downturned head, no face, thin arms which end at or cross over the breasts, voluminous breasts and buttocks, a prominent abdomen interpreted as pregnancy, tiny and bent legs, and pegged or unnaturally short feet. Venuses vary in proportions, and it is debated if this is due to material choice or if they were intentional design choices.[74] It is suggested that Eastern European Venuses have an emphasis on the breasts and stomach, whereas Western European ones emphasise the hips and thighs.[87]

The earliest interpretations of the Venuses believed these were literal representations of women with obesity or steatopygia (a condition where a woman's body stores more fat in the thighs and buttocks, making them especially prominent).[74] Because steatopygia is common in the San people of Southern Africa, and the hairdos of some Venuses are supposedly similar to those of Egyptian pharaohs, these were used as evidence of the presence of the "Negroid race" in Palaeolithic Europe.[71] Another early hypothesis was that ideal womanhood for EEMH involved obesity, or that the Venuses were used by men as erotica due to the exaggeration of body parts typically sexualised in Western Culture (as well as the lack of detail to individualising traits such as the face and limbs). However, extending present-day Western norms to Palaeolithic peoples was contested, and a counter interpretation to the former was that either Venuses were mother goddesses, or that EEMH believed depictions of things had magical properties over the subject, and that such a depiction of a pregnant woman would facilitate fertility and fecundity. This is also contested as it assumes women are only thought of in terms of child rearing.[74][71]

35,000 year old Venus of Hohle Fels from Germany
30,000 year old Venus of Willendorf from Austria
25,000 year old Venus from Kostenki, Russia
25,000 year old Venus of Lespugue from France
Gravettian Venus of Dolní Věstonice from Czech Republic

EEMH also carved perforated batons out of horn, bone, or stone, most commonly through the Solutrean and Magdalenian. Such batons disappear from the archaeological record at the Magdalenian's close. Some batons seem phallic in nature, and about 60 batons have been hypothesised to be representations of penises (all with erections), of which 30 show decoration, and 23 are perforated. Several phallic batons are depicted as circumcised and seemingly bearing some ornamentation such as piercings, scarification, or tattooing. The purpose of perforated batons has been debated, which suggestions for spiritual or religious purposes, ornamentation or status symbol, currency, drumsticks, tent holders, weaving tools, spear straighteners, spear throwers, or dildos. Unperforated phallic batons, measuring 30 (11.8 in) to a few centimetres long, were quite early on interpreted as sexual toys.[75]

Unperforated phallic baton
Phallic baton
Magdalenian perforated baton with a horse relief from L'Abri de la Madeleine, France
Magdalenian perforated baton with an engraving from L'Abri de la Madeleine, France
Perforated baton from Switzerland with a horse engraving
Magdalenian perforated baton from Veyrier, Switzerland

Depictions of animals were commonly produced by EEMH. As of 2015, as many as 50 Aurignacian ivory figurines and fragments have been recovered from the German Swabian Jura. Of the discernible figures, most represents mammoths and lions, and a few horses, bison, possibly a rhino, waterfowl, fish, and small mammals. These sculptures are hand-sized and would have portable works, and some figurines were made into wearable pendants. Some figurines also featured enigmatic engravings, dots, marks, lines, hooks, and criss-cross patterns.[88]

Aurignacian horse sculpture from Vogelherd Cave, Germany
Aurignacian lion sculpture from Vogelherd Cave, Germany
26,000 year old mammoth carving from Predmosti, Czech Republic
13,000 year old Swimming Reindeer sculpture from L'Abri Bruniquel, France

EEMH also made purely symbolic engravings. There are several plaques of bone or antler (referred to as polishers, spatulas, palettes, or knives) which feature series of equidistantly placed notches, most notably the well-preserved 32,000 year old Blanchard plaque from L'Abri Blanchard, France, which features 24 markings in a seemingly serpentine pattern. These have been speculated to have been an early counting system for tallying items such as animals killed, or some other notation system. Marshack postulated they may be calendars.[89] Also in 1972, Marshack identified Magdalenian plaques from 15 to 13 thousand years bearing small, abstract symbols seemingly into organised blocks or sets, which he interpreted as representing an early writing system.[90]

Czech archaeologist Bohuslav Klíma speculated a complex engraving on a mammoth tusk he discovered in the Gravettian Pavlov site, Czech Republic, as being a map, showing a meandering river centre-left, a mountain centre-right, and a living grounds at the centre indicated by a double circle. A few similar engravings have been identified across Europe (in particular the Russian Plain), which he also postulated were maps, plans, or stories.[91]

Aurignacian plaque from L'Abri Lartet, France
Aurignacian plaque from L'Abri Blanchard, France
Engraved "map" on a Gravettian mammoth tusk
Various Magdalenian plaques with "writing"

Body art

Magdalenian ochre bowl

EEMH are commonly associated with large pieces of pigments ("crayons"), namely made of red ochre. For EEMH, it is typically assumed that ochre was used for some symbolic purposes, most notably for cosmetics such as body paint. This is because ochre in some sites had to be imported from incredibly long distances, and it is also associated with burials. It is unclear why they specifically chose red ochre instead of other colours. In terms of colour psychology, popular hypotheses include the putative "female cosmetic coalitions" hypothesis and the "red dress effect". It is also possible that ochre was chosen for its utility, such as an ingredient for adhesives, hide tanning agent, insect repellent, sunscreen, medicinal properties, dietary supplement, or as a soft hammer.[92] EEMH appear to have been using grinding and crushing tools to process ochre before applying it to the skin.[57]

In 1962, French archaeologists Saint-Just and Marthe Péquart identified bi-pointed needles in the Magdalenian Le Mas-d'Azil, which they speculated might have been used in tattooing.[57] Hypothesised depictions of penises from most commonly the Magdalenian (though a few dating back to the Aurignacian) appear to be decorated with tattoos, scarification, and piercings. Designs include lines, plaques, dots or holes, and human or animal figures.[75]


EEMH produced beads, which are typically assumed to have been attached to clothing or portable items as body decoration. Beads had already been in use since the Middle Palaeolithic, but production dramatically increased in the Upper Palaeolithic. It is unclear why communities chose specific raw materials over other ones, and they seem to have upheld local bead making traditions for a very long time.[93] For example, Mediterranean communities used specific types of marine shells to make beads and pendants for more than 20,000 years; and Central and Western European communities often used pierced animal (and less commonly human) teeth.[94] In the Aurignacian, beads and pendants were being made of shells, teeth, ivory, stone, bone, and antler; and there are a few examples of use of fossil materials including a belemnite, nummulite, ammonite, and amber. They may have also been producing ivory and stone rings, diadems, and labrets. Beads could be manufactured in numerous different styles, such as conical, elliptical, drop-shaped, disc-shaped, ovoid, rectangular, trapezoidal, and so on.[93] Beads may have been used to facilitate social communication, to display the wearer's socio-economic status, as they could have been capable of communicating labour costs (and thereby, a person's wealth, energy, connections, etc.) simply by looking at them.[94] The distribution of ornaments on buried Gravettian individuals, and the likeliness that most of the buried were dressed with whatever they were wearing upon death, indicates that jewellery was primarily worn on the head as opposed to the neck or the torso.[76]

Aurignacian necklace made of bear, horse, elk, and beaver teeth
Gravettian ivory necklace
Gravettian Tritia neritea shell necklace
Magdalenian bear pendant made out of a deer rib

The Gravettian Dolní Věstonice I and III and Pavlov I sites in Moravia, Czech Republic, yielded many clay fragments with textile impressions. These indicate a highly sophisticated and standardised textile industry, including the production of: single-ply, double-ply, triple-ply, and braided string and cordage; knotted nets; wicker baskets; and woven cloth including simple and diagonal twined cloth, plain woven cloth, and twilled cloth. Some cloths appear to have a design pattern. There are also plaited items which may have been baskets or mats. Due to the wide range of textile gauges and weaves, it is possible they could also produce wall hangings, blankets, bags, shawls, shirts, skirts, and sashes. These people used plant rather than animal fibres,[87][95] possibly nettle, milkweed, yew, or alder which have historically been used in weaving. Such plant fibre fragments have also been recorded at the Russian Kostenki and Zaraysk as well as the German Gönnersdorf site.[95]

The inhabitants of Dzudzuana Cave, Georgia, appear to have been staining flax fibres with plant-based dyes, including yellow, red, pink, blue, turquoise, violet, black, brown, gray, green, and khaki.[96] The emergence of textiles in the European archaeological record also coincides with the proliferation of the sewing needle in European sites. Ivory needles are found in most late Upper Palaeolithic sites, which could correlate to frequent sewing, and the predominance of small needles (too small to tailor clothes out of hide and leather) could indicate work on softer woven fabrics or accessory stitching and embroidery of leather products.[87][95]

There is some potential evidence of simple loom technology. However, these have also been interpreted as either hunting implements or art pieces. Rounded objects made of mammoth phalanges from Předmostí and Avdeevo, Russia, may have been loom weights or human figures. Perforated, washer-like ivory or bone discs from across Europe were potentially spindle whorls. A foot-shaped piece of ivory from Kniegrotte, Germany, was possibly a comb or a decorative pendant.[87][95] On the basis of wearing analyses, EEMH are also speculated to have used net spacers or weaving sticks. In 1960, French archaeologist Fernand Lacorre suggested that perforated batons were used to spin cordage.[95]

Aurignacian hide scraper from Gavaudun, France
Two Gravettian awls
Washer-like stone disc from Předmostí, Czech Republic
Magdalenian bone needle from Gourdan-Polignan, France

Some Venuses depict hairdos and clothing worn by Gravettian women. The Venus of Willendorf seems to be wearing a cap, possibly woven fabric or made from shells, featuring at least seven rows and an additional two half-rows covering the nape of the neck. It may have been made starting at a knotted centre and spiraling downward from right to left, and then backstitching all the rows to each other. The Kostenki-1 Venus seems to be wearing a similar cap, though each row seems to overlap the other. The Venus of Brassempouy seems to be wearing some nondescript open, twined hair cover. The engraved Venus of Laussel from France seems to be wearing some headwear with rectangular gridding, and could potentially represent a snood. Most East European Venuses with headwear also display notching and checkwork on the upper body which are suggestive of bandeaux (a strip of cloth bordering around the tops of the breasts) with some even featuring straps connecting it to around the neck; these seem to be absent in Western European Venuses. Some also wear belts: in Eastern Europe, these are seen on the waist; whereas in Central and Western Europe they are worn on the low hip. The Venus of Lespugue seems to be wearing a plant fibre string skirt comprising 11 cords running behind the legs.[87][95]

Venus of Willendorf wearing a cap
Venus of Brassempouy wearing a hair cover
A Venus from Kostenki showing a bandeau with straps
Venus of Lespugue wearing a skirt


EEMH are known to have created flutes out of hollow bird bones as well as mammoth ivory, first appearing in the archaeological record with the Aurignacian about 40,000 years ago in the German Swabian Jura. The Swabian Jura flutes appear to have been able to produce a wide range of tones. One virtually complete flute made of the radius of a griffon vulture from Hohle Fels measures 21.8 cm (8.6 in) in length and 0.8 cm (0.31 in) in diameter. The bone had been smoothed down and was pierced with holes. These finger holes exhibit cut marks, which could indicate the exact placement of these holes was specifically measured to create concert pitch (that is, to make the instrument in tune) or a scale. The part near the elbow joint had two V-shaped carvings, presumably a mouthpiece. Ivory flutes would have required a great time investment to make, as it requires more skill and precision to craft compared to a bird bone flute. A section of ivory must be sawed off to the correct size, cut in half so it can be hollowed out, and then the two pieces have to be refitted and stuck together by an adhesive in an air-tight seal.[97] EEMH also created bone whistles out of deer phalanges.[98]

Such sophisticated music technology could potentially speak to a much longer musical tradition than the archaeological record indicates, as modern hunter-gatherers have been documented to create instruments out of: more biodegradable materials (less likely to fossilise) such as reeds, gourds, skins, and bark; more or less unmodified items such as horns, conch shells, logs, and stones; and their weapons, including spear thrower shafts or boomerangs as clapsticks, or a hunting bow.[97]

Potential EEMH instruments: bone flute (left), whistle (centre), idiophone (bottom), and bullroarer (top)

It is speculated that a few EEMH artefacts represent bullroarers or percussion instruments such as rasps, but these are harder to prove.[97] One probable bullroarer is identified at Lalinde, France, dating to 14 to 12 thousand years ago, measuring 16 cm (6.3 in) long and decorated with geometric incisions. In the mammoth-bone houses at Mezine, Ukraine, an 80 cm × 20 cm (31.5 in × 7.9 in) thigh-bone, a 53 cm × 50 cm (21 in × 20 in) jawbone, a 57 cm × 63 cm (22 in × 25 in) shoulder blade, and a 63 cm × 43 cm (25 in × 17 in) pelvis of a mammoth bear evidence of paint and repeated percussion. These were first proposed by archaeologist Sergei Bibikov to have served as drums, with either a reindeer antler or mammoth tusk fragment also found at the site being used as a drum stick, though this is contested. Other European sites have yielded potential percussion mallets made of mammoth bone or reindeer antler. It is speculated that some EEMH marked certain sections of caves with red paint which could be struck to produce a note that would resonate throughout the cave chamber, somewhat like a xylophone.[98]


The early modern human vocal apparatus is generally thought to have been the same as that in present-day humans, and the present-day FOXP2 gene associated with speech and language ability seems to have evolved within the last 100,000 years. These indicate Upper Palaeolithic humans had the same language capabilities and range of potential phonemes (sounds) as present-day humans.[99]

Though EEMH languages likely contributed to present-day languages, it is unclear what early languages would have sounded like because words denature and are replaced by entirely original words quite rapidly, making it difficult to identity language cognates (a word in multiple different languages which descended from a common ancestor) which originated before 9 to 5 thousand years ago. Nonetheless, it has been controversially hypothesised that Eurasian languages are all related and form the Nostratic languages with an early common ancestor existing just after the end of the LGM. In 2013, evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel and colleagues postulated that among Nostratic languages, frequently used words more often have speculated cognates, and that this was evidence that 23 identified words were "ultraconserved" and supposedly changed very little in use and pronunciation, descending from a common ancestor about 15,000 years ago at the end of the LGM.[100] Archaeologist Paul Heggarty said that Pagel's data was subjective interpretation of supposed cognates, and the extreme volatility of sound and pronunciation of words (for example, Latin [akwam] "water" → French [o] in just 2,000 years) makes it unclear if cognates can even be identified that far back if they do indeed exist.[101]



Several Upper Palaeolithic caves feature depictions of seemingly part-human, part-animal chimaeras (typically part bison, reindeer, or deer), variously termed "anthropozoomorphs", "therianthropes", or "sorcerers". These have typically been interpreted as being the centre of some shamanistic ritual, and to represent some cultural revolution and the origins of subjectivity.[102] The oldest such cave drawing has been identified at the 30,000 year old Chauvet Cave, where a figure with a bison upper body and human lower body was drawn onto a stalactite, facing a depiction of a vulva with two tapering legs.[103]:208–209 The 17,000 year old Grotte de Lascaux, France, has a seemingly dead bird-human hybrid between a rhino and a charging bison, with a bird on top of a pole placed near the figure's right hand.[104] A bird on a stick is used as a symbol of mystical power by some modern shamanistic cultures who believe that birds are psychopomps, and can move between the land of the living and the land of the dead. In these cultures, they believe the shaman can either transform into a bird or use a bird as a spirit guide.[105][104] The 14,000 year old Grotte des Trois-Frères, France, features 3 sorcerers. The so-called "The Dancing Sorcerer" or "God of Les Trois Frères" seems to bear human legs and feet, paws, a deer head with antlers, a fox or horse tail, a beard, and a flaccid penis, interpreted as dancing on all-fours. Another smaller sorcerer with a bison head, human legs and feet, and upright posture stands above several animal depictions, and is interpreted as holding and playing a musical bow to herd all the animals. The third sorcerer has a seemingly bison upper body and human lower body with testicles and an erection.[105][104]

Some drawn human figures feature lines radiating out. These are generally interpreted as wounded people, with the lines representing pain or spears, possibly related to some initiation process for shamans. One such "wounded man" at Grotte de Cougnac, France, is drawn on the chest of a red Irish elk. A wounded sorcerer with a bison head is found at the 17,000 year old Grotte de Gabillou.[106][104] Some caves featured "vanquished men", lying presumably dead at the foot of generally a bull or bear.[106]

For tangible art, the early Aurignacian Hohlenstein-Stadel, Swabian Jura, has yielded the famous lion-human sculpture. It is 30 cm (12 in) tall, which is much larger than the other Swabian Jura figurines. A possible second lion-human was also found in the nearby Hohle Fels. An ivory slab from Geissenklösterle has a carved relief of a human figure with its arms raised in the air wearing a hide, the "worshipper".[88] A 28,000 year old "puppet" was identified at Brno, Czech Republic, consisting of an isolated head piece, torso piece, and left arm piece. It is presumed that the head and torso were connected by a rod, and the torso and arm by some string allowing the arm to move. Because it was found in a grave, this is speculated to have belonged to a shaman for use in rituals involving the dead.[107] A 14,000 year old large stone from Cueva del Juyo, Spain, seems to have been carved to be the conjoined face of a man on the right and a big cat on the left (when facing it). The man half seems to feature a mustache and a beard. The cat half (either a leopard or a lion) has slanting eyes, a snout, a fang, and spots on the muzzle suggestive of whiskers.[105]

Sorcerer from Grotte des Trois-Frères with a musical bow
The wounded sorcerer from Grotte de Gabillou
The vanquished bird-headed man from Lascaux
The male puppet from Brno

Spanish archaeologists Leslie G. Freeman and Joaquín González Echegaray argued that Cueva del Juyo was specifically modified to serve as a sanctuary site to carry out rituals. They said the inhabitants dug out a triangular trench and filled it with offerings including Patella (limpets), the common periwinkle (a sea snail), pigments, the legs and jaws (possibly with meat still on them) of red and roe deer, and a red deer antler positioned upright. The trench and offerings were then filled in with dirt, and a seemingly flower-like arrangement of bright cylindrical pieces of red, yellow, and green pigments was placed on top. This was then buried with clay, stone slabs, and bone spearpoints. The clay shell was covered by a 900 kg (2,000 lb) slab of limestone supported by large flat stones. Somewhat similar structures associated with some representation of a human have also been found elsewhere in Magdalenian Spain, such as at Cueva Erralla, Entrefoces rock shelter, Cueva de Praileaitz, Cueva de la Garma, and Cueva de Erberua.[108]

Mortuary practices

EEMH buried their dead, commonly with a variety symbolic grave goods as well as red ochre, and multiple people were often buried in the same grave.[109] However, the archaeological record has yielded few graves, less than 5 preserved per millennium, which could indicate burials were seldom given. Consequently, it is unclear if they represent isolated burials or form a much more generalised mortuary tradition.[76] Across Europe, some graves contained multiple individuals, in this case most often featuring both sexes.[109]

Most burials are dated to the Gravettian (most notably 31–29 thousand years ago) and towards the end of the Magdalenian (from 14–11 thousand years ago). None are identified during the Aurignacian. Gravettian burials seem to differ from post-LGM ones. The former ranged across Europe from Portugal to Siberia, whereas the latter conspicuously restricted to Italy, Germany, and southwest France. About half of buried Gravettians were infants, whereas infant burials were much less common post-LGM, but it is debated if this was due to social differences or infant mortality rates. Graves are also commonly associated with animal remains and tools, but it is unclear if this was intentional or was coincidentally a part of the filler. They are much less common post-LGM, and post-LGM graves are more commonly associated with ornaments than Gravettian graves.[76]

The most lavish of Palaeolithic burial is a grave from the Gravettian of Sungir, Russia, where a boy and a girl were placed crown-to-crown in a long, shallow grave, and adorned with thousands of perforated ivory beads, hundreds of perforated arctic fox canines, ivory pins, disc pendants, ivory animal figurines, and mammoth tusk spears. The beads were a third the size of those found with a man from the same site, which could indicate these small beads were specifically designed for the children.[109] Only two other Upper Palaeolithic graves were found with grave goods other than personal adornment (one from Arene Candide, Italy, and Brno, Czech Republic), and the grave of these two children is unique in bearing any functional implements (the spears) as well as a bone from another individual (a partial femur). The 5 other buried individuals from Sungir did not receive nearly as many grave goods, with one seemingly given no formal treatment whatsoever.[110] However, most Gravettian graves feature few ornaments, and the buried were probably wearing them before death.[76]

Due to such rich material culture and the marked difference of treatment between different individuals, it has been suggested that these peoples had a complex society beyond band level, and with social class distinction. In this model, young individuals given elaborate funerals were potentially born into a position of high status.[109] However, about 75% of EEMH skeletons were men, which sharply contrasts with the predominance of depictions of women in art.[76] Because of the great amount of time, labour, and resources all these grave goods would have required, it has been hypothesised that the grave goods were made long in advance of the ceremony. Because of such planning for multiple burials as well as their abundance in the archaeological record, the seemingly purposeful presence of both sexes, and an apparent preference for individuals with some congenital disorder[109] (about a third of identified burials[110]), it is speculated that these cultures practiced human sacrifice either in fear, disdain, or worship of those with abnormal features, like in many present-day and historical societies.[109][110] Intricate funerals, in addition to evidence of shamanism and ritualism, has also provoked hypotheses of the belief of an afterlife by EEMH.[111]

Grave from Sungir
Grave from Combe-Capelle, France
Grave from Menton, France
Grave from Grimaldi, France

The earliest evidence of skull cups, and thus ritual cannibalism, comes from the Magdalenian of Gough’s Cave, England. Further concrete evidence of such rituals does not appear until after the Palaeolithic. The Gough's Cave cup seems to have followed a similar method of scalping as those from Neolithic Europe, with incisions being made along the midline of the skull (whereas the Native American method of scalping involved a circular incision around the crown). Earlier examples of non-ritual cannibalism in Europe do not seem to have followed the same method of defleshing.[112] At least 1 skull cup was transported from a different site. In addition, Gough’s Cave also yielded a human radius with a zig-zag engraving. Compared to other artefacts in the cave or common to the Magdalenian period, the radius was modified quite little, with the engraving probably quickly etched on (indicated by scrape marks not recorded on any other Magdalenian engraving), and the bone broken and discarded soon thereafter. This may indicate the bone's only function was as a tool in some cannibalistic and/or funerary ritual, rather than being prepared to be carried around by the group as an ornament or tool.[113]

Skull cup from Gough's Cave, England
Engraved radius from Gough's Cave, England

Assemblages and fossils

Site Region (country) Industry Age (ka) Description
Grotta del Cavallo Italy Uluzzian (Proto-Aurignacian) 44 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. No tools were associated with the find.
Geissenklösterle Central Europe (Germany) Proto-Aurignacian 42 The bone flute of Geissenklösterle (Swabia) has been radiocarbon dated to 43–42 ka. The so-called adorant from the Geißenklösterle cave is somewhat younger (40–35 ka). Other paleolithic art of the early Aurignacian was found in the Swabian Alb area, including Venus of Hohle Fels and the Lion-man figurine (see Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura)[114] No dated human remains are associated with these finds.
Kostenki-14 Eastern Europe (Russia) Proto-Aurignacian 38 A male from Kostenki-14 (Markina Gora), dated 35–40 ka, was found to have close ancestry with both "Mal'ta boy" (24 ka) of central Siberia (Ancient North Eurasian) and to the later Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of Europe and western Siberia, as well as with a basal population ancestral to Early European Farmers.[8]
Peștera cu Oase Southeastern Europe (Romania) Proto-Aurignacian 38
Oase 2 skull

Peștera cu Oase ("Bones Cave") near the Iron Gates in Romania 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 EEMH 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. Oase 2 (and fragments Oase 3), discovered in 2005, is the skull of a young male, again with mosaic features, some of which are paralleled in the Oase 1 mandible.[115]

Kents Cavern Western Europe (UK) Proto-Aurignacian 36 The Kents 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 Kents Cavern 4. In 1989 the fossil was radiocarbon dated to be from 36,400–34,700 years ago, although various fauna fossils in older strata present on the site have been dated in 2011 to 44,200–41,500 years ago and indirectly associated with the human remains, the latest datings and conclusions in question being highly disputed.[7]
Sungir Eastern Europe (Russia) Aurignacian 34

DNA analysis at c. 34,000 BP. Additional pollen finds suggest the relative warm spell of the "Greenland interstadial (GI) 5" (two hundred kilometres east of Moscow, on the outskirts of Vladimir, near the Klyazma River). mtDNA analysis shows that the four individuals tested from Sungir belong to mtDNA haplogroup U. The individual from Burial 1 belongs to mtDNA haplogroup U8c, while the three individuals from Burial 2 belong to mtDNA haplogroup U2. Y-DNA analysis shows that all four of the tested individuals from Sungir belong to Y-DNA haplogroup C1a2.[50]

Kostenki-12 Eastern Europe (Russia) Aurignacian 33 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 kilometres.[116][117]
Gower Western Europe (UK) Aurignacian 33 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 were stained with ochre, and it 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.[118] 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.[119]
La Quina Aval Western Europe (France) Aurignacian 33 Consisting of a partial juvenile mandible, the find is also associated with early Aurignacian tools. The jaw has some archaic features, though it is mainly modern.[120] The find is dated to max 33,000–32,000 radiocarbon years.[116]
Les Roisà Mouthiers Western Europe (France) Aurignacian 32 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.[116]
Mladeč caves Central Europe (Czech Republic) Aurignacian 31 The Mladeč caves in Moravia 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),[121] 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.[116]
Peștera Muierilor Southeastern Europe (Romania) Aurignacian 31

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 cave, among numerous cave bear remains. Radiocarbon dating yielded an age of 30,150 ± 800 years. No associated tools were found.[116]

Muierii and Cioclovina Caves Southeastern Europe (Romania) Aurignacian 30 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.[116][122][full citation needed]
Cro-Magnon Western Europe (France) Aurignacian 29
Cro-Magnon 2, the female skull found at Cro-Magnon (1884 drawing)

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 another male, 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.[123] 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.[123] The Abri of Cro-Magnon is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the "Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley".[124]

Předmostí Central Europe (Czech Republic) Aurignacian-Gravettian 26 The Předmostí site, near Přerov, Moravia, 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.[125] The Předmostí site appears 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,[126] 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.[127] 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.[128]
Balzi Rossi Italy Aurignacian-Gravettian 25 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.[129] The remains from one of the caves, the "Barma Grande", have in recent times been radiocarbon dated to 25 ka.[130] The Venus figurines of Balzi Rossi have been dated to the later Gravettian or Epi-Gravettian, 24 to 19 ka.[131]
Abrigo do Lagar Velho Western Europe (Portugal) Gravettian 24 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.[132]
Abri Pataud Western Europe (France) Solutrean 21

The Abri Pataud shelter shows human habitation throughout the Aurignacian to Solutrean, but was abandoned in the early Magdalenian, about 17 ka. "Pataud woman" is the name given to the remains of a young woman, about 20 years old, deposited with the body of a newborn child, and is about 21,000 years old. The woman's skull was buried separately, about four metres from the body, lying protected between stones.

Chancelade Western Europe (France) Magdalenian 15

Chancelade man, a short and stocky older man buried in Chancelade, France, was found with Magdalenian tools.[133] Several other more fragmentary finds, like the skeleton from Laugerie-Basse and the Duruthy cave near Sorde-l'Abbaye, have traditionally been linked to the Chancelade man.[134] The morphological difference in the Chancelade skull compared to the "stockier" Cro-Magnon type has been taken as evidence for a Gravettian or Magdalenian-era influx of a different population unrelated to the Aurignacian EEMH.

Cap Blanc rock shelter Western Europe (France) Magdalenian-Azilian 14 Magdalenian Girl is a female skeleton, discovered in Dordogne in 1911. Dating to the later Magdalenian, transitional to the beginning Mesolithic.
Grotte du Bichon Western Europe (Switzerland) Magdalenian-Azilian 14 Bichon man is the skeleton of a young male of the mesolithic hunter-gatherer (WHG) lineage.
Ripari Villabruna Italy Magdalenian-Azilian 14

Villabruna 1 is a skeleton, dated 14.1–13.8 ka, buried in a shallow pit, the head turned to the left with arms stretched touching the body, with grave goods typical of hunter-gatherer equipment. Villabruna 1 is the oldest bearer of Y-haplogroup R1b (R1b1a-L754* (xL389,V88)) found in Europe, and has been taken as a representative of the beginning post-LGM (Mesolithic) migration movement from the Near East.[20]

In popular culture

The "caveman" archetype is quite popular in both literature and visual media and can be portrayed as highly muscular, hairy, or monstrous, and to represent a wild and animalistic character. Cavemen first appeared in visual media in D. W. Griffith's 1912 Man's Genesis, and among the first appearances in fictional literature were Stanley Waterloo's 1897 The Story of Ab and Jack London's 1907 Before Adam.[135] Cavemen have also been popularly potrayed (inaccurately) as confronting dinosaurs, first done in Griffith's 1914 Brute Force (the sequel to Man's Genesis) featuring a Ceratosaurus.[136] EEMH are also portrayed interacting with Neanderthals, such as in H. G. Wells' 1927 The Grisly Folk, William Golding's 1955 The Inheritors, Björn Kurtén's 1978 Dance of the Tiger, Jean M. Auel's 1980 Clan of the Cave Bear and her Earth's Children series, and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas' 1987 Reindeer Moon and its 1990 sequel The Animal Wife. EEMH are generally portrayed as superior in some way to Neanderthals which allowed them to take Europe.[137]

See also


  1. ^ "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 (AMH). 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 from dispensing entirely with the idea of Cro-Magnons."[1]
  2. ^ 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.[9]
  3. ^ Kostenki-14 (Russia): C1b, Goyet Q116-1 (Belgium) C1a,[20] Sungir (Russia): C1a2, Ust'-Ishim and Oase-1: K2a[50]
  4. ^ Haplogroup N was found in two Gravettian-era fossils, Paglicci 52 Paglicci 12, and is widespread in Central Asia[51]


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