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Johannes de León
Friday, July 1st, 2005, 09:57 AM
The culture of the Cro-Magnons

The ties between Homo sapiens sapiens, and particularly Cro-Magnon peoples and the various Upper Paleolithic cultures (e.g., Châtelperronian, Aurignacian, and Gravettian, which are classified on the basis of stone and bone tools), are relatively clear, although in 1979 Neanderthal fossils were found in Châtelperronian strata near Saint-Césaire, Fr. It is still difficult to establish precisely an outline of physical types and cultures for this period. Moreover, there are some detectable differences between populations and cultures of western Europe and roughly contemporaneous populations of central or eastern Europe.


The Cro-Magnon peoples are generally associated with the Aurignacian culture tool industry, and perhaps with the Gravettian (also called Upper Perigordian). The Aurignacian tool industry is characterized by retouched blade tools, end scrapers and “nosed” scrapers, burins (chisellike tools), and fine bone tools, in particular long, flat points (spearheads) with cleft bases. Other bone and reindeer-horn implements are also seen: awls, tools for smoothing and scraping leather, and the so-called bâtons de commandement—bars of antler or bone with holes drilled in them, the use of which is still uncertain, although they may have been used for straightening arrow or spear shafts. The Gravettian industry differs from the Aurignacian industry in the use of an abrupt retouching technique to form what are called backed blades (i.e., tools with one edge blunted). Modern knowledge of all of these industries has been advanced as the ability to trace how and why various implements were used by Paleolithic peoples has improved.


The dwellings of Cro-Magnons were most often caves and shelters made by rock overhangs, but it is apparent that huts were made also; sometimes these were simply lean-tos against rock walls, but foundation stones and “pavements” of stone in the shape of houses are evidence of complete huts. These houses are not a new development with the Cro-Magnons, however; both the Neanderthals and earlier peoples of the Middle Pleistocene are associated with similar remains. It seems probable that the Cro-Magnons lived fairly settled lives. Studies of occupation sites and the types and extent of remains found in these sites suggest that the rock shelters were inhabited throughout the year rather than seasonally, and it is likely that these Paleolithic hunters moved their homes only when hunting or environmental conditions forced them to do so.

Hunting techniques

The climate in the habitable parts of Europe in Cro-Magnon times was cool to cold. Plants and animals of types associated with tundra and steppe environments were usual. Bone remains found at Cro-Magnon occupation sites indicate that they were successful hunters of such animals as reindeer, bison, wild horse, and even mammoth. As yet, very little is known of Cro-Magnon hunting methods—for example, whether hunting was individual or collective or if bows or traps were used. It is obvious from the animal remains, however, that hunting techniques must have been efficacious.

Aesthetics and religion

Although earlier human groups certainly had religious practices of some sort—the Neanderthal people buried their dead, a practice merely continued and elaborated by Cro-Magnon and later peoples—and no doubt had some appreciation of aesthetics as well, the first examples of prehistoric art are Cro-Magnon. Small engravings, reliefs, and sculptures of animals have been found in Aurignacian and Gravettian sites, as well as a few later statuettes of ivory or stone and occasional engravings in stone of female figures. These figures are usually large-breasted, wide-hipped, and most often apparently pregnant; they are generally assumed to be some sort of fertility symbol, perhaps used in religious or magical rituals intended to promote the fertility of the group or, possibly, of the game.

The Cro-Magnon people also appreciated the decorative aspects of art, as demonstrated by their use of animal pictures and (more often) simple geometric designs to ornament tools and weapons. It is believed that the people of the second half of the Upper Paleolithic—i.e., of the Solutrean and even more so the Magdalenian culture—were of the Cro-Magnoid variety and that they were responsible for the many splendid paintings of animals found in caves in France and Spain; but such sculptures as that called the “Lady,” or “Venus,” found at Brassempouy, Fr., are thought to be the work of Cro-Magnon artists.

[ Source: The culture of the Cro-Magnons, Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005. ]