6. "Cro-Magnon"
by Brian Fagan (Allen Hemphill)

This week, a newly discovered 2 million year old nearly complete skeleton will be revealed in South Africa. It will be the most important find since 1994, and one of the few nearly complete skeletons among only a few hundred finds mostly consisting of just a tooth, or a jawbone of humans/near humans of that era.

One of my interests has been the clash of modern and ancient cultures – much as we have today in Islam and the modern world. I have studied and written on the Hawaiian culture as found by Captain Cook (the Hawaiians ate parts of him in ritualistic cannibalism), and the 100 year clash of the Amazonian Indians with the explorers, and I am now delving into the REALLY ancient – the European clash of two distinct animals – the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnon.

And that gives me the opportunity to expose you to a book, Cro-Magnon by Brian Fagan. Fagan is an Emeritus Prof. of Anthropology at UC Santa Barbara who has published 46 books.

The Neanderthals were a different species of "man" – and divided from our common ancestor about 700,000 years ago. Short, powerful, and brutish, they were not dumb – their species survived in glacial Europe until about 30,000 years ago. (Actually, there was a pre-Neanderthal for the first 500,000 years and a "modern" Neanderthal for about 200,000 years)

The Neanderthals were obviously not dumb, but their tools only marginally improved over 700,000 years. They had the bone nerve opening and DNA necessary for speech but are not believed to have developed a language. With bands seldom larger than 30, there was little need for sophisticated language, and the fact that they spoke or did not is suspect. We can learn a lot about food, weapons, and even living habits from fossils but we can't learn social interactions.

Modern "man" – Cro-Magnon -- arrived in Europe about 50,000 years ago and for a relatively brief time (20,000 years) the two species lived side-by side. We simply do not have sufficient data to tell us if that was in harmony, or at war. Cro-Magnons, who look exactly as we do with the same sized modern brains – and who, cleaned up would not be recognizable in a subway – the Cro-Magnons were far superior in intellect to the Neanderthal. In hundreds of thousands of years, Neanderthals had progressed only from wooden staves to crude rock weapons – and never to sophisticated rock and flint weapons – never to a needle that would permit them to stitch together animal hides against the cold as was common among Cro-Magnon. Neanderthals were never able to work bone, nor were they wearers of ornaments, while the oldest statue known, 32,000 years old, is "Lion Man" – Cro-Magnon – from a cave in Germany.

Today, we are Cro-Magnon species and our species "began" just 200,000 years ago, and left Africa just 70,000 years ago for Europe where we co-existed with Neanderthals for perhaps 20,000 years. At their peak, Neanderthals never had a population of more than 20,000 because of the cold winters in glacial Europe.

Then, as the Cro-Magnons were advancing Out of Africa and not yet in Europe – Mount Toba erupted – the greatest eruption known on earth (an 8 on a score of 8), and that created a global winter that reduced the entire world-wide human population to as little as 10,000! It completely wiped out humans in Asia.

Human kind faced a dinosaur-like extinction! (To see a graphic of the power of the Mt. Toba eruption, go to

In studying the relationship between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, I also ran into some interesting information. The first is how little we know about the interaction, despite more than a century of scientific study.

The second is how little we know about their "climate" – and all of that is like the knowledge we have of Neanderthals, Cro-Magnon, and their interaction…it is all inferential. We are reading tea leaves. For example we know something of the movement of Cro-Magnon and the demise of Neanderthals from another volcanic explosion about 39,000 years ago (Campanian Supervolcano in Italy ) because of what lies above that ash, and what lies below it.

The second thing impacts that recently revamped findings of the glacial age prior to the Glacial Maximum, 21,500 –18,000 years ago. It turns out that there were many cycles of warm and cold from 500,000 years ago in Europe up until the Glacial Maximum but in general, the earth has been tolerably warm for only 10% of the last half a million years.

Cold, bitter cold is the norm over 90% of the past half a million years. Global Warming would have been welcome by Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon.

This book is an interesting read or listen.