By Tim Lambert
The Cro-Magnon people
Modern humans appeared in Africa about 100,000 years ago. About 35,000 years ago they entered Europe. (They are sometimes called Cro-Magnons). At that time Europe was in the grip of an ice age. Scandinavia and most of the British Isles were permanently covered in ice. (In fact of course they were not islands at that time. Great Britain and Ireland were connected to each other and to mainland Europe by land). Switzerland was also permanently coated in ice. Forests only grew in the extreme south of Europe and most of it was covered in tundra or grassland.
Ice Age life
In this harsh environment Cro-Magnon men hunted mammoth, reindeer, red deer, bison and wild horses. They invented the spear thrower, which allowed them to hurl spears much further than before. The Cro-Magnons also used bows and arrows. They also fished using harpoons tipped with bone points.
Although we often call them cave men in fact caves were absent from much of Europe. In those places the Cro-Magnons made tents using mammoth bones as supports.
The Cro-Magnons were not stupid or brutish. On the contrary they were highly skilled at making efficient tools from stone, bone, wood and antler.
Physically they were exactly the same as modern humans. They looked just like us. The Cro-Magnons made warm clothes such as trousers, coats and boots from animal skins using bone needles.
The Cro-Magnons also made pendants from animal teeth (from fox, bear and wolf) and from ivory. They also made necklaces of ivory beads and shells. They may also have painted or tattooed themselves.
The Cro-Magnons buried their dead. Bodies were sometimes covered in red ochre. We don't know why although it has been suggested that the red ochre represented the blood of the living.
Nothing is known about their social organisation but they probably lived in small groups with a nomadic lifestyle.
When the ice age ended a new way of life evolved. Human beings began farming.
Ice Age Art
The Cro-Magnons were also an artistic people. They made small statuettes from ivory, bone and stone. Some of the statuettes are of pregnant women. They are sometimes called Venuses. We don't know what they were for but they may have been fertility charms.
The Cro-Magnons are most famous for their cave paintings. We are not sure what the paintings were made for but they are impressive. Colours include black, red, yellow and white. The Cro-Magnons used charcoal, ochre and manganese to make them. Curiously humans were rarely painted on cave walls but many animals were. They include horses, bison, mammoths, reindeer, bears and rhinoceroses. There is nothing crude about the paintings. On the contrary the people who made them were highly skilled.
We don't know what the cave paintings were for but they may have been for sympathetic magic. Primitive peoples often believed that if a model or painting was made of a person or animal and a spell was cast on it that would somehow influence the real thing. Perhaps the cave paintings of animals were made so spells could be cast on them to make hunting them easier.