One of the most impressive things about history is that it is never static; you could take one event that is well documented, then come back to it a decade later and find the details and actions and reactions on that event to be totally different. One area where the knowledge and thoughts and ideas of what the period was like that is constantly changing is prehistory; our ancestors who lived before any real form of the written word was invented, other than cave paintings. This is approximately 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, when the last ice age came to a close, and the melting pot that was ancestral humanity – Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals (and perhaps in the future anthropologists and archaeologists will discover another tangent of hominids) – came to a final decision through the evolutionary step of Homo sapiens sapiens.
Brian Fagan is the professor emeritus in anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of The Great Warming, The Little Ice Age, and The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. In Cro-Magnon, Fagan brings readers up to date with all the latest knowledge and evidence on the Cro-Magnons and the Neanderthals. The common perception is that with the end of the ice age, there was the big migration of Cro-Magnons into what would eventually become Europe, as they existed with the Neanderthals, not integrating and living together, but overpowering and superseding them, eventually rendering the Neanderthals extinct. Fagan explores the history of the Neanderthals, discussing and developing ideas and theories of when they migrated into Europe and spread around and how it was quite possible there was coexistence between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, with exchanges in trade, habits, tool making, and perhaps even histories. Fagan posits that Neanderthals may not have died out, but become integrated with Cro-Magnons.
Fagan then launches into the main part of the book with the Cro-Magnons, and the general labels that are applied to the different periods and developments of Cro-Magnons: Mousterian, Châtelperronian, Aurignancian, Gravettian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian, exploring each label and what makes it individual. At the end of the book the reader is left understanding a lot more about our ancestors, and perhaps coming to the realization that the Neanderthals, and certainly the Cro-Magnons were a lot more intelligent, creative and developed than the idea of the fur-covered man with the spear hunting the woolly mammoth, while the fur-covered woman remains in the cave with the children, tending to the fire. One can’t help but wonder how our knowledge and perceptions of these people may change in ten years time, especially since there is so much more to be learned and discovered; the cave paintings of Grotte de Chauvet, Niaux and Lascaux are merely the tip of the ice berg.
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Originally written on September 16 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.
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