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Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans Paperback – May 10, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 136 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Archaeology contributing editor Brian Fagan provides readers with intimate accounts of what he imagines Ice Age life was like for both the vanishing Neanderthals and the invading Homo sapiens who developed the basis of modern culture. He lauds the ‘endless ingenuity and adaptability' of ordinary men and women living in bitterly cold Paleolithic Europe. ‘My DNA tells me that, genetically, I'm one of them,' Fagan concludes, ‘and I'm proud of it.'” ―Archaeology (Editors' Pick)

“Fagan provides readers with a fascinating discussion of the lifestyle of Neanderthals and early modern humans… In bringing these ancient human societies to life, Fagan combines an engaging narrative style with a well-written and easily understood scholarly discussion…an excellent resource.” ―National Speleological Society newsletter

“Highly entertaining and instructive…[Fagan] does an admirable job in bringing vividly to life the Europe of between eighty and ten thousand years ago… Fagan's book has been overtaken by the onward progress of his science―this happens to lots of such books―and there are aspects of his case that invite debate. But it is an admirable book nevertheless; the re-imagining of the past is entertainingly done, and a great deal of science, especially climate science, is accessibly introduced on the way.” ―Barnes & Noble Review

“[A] fascinating account…Fagan's narratives of cave-painting and hunting – among other anecdotes – really bring this history-laden book to life.” ―Green Life

About the Author

Brian Fagan was born in England and spent several years doing fieldwork in Africa. He is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of New York Times bestseller The Great Warming and many other books, including Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting, and the Discovery of the New World, and several books on climate history, including The Little Ice Age and The Long Summer.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; Reprint edition (May 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608194051
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608194056
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #437,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Vitous on April 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In Cro-Magnon, Brian Fagan delivers the current state-of-knowledge regarding our stone-age selves and summarizes archeological evidence to date. As someone with a casual interest the subject, I might read up on it every 10 years or so; watching a handful of documentaries in the meantime. Fagan collects the various wealth of scientific knowledge, and distills it for mass consumption.

So what's new with the old? For starters, better dating techniques and mitochondrial DNA analysis has improved our understanding of the timeline. The Cro-Magnon (and focus of this book) are the ancestors of modern Europeans, and the book begins with their co-habitation with the neanderthal before moving into a series of eras defining differences in Cro-Magnon cultures. Fagan intersperses analysis of the current evidence with tales describing what he imagines daily life to be in a certain place and time. Much of this is speculation, and on problem with the book is that historic record is very fragmented and only very durable (ie, stone) artifacts remain. Make no mistake, the author does make some very good educated guesses that fit with the evidence at hand, but still, there is an awful lot of conjecture, and parts of the story are bound to change over time. In the end, I was less interested in the speculation and more interested in the significance of actual evidence.

There were a few editorial problems with the book worthy of note -- most having to do with captions of illustrations and references to them in the text. Some compound illustrations, for example, were lettered but the caption neither explained all of the letters, nor were always in sync with what the letter actually represented.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Brian Fagan is one of my favorite authors. I was first introduced to his books in college. They were the text books in the prehistory courses I took for my major in archeology. More recently, he has been writing about the effects of climate change on human history. He has a talent for writing about complex subjects like climate change so that they are comprehensible for the lay reader without "dumbing down" the material.

With his most recent book, he has returned to the subject of prehistory with a comprehensive overview of the first anatomically modern humans, who he refers to as "Cro- Magnon" after the rock shelter where the first remains were discovered. Cro-Magnons are best known as the people who created the magnificent cave paintings in Europe.

When Cro-Magnons migrated into Europe from the Near East, it was already inhabited by the Neanderthals, relatives but not direct ancestors. Dr. Fagan refers to the Neanderthals as the "Quiet People" because they lacked fluent speech. They also lacked symbolism, religion, art and innovation. Their way of life was unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years. Unable to compete with their more advanced cousins, the Cro-Magnons, the Neanderthals gradually died out.

The Ice Age was not uniformly cold. There were periods of warmth when vegetation and animal populations changed. The Cro-Magnons were experts at adapting to the changing conditions, hunting large game when it was cold and smaller game when it was warm. The tools they left behind reflect the constant innovations that made them so successful. Their art, musical instruments and burials reveal their rich spiritual life.
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Format: Hardcover
Brian Fagan deliberately uses the term "Cro-Magnon" even though it is out of current academic fashion, but it is widely and immediately recognized as meaning those anatomically modern humans who came into Europe 40000-plus years ago to eventually supplant the Neanderthal population already there and become, genetically speaking, the ancestors of modern Europeans. The author thoroughly grounds his narrative in the fruits of archaeological studies, although a good deal of well-informed speculation is necessary where the archaeological record is nonexistent. Much of this speculation derives from close observations made of comparitively modern hunter-gatherer peoples, especially Inuits who faced many of the same climatic challenges met by the Cro-Magnons.

Fagan typically begins each chapter with a vignette highlighting particular characteristics of life at some particular period, as circumstances changed and cultures evolved. The author does not neglect the Neanderthals, and a large part of the book examines how and why the Cro-Magnons came to replace them throughout Europe. Fagan is careful to avoid traditional negative stereotypes concerning the Neanderthals and presents them as intelligent, agile, adaptable people, but whose mental processes ultimately could not match those of Cro-Magnons, whose skills at innovation proved superior at adapting to changing environmental conditions.

For the most part Fagan sidesteps the perennial question of whether Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons interbred, but it is plain that the author considers any genetic contribution from the earlier humans to modern Europeans to be inconsequential (if any exists at all). And he quite plainly rejects any scenario of major violent interaction between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons.
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