Early European modern humans (EEMH), or Cro-Magnons, were the first early modern humans (Homo sapiens) to settle in Europe, migrating from Western Asia, continuously occupying the continent possibly from as early as 56,800 years ago. They interacted and interbred with the indigenous Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) of Europe and Western Asia, who went extinct 40,000 to 35,000 years ago. The first wave of modern humans in Europe from 45,000-40,000 (Initial Upper Paleolithic) left no genetic legacy to modern Europeans, but from 37,000 years ago a second wave succeeded in forming a single founder population, from which all EEMH descended and which contributes ancestry to present-day Europeans. Early European modern humans (EEMH) produced Upper Palaeolithic cultures, the first major one being the Aurignacian, which was succeeded by the Gravettian by 30,000 years ago. The Gravettian split into the Epi-Gravettian in the east and Solutrean in the west, due to major climate degradation during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), peaking 21,000 years ago. As Europe warmed, the Solutrean evolved into the Magdalenian by 20,000 years ago, and these peoples recolonised Europe. The Magdalenian and Epi-Gravettian gave way to Mesolithic cultures as big game animals were dying out and the Last Glacial Period drew to a close.
EEMH were anatomically similar to present-day Europeans, but were more robust, having larger brains, broader faces, more prominent brow ridges, and bigger teeth. The earliest EEMH specimens also exhibit some features that are reminiscent of those found in Neanderthals. The first EEMH would have had darker skin; natural selection for lighter skin would not begin until 30,000 years ago. Before the LGM (Last Glacial Maximum), EEMH had overall low population density, tall stature similar to post-industrial humans, and expansive trade routes stretching as long as 900 km (560 mi), and hunted big game animals. EEMH had much higher populations than the Neanderthals, possibly due to higher fertility rates; life expectancy for both species was typically under 40 years. Following the LGM, population density increased as communities travelled less frequently (though for longer distances), and the need to feed so many more people in tandem with the increasing scarcity of big game caused them to rely more heavily on small or aquatic game, and more frequently participate in game drive systems and slaughter whole herds at a time. The EEMH arsenal included spears, spear-throwers, harpoons, and possibly throwing sticks and Palaeolithic dogs. EEMH likely commonly constructed temporary huts while moving around, and Gravettian peoples notably made large huts on the East European Plain out of mammoth bones.
EEMH are well renowned for creating a diverse array of artistic works, including cave paintings, Venus figurines, perforated batons, animal figurines, and geometric patterns. They may have decorated their bodies with ochre crayons and perhaps tattoos, scarification, and piercings. The exact symbolism of these works remains enigmatic, but EEMH are generally (though not universally) thought to have practiced shamanism, in which cave art — specifically of those depicting human/animal hybrids — played a central part. They also wore decorative beads, and plant-fibre clothes dyed with various plant-based dyes, which were possibly used as status symbols. For music, they produced bone flutes and whistles, and possibly also bullroarers, rasps, drums, idiophones, and other instruments. They buried their dead, though possibly only people who had achieved or were born into high status received burial.
Remains of Palaeolithic cultures have been known for centuries, but they were initially interpreted in a creationist model, wherein they represented antediluvian peoples which were wiped out by the Great Flood. Following the conception and popularisation of evolution in the mid-to-late 19th century, EEMH became the subject of much scientific racism, with early race theories allying with Nordicism and Pan-Germanism. Such historical race concepts were overturned by the mid-20th century. During the first wave feminism movement, the Venus figurines were notably interpreted as evidence of some matriarchal religion, though such claims had mostly died down in academia by the 1970s.