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The reconstructed face of Cro-Magnon man.

Scientists Reconstruct the Face of a Cro-Magnon Man, Tumors and All

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To mark the 150th anniversary of the discovery his bones, researchers have re-examined the 28,000-year-old remains of a middle-aged Cro-Magnon man. They have found that he suffered from a genetic disease which heavily marked his skin and caused large tumors to grow all over his face.

IFLScience provides some background on the discovery of the man’s bones: his remains were found in a rock shelter called Abri de Crô-Magnon, Les Eyzies, France. The site gave the skeleton its name, Cro-Magnon 1; and has also been applied at times to all early modern humans in Europe – though nowadays most researchers prefer to use ‘early modern humans’.

Cro-Magnon artists painting woolly mammoths in Font-de-Gaume, AMNH. ( Public Domain )

Previous analysis of the remains suggested that the lesions on the skull were marks made post-mortem, or due to a fungal infection, however the paper recently published in the journal The Lancet says otherwise.

A medical CT scan and a micro CT scan on a lesion show that the man had a genetic condition known as neurofibromatosis type 1. This condition changes skin coloring and cause benign (noncancerous) tumors to grow in the skin, brain, and across the rest of the body. Neurofibromatosis type 1 can also cause hypertension, short stature, macrocephaly (a large head), and scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine).

Cro-Magnon 1 skull.

Cro-Magnon 1 skull. (CC BY SA 3.0)

The lead study author, anthropologist Philippe Charlier said, Cro-Magnon 1 “has a lesion on the forehead which corresponds to the presence of a neurofibroma (a benign nerve sheath tumor)”, which caused the bone erosion.

Detail of the bone erosion at the micro CT examination; bar is 0·5 cm. (Charlier et al. 2018)

Detail of the bone erosion at the micro CT examination; bar is 0·5 cm. (Charlier et al. 2018)

Charlier discussed the impact neurofibromatosis type 1 had on the man, “His left ear canal was also damaged, presumably also by a tumour that had grown. He has them everywhere.” reports the researchers decided to use the information to create an updated version of what Cro-Magnon 1 may have looked like, taking his pathology into account.

Finally, the researchers write that it would be worthwhile to examine the rest of Cro-Magnon 1’s skeleton for other signs of bone lesions and characteristics which may suggest he had a short stature.

Facial reconstructions have become popular amongst researchers as we try to gain a better look at the appearance of our ancient ancestors. The faces of everyday people such as a Greek teenage girl who lived 9,000 years ago, an ‘ordinary poor man’ from Medieval England, and an ancient Egyptian woman with beautiful features have been reconstructed as well as some people with a more interesting past, such as witches and warriors.

Famous faces such as the Priestess the Lady of Cao and Jesus have also been brought to life with digital tools. Researchers have also tried to recreate lifelike images of individuals who lived much further back in time, such as ancient hominids.

A previous facial reconstruction of Cro-Magnon 1. (Cicero Moraes/CC BY SA 4.0)

A previous facial reconstruction of Cro-Magnon 1. (Cicero Moraes/CC BY SA 4.0)

Top Image: The reconstructed face of Cro-Magnon man. Source: Charlier et al. 2018

By Alicia McDermott



We must be aware that all facial recontructions are artistic licence to create what s/he will. They do not reflect the truth by any means.You cannot say in all honesty that the man had a facial tumour.


Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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