The term “Cro-Magnon” is typically used as a common name referring to the first early modern humans (early H. sapiens) who lived in the European Upper Paleolithic period which ranges between 50,000 to 10,000 years ago. This period is otherwise known as the Late Stone Age. Most paleoanthropologists today prefer to use the term “European Early Modern Humans” (EEMH) instead as the term “Cro-Magnon” really has no taxonomic status. This is because Cro-Magnon neither refers to a species or sub-species not to any culture or archeological phase. But, for the purposes of this article I will use the term Cro-Magnon or simply Cro-Mag.
The earliest known Cro-Magnon-like humans have been dated at 43,000 years ago. They were robust in their physical stature and had powerful muscles. They had rather heavy bodies and strong musculature. Their foreheads were fairly straight rather than sloping as we see in Neanderthals. Cro-Mags had only slight browridges unlike heavier ones we see in earlier human ancestor species. Their faces were wide and short and they had a prominent chin which is typically a feature associated with modern humans, H. sapiens. The brain capacity was about 1600 cubic centimeters making them larger than the average human brain capacity today. Modern researchers believe that the differences between Cro-Mags and modern humans does NOT warrant classifying Cro-Magnon as a separate human species as their features were, overall, fairly close to our own today. But what about their DNA?
Back in 2008 the Public Library of Science announced that Cro-Magnons dated to be 28,000 years old had DNA that was like that of modern humans. We know Cro-Mags were the first people to have a skeleton similar to our own. And we know that around 40,000 years ago they appeared in Europe having come out of Africa, most researchers believe. Via genetic studies on Cro-Mag remains we now know that a Cro-Magnon individual lived in Southern Italy 28,000 years ago and, genetically, he was a modern human (H. sapien). Further, genetic studies also indicate that the Neanderthals who lived in Europe for 300,000 years were NOT the ancestors of modern Europeans at least directly or to any significant degree. Only a few percent of our DNA comes from the Neanderthals.
Cro-Magnons coexisted in Europe with other humans, namely Neanderthals. And this is to be expected as we now know that human evolution was not an extinction of one hominin species replaced by a more evolved one. In fact, the evidence says that the norm was that several species of hominids coexisted at the same time for a time.
So, when you think of Cro-Mags what you are really talking about is modern humans, early Homo sapiens. Although bigger than us and more archaic they were still the first form of modern humans.