Grimaldi man

Grimaldi man is the name formerly given to two human skeletons of the Upper Paleolithic discovered in Italy in 1901. The remains are now recognized as representing two individuals, and are dated to ca. 26,000 to 22,000 years ago (i.e. c. 24000–20000 BC) and classified as part of the wider European early modern humans population of the late Aurignacian to early Gravettian.

The Grimaldi find as displayed in the Musée d'Anthropologie in Monaco

Because of their early discovery, there is a long history of interpretation of the fossils. Notably, the remains were originally classified as Negroid by Boule and Vallois (1921). This identification has been obsolete since at least the 1960s, but it was controversially revived in the 1980s as part of the Afrocentrism propagated by Cheikh Anta Diop.[1]


Grotte dei Balzi Rossi (Rochers Rouges) where the Grimaldi skeletons were found. Picture from Nouvelle géographie universelle, 1877

In the late 19th century, several stone age finds of extreme age had been made in the caves and rock shelters around the "Balzi Rossi" (the Red Cliff) near Ventimiglia in Italy.[2] One of the more dramatic was that of two children with snail-shell belts in what was named as "Grotte dei fanciulli" (Cave of the Children) as well as stone tools and several Venus figurines.[3] Around the turn of the 20th century, Albert I, Prince of Monaco financed the archaeological exploration of the seven most important caves. These were named "Caves of Grimaldi" in honour of the House of Grimaldi.[4] The find is on display in Le Musée d'anthropologie préhistorique in Monaco.[5]

The caves yielded several finds. The remains from one of the caves, the "Barma Grande", have in recent time been radiocarbon dated to 25,000 years old, which places it in the Upper Paleolithic.[6]

Finding Grimaldi manEdit

The Grotte dei fanciulli held Aurignacian artifacts and reindeer remains in the upper layers, while the lower layers exhibited a more tropical fauna with Merck's rhinoceros, hippopotamus and straight-tusked elephant. The lowermost horizon held Mousterian tools, associated with Neanderthals.[4] The Grimaldi skeletons were found in the lower Aurignacian layer in June 1901, by the Canon de Villeneuve. The two skeletons appeared markedly different from the Cro-Magnon skeletons found higher in the cave and in other caves around Balzi Rossi, and was named "Grimaldi man" in honour of the Prince.

One of the two skeletons belonged to a woman past 50, the other an adolescent boy of 16 or 17.[7] The skeletons were in remarkably good shape, though the weight of some 8 meters of sediments had crushed the skulls somewhat, particularly the fine bones of the face. Yet, de Villeneuve was reportedly struck by the prognathism of the skulls.[8] With the crushed nature of the skulls, such observation would have been tentative at best. It was however later established that the old woman was indeed prognathic, though from a pathologic condition.[1]


The dating techniques of the day were limited, but the Grimaldi people were believed to be of the late Palaeolithic period.[9] An inference of the true age can be made from the layering. The more tropical fauna of the lower levels below the Grimaldi man skeletons had rhinoceros, hippopotamus and elephants, are known from the Mousterian Pluvial, a moist period from 50,000 to 30,000 years before present.[10] The Aurignacian is 47,000 to 41,000 years old using the most recent calibration of the radiocarbon timescale.[11] With the Grimaldi skeletons situated at the lowest Aurignacian layer, the true age is likely in the earlier range.

Physical characteristicsEdit

The Grimaldi skeletons were very different from the finds that had been unearthed in Europe until then. Unlike the robust Neanderthals, the Grimaldi skeletons were slender and gracile, even more so than the Cro-Magnon finds from the same cave system.[8] The Grimaldi people were small. While an adult Cro-Magnon generally stood over 170 cm tall (large males could reach 190 cm), neither of the two skeletons stood over 160 cm. The boy was smallest at a mere 155 cm.[7]

The two skulls had rather tall braincases, unlike the long, low skulls found in Neanderthals and to a lesser extent in Cro-Magnons. The faces had wide nasal openings and lacked the rectangular orbitae and broad complexion so characteristic of Cro-Magnons.[12] These traits, combined with what de Villeneuve interpreted as prognathism led the discoverers to the conclusion that the Grimaldi man had been of a "negroid" type.[8] Some traits did not fit the picture though. The nasal bone had a high nasal bridge, like that of Cro-Magnons and modern Europeans and was very unlike those of more tropical groups. The two rises of the frontal bone in the forehead were separate rather than forming a single median rise, another European trait. The cranial capacity was also quite large for their size.

Restoration work and interpretationEdit

1916 photo

The need for reconstructionEdit

The skulls had been damaged by the weight of the overlying sediments, and some reconstruction, particularly of the lower face was necessary. It has been established that the old woman suffered from a phenomenon known in orthodontics. Having lost all her molars of the lower jaw, the upper jaw had been progressively translated forward and the lower part of the face had become more protruding.[13]

Reconstructing the faceEdit

The adolescent had all his teeth, but these were manipulated by the anthropologists M. Boule and R. Verneau, when trying to reconstruct the skull and the face. M. Boule drilled the maxillaries in order to release the wisdom teeth that were still inside them. By doing this, he changed the face, as the natural growth of the wisdom teeth would have remodeled the dental arc in a natural way. Having then too many teeth to fit the jawline, he reconstructed a very prognathic jaw, possibly bearing in mind the jaw of the woman. The diagnosis of "prognathism" in the adolescent is hence speculative. Based on these characteristics, Boule and Verneau concluded that the two specimen were "negroid". Other non-negroïd characteristics were disregarded. The fact that no similar finds were known from Europe did not raise any concern, as it was believed that more were to follow.[13]

Museum displayEdit

When the Grimaldi skeletons were found, the adolescent had laid on his back and the woman face-down. The positions were changed when they were prepared for display. In order to make the prognathism visible, the skeletons were laid out on their side, which also suggested[to whom?] a ritual burial contrary to the original positions.

Photos of this display can be found in textbooks.[14]

It is clear that Verneau did not intend to create a hoax.[13] He documented his manipulations (at least partially), and his intention was to accentuate a feature he really believed to be present.[1] His honesty is further corroborated[1] as he also made and published photos of the excavation, where one can see the woman lying in a face-down position.[1] Such photos were quite rare for that time.

History of classificationEdit

Early debateEdit

The finding of the first Cro-Magnon in 1868 led to the idea that modern man had arisen in Europe. Some French archaeologists at the time were even ready to declare France the cradle of humanity.[15]

The Grimaldi finds were interpreted as ancestral to the Negroid race, just as the skull from Chancelade suggested an ancestor for the Mongoloid one.[16] M. Boule and R. Verneau can thus be seen as interpreting the find after the leading theories of the day.[1] Later critics such as Cornevin (1981) have however alleged a motivation to "prove the superiority and anteriority of the white race".[17]

Not all early 20th century archaeologists shared the view of Grimaldi as ancestors of Africans. Sir Arthur Keith pointed out that while the Grimaldi man clearly showed "negroid" features, he also had European ones. He concluded that Grimaldi man probably was of an "intermediate race".[7] He suggested Grimaldi man might have found his way to Europe over a land bridge from Africa. Both the Strait of Gibraltar and a route from Algeria via Sicily was thought to have been fordable in the late Paleolithic.[4] Others have suggested the Grimaldi people may have been related to Bushmen.[4]

Classification as Cro-MagnonEdit

By the 1970s, new finds from Jebel Qafzeh in Israel, Combe-Capelle in France, Minatogawa in Japan, the Kabwe skull from Zambia and several Paleo-Indians had considerably broadened the knowledge of early man.[18] The old term "Cro-Magnon" was replaced with "anatomically modern human" to encompass the expanding population out of Africa, including the Grimaldi remains.[15]

In AfrocentrismEdit

Cheikh Anta Diop (1981) insisted that Grimaldi man represent a distinct black race, different from the Cro-Magnon.[19] The Afrocentrist theory of the origin of Europeans vary somewhat from author to author, but the essence is that "white man" only appeared around 20,000 years ago, with a "black" Grimaldi man as ancestor. Reportedly Mikhail Gerasimov[year needed] identified other skeletons as "Grimaldi Man".[19][clarification needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Masset, C. (1989): Grimaldi : une imposture honnête et toujours jeune, Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, vol. 86, n° 8, pp. 228-243.
  2. ^ Bisson, M.S. & Bolduc, P. (1994): Previously Undescribed Figurines From the Grimaldi Caves. Current Anthropology no 35(4), pages 458-468.
  3. ^ Émile Rivière (1887): Paléoethnologie : De l'Antiquité de L'Homme dans les Alpes-Maritimes, Paris: J.B. Baillère
  4. ^ a b c d Bishop, C.W., Abbot, C.G. & Hrdlicka, A. (1930): Man from the Farthest Past, Volume VII from the Smithsonian Institution Series. original text from American Libraries
  5. ^ "La plus riche collection des Grottes des Balzi Rossi". Le Musée d'anthropologie préhistorique. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  6. ^ Bisson, M.S., Tisnerat, N., & Whit, R. (1996): Radiocarbon Dates From the Upper Paleolithic of the Barma Grande. Current Anthropology no 37(1), pages 156- 162.
  7. ^ a b c Keith, A. (1911): Ancient Types of Man. Harper and Brothers Read book online, (Grimaldi man covered on pages 58-63)
  8. ^ a b c Verneau, R. (1909): Les fouilles du Prince de Monaco aux Baoussé Roussé. Un nouveau type humain. L'anthropologie no 13, pages 561-585
  9. ^ Wells, H.G. (1920). "The Later Postglacial Palæolithic Men, the First True Men". The Outline of History, Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind. pp. 65–76. But at the Grimaldi cave, near Mentone, were discovered two skeletons also af the later Palaeolithic Period, ...
  10. ^ Stewart, J.T. (1 May 2007). "Neanderthal extinction as part of the faunal change in Europe during Oxygen Isotope Stage 3". Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia. A. 50 (1): 93–124. CiteSeerX doi:10.3409/000000007783995372.
  11. ^ P.Mellars, Archeology and the Dispersal of Modern Humans in Europe: Deconstructing the Aurignacian, Evolutionary Anthropology, vol. 15 (2006), pp. 167–182.
  12. ^ Human Evolution: Interpreting Evidence Cro-Magnon 1 Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine, from Museum of Science
  13. ^ a b c Legoux, P. (1966): Détermination de l'âge dentaire de fossiles de la lignée humaine, Paris, Maloine
  14. ^ Henry Fairfield Osborn (1916): Men of the old stone age, their environment, life and art, New York : C. Scribner's sons
  15. ^ a b Prediaux, T. (1974): Cro-Magnon Man, book III in the series The Emergence of Man, Time–Life
  16. ^ Leo Testut, in Recherches anthropologiques sur le Squelette quaternaire de Chancelade, Bull. Soc. d'Anthrop. de Lyon, 1889, had devoted 50 pages to the proof that the Chancelade skull was an ancestor of the Eskimo. In spite of the lengthy argumentation, the Chancelade skeleton is now considered Cro-Magnon.
  17. ^ Marianne Cornevin, M. & Leclant, J. (1981): Secrets du continent noir révélés par l'archéologie, Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris, p. 40. ISBN 2-7068-1251-6
  18. ^ Brace, C. Loring (1996). Haeussler, Alice M.; Bailey, Shara E. (eds.). "Cro-Magnon and Qafzeh — vive la Difference" (PDF). Dental Anthropology Newsletter. 10 (3): 2–9. doi:10.26575/daj.v10i3.225. ISSN 1096-9411. OCLC 34148636. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 June 2010. Retrieved 31 March 2010.
  19. ^ a b Cheikh Anta Diop, Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology (1981)