Cro-Magnons were anatomically modern, straight limbed and tall compared to the contemporaneous Neanderthals. They are thought to have stood on average 176.2 cm (5 feet 9 1⁄3 inches) tall. They differ from modern-day humans in having a more robust physique and a slightly larger cranial capacity. The Cro-Magnons had long, fairly low skulls, with wide faces, narrow aquiline noses, and moderate to no prognathism. A distinctive trait was the rectangular eye orbits. Their vocal apparatus was like that of present-day humans and they could speak.

Mitochondrial DNA analysis places the early European population as sister group to the Asian groups, dating the divergence to some 50,000 years ago. The very light skin tone found in modern Northern Europeans is a relatively recent phenomenon, and may have appeared in the European line as recently as 6 to 12 thousand years ago, indicating Cro-Magnons had brown skin. Sequencing of finds of the late post-ice-age hunter-gatherer populations in Europe indicate that some Cro-Magnons likely had blue eyes and dark hair, and an “olive” complexion.