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Hey! Who you callin' a Neanderthal?

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The Times reports today that scientists are reconstructing the Neanderthal genome, which has led to lots of debate about whether we should clone one, were that possible. Putting aside what society would actually do with a cloned Neanderthal (put him in some unholy Pleistocene Park? cast him in a Geico commercial?), the guy would need some major image rehab, because over the years his species has been scientifically slandered. Here, courtesy of Channel 4, are 10 Neanderthal myths that need debunking:

  • Neanderthals grunted, they couldn't speak: For many years, scientists believed that Neanderthals' mouth and throat were designed in a way that prevented them from speaking like us. In 1983, scientists found a Neanderthal hyoid bone at a cave in Israel. It completely changed the debate. The hyoid is a small bone that sits in the throat, holding part of the vocal mechanism in place. It was almost identical to modern humans', suggesting that the Neanderthals' throat was, in fact, designed for speech.
  • Neanderthals were hairy: Neanderthals' image as hairy brutes has more to do with prejudice than scientific fact. They were probably no hairier than many people today. Computer simulations have shown that, for Neanderthals, excess body hair could have caused overheating. If Neanderthals overheated, sweat could have frozen to their body hair in the arctic-like conditions, with potentially fatal consequences.
  • Neanderthals were stupid: Neanderthals had brains as big and in some cases even bigger than ours. But this doesn't prove they were 'brainy'; brain size doesn't necessarily correlate with intelligence. Neanderthal brains were also a different shape from ours, and could have been 'wired-up' in a different way. Their skilfully made tools demonstrate considerable intelligence and forethought, but we can still only speculate how similar or different Neanderthal thoughts might have been to our own.

ha1.jpgThey walked with bent-knees like a chimp or orangutan
Studies of Neanderthal fossils show that they would have walked upright, in a very similar way to us. The slouched caricature is largely due to an inaccurate reconstruction of Neanderthal remains done at the start of the last century. We now know that this individual's gait was caused by arthritis.

We are descended from Neanderthals
Most experts now agree that Neanderthals were an evolutionary dead end; a species that became extinct about 30,000 years ago. In recent years, this belief has been supported by groundbreaking research on Neanderthal DNA. Tiny quantities of DNA have been recovered from Neanderthal bones and then analysed on computers. The results support the view that they are different species to Modern Humans.

Neanderthals were club-swinging thugs
There is no evidence that Neanderthals made or used heavy wooden clubs. However, there is good evidence that they made spears, and a wide variety of stone tools. Many of these tools were incredibly sharp. Some had a cutting edge sharper than a surgeon's scalpel.

They were savage, uncaring brutes
In recent years, scientists have discovered evidence that Neanderthals cared for elderly and sick members of their group. For example, one elderly Neanderthal found in Iraq had suffered multiple fractures on the right side of his body and may have been blinded in one eye. Many of his injuries had healed, indicating that somebody must have cared for him for the rest of his life.

Modern Man killed off the Neanderthals
After surviving for 250,000 years in Europe, Neanderthals became extinct just 10,000 years after modern Man arrived, implicating us in their fate. However, there is no evidence for conflict. Indeed, in some regions of Europe, the two populations co-existed for thousands of years, perhaps peacefully. Slightly lower birth rates and higher mortality rates, combined with an increasingly unstable climate are now thought to have killed off the Neanderthals.

Neanderthals bred with Modern Man
Some scientists claim that a child skeleton, found in Portugal in 1998, has a mixture of Neanderthal and Modern human features. For them, it's proof of interbreeding. Other scientists dispute the claim and DNA tests on 3 other Neanderthal fossils have found no evidence for interbreeding. Research on the child continues. The debate is far from over.

Neanderthals were scavengers, not hunters
Neanderthals may not have used projectile weapons, which to some people suggests that they lacked the ability to kill large prey. However, the large proportion of injuries found on Neanderthal bones - likened to those of modern day rodeo riders - suggests that they did engage in the close-quarter killing of large animals. Large accumulations of bones at the bottom of some cliffs suggests that they also chased herds of mammoth, deer and reindeer over the edge, reducing risk of injury to themselves.

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Space
Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.

STOP 1: BANNERMAN CASTLE // BEACON, NEW YORK

59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.

STOP 2. GILLETTE CASTLE STATE PARK // EAST HADDAM, CONNECTICUT

116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.

STOP 3. BELCOURT CASTLE // NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.

STOP 4. HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM // GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.

STOP 5. BOLDT CASTLE // ALEXANDRIA BAY, THOUSAND ISLANDS, NEW YORK

430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.

STOP 6. FONTHILL CASTLE // DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.

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