Neanderthal vs. Cro-Magnon: What's the Difference?

Mandel Ngan/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

The Dilemma: At a cocktail party, a nasty brute spills a drink on you. You'd like to compare his manners to those of a more primitive hominid. But which would be more insulting?

People You Can Impress: Anthropologists—they're just happy to talk to someone who's not a fossilized skeletal fragment.

The Quick Trick: Neanderthals are more primitive but stronger. Cro-Magnons are us.

The Explanation: Cognitively speaking, it's definitely more insulting to call someone a Neanderthal. But if you're talking musculature, they might just take it as a compliment. Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) were discovered first in Germany's Neander Valley in 1856. They emerged between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, give or take, in the early and middle Paleolithic era, and they used tools, albeit very simple ones. Often they resorted to using rocks (or flakes broken off of rocks by hitting them with other rocks), bones, and sticks. And they used fire, too! Neanderthals were more muscular than the later Homo sapiens, and their skulls were flatter, with broad noses and pronounced ridges on the forehead (which is why, to us, they look rather dim). They were also capable of speech, but recent physiological discoveries indicate that their voices were high pitched and nasal, not the baritone grunts we normally associate with cavemen. Despite their similarities to us, they were not—repeat, not—a step on the way to us. They were a dead-end offshoot of an earlier common ancestor, and they eventually lost out to their smarter, more advanced cousins: Cro-Magnons.

As for Cro-Magnons, they're pretty much just like us. They take their name from a cave in France where Louis Lartet found them in 1868. (Well, he found their skeletons. They had died a while before.) Unlike Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons are not a separate species from Homo sapiens. In fact, they're the earliest known European example of our species—living between 35,000 and 10,000 years ago—and are actually modern in every anatomical respect. They did, however, have somewhat broader faces, a bit more muscle, and a slightly larger brain. So how'd they utilize their larger noggins? Cro-Magnon man used tools, spoke and probably sang, made weapons, lived in huts, wove cloth, wore skins, made jewelry, used burial rituals, made cave paintings, and even came up with a calendar. Specimens have since been found outside Europe, including in the Middle East.

Amazingly, the two species actually overlapped in Europe for a few thousand years. So did they interbreed? While scientists allow that there were probably plenty of random matings and hookups, any long-term interbreeding is unlikely. And while there are many reasons for this, the simplest are that a) they were probably physically repulsive to each other, and b) they couldn't meaningfully communicate. And also c) beer wasn't invented yet.
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This story originally appeared in our book What's the Difference?

Will the Sun Ever Stop Shining?

iStock.com/VR_Studio
iStock.com/VR_Studio

Viktor T. Toth:

The Sun will not stop shining for a very, very long time.

The Sun, along with the solar system, is approximately 4.5 billion years old. That is about one-third the age of the entire universe. For the next several billion years, the Sun is going to get brighter. Perhaps paradoxically, this will eventually result in a loss of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, which is not good news; It will eventually lead to the death of plant life.

Within 2.5 to 3 billion years from now, the surface temperature of the Earth will exceed the boiling point of water everywhere. Within about about 4 to 5 billion years, the Earth will be in worse shape than Venus today, with most of the water gone, and the planet’s surface partially molten.

Eventually, the Sun will evolve into a red giant star, large enough to engulf the Earth. Its luminosity will be several thousand times its luminosity at present. Finally, with all its usable nuclear fuel exhausted and its outer layers ejected into space, the Sun’s core will settle down into the final stage of its evolution as a white dwarf. Such a star no longer produces energy through nuclear fusion, but it contains tremendous amounts of stored heat, in a very small volume (most of the mass of the Sun will be confined to a volume not much larger than the Earth). As such, it will cool very, very slowly.

It will take many more billions of years for the Sun to cool from an initial temperature of hundreds of thousands of degrees to its present-day temperature and below. But in the end, the remnant of the Sun will slowly fade from sight, becoming a brown dwarf: a cooling, dead remnant of a star.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Why Do So Many Airports Have Chapels?

Inside Our Lady of the Airways Chapel at Boston Logan International Airport
Inside Our Lady of the Airways Chapel at Boston Logan International Airport

There are only so many ways to kill time during a long layover. You might browse the magazines at a Hudson News or take the time to test out a travel pillow or two. If it's a particularly trying travel day, you may want to while away a few hours at an airport bar. But if you’ve killed enough time in enough U.S. airports, you've probably noticed that most of them have chapels tucked into a corner of the terminal. Some of them are simple, some of them are ornate. Some cater specifically to members of one religion while others are interfaith. So where did they come from, and why are they there?

The biggest surprise in answering the latter part of that question might be that airport chapels weren't originally built for airport passengers at all. According to Smithsonian.com, the first U.S. airport chapel opened in 1951 at Boston's Logan International Airport and was specifically created for the airport’s Catholic staff, largely to offer mass services for workers on longer shifts.

Dubbed “Our Lady of the Airways,” Boston's airport chapel concept was quickly embraced by Catholic leaders around the country. In 1955, Our Lady of the Skies Chapel opened at New York City's Idlewild Airport (which was renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1963). Other Catholic chapels followed.

In the 1960s, JFK added both a Protestant chapel and a Jewish synagogue to its terminals. By the 1980s, Protestant chapels had opened in the Atlanta and Dallas airports as well.

Single-faith chapels dissipated for the most part during the 1990s and into the new millennium. In 2008, The Christian Index ran a story about the changing face of on-the-go religious spaces and declared "Single-faith chapels a dying breed at U.S. airports." As interfaith chapels became the new normal, this inclusiveness extended to the chapels' patrons as well. Instead of remaining gathering places for airport employees, the chapels opened their doors to the millions of passengers traveling in and out of their cities each year.

Today, more than half of America's busiest airports feature chapels, the majority of which are interfaith. Most existing chapels are welcoming to people of all faiths and often include multiple religious symbols in the same room. They have become important spaces for meditation and reflection. Many of them still offer worship services for each of their represented practices, including places like the interfaith chapel at Washington Dulles International Airport, which hosts a Catholic mass on Saturday evenings as well as daily Jewish prayer services. Though each airport chapel is unique in design and services, they all endeavor to offer a much-needed spiritual refuge from the hassle of air travel.

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