CLOSE
Mandel Ngan/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

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.
* * *
This story originally appeared in our book What's the Difference?

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Where Did the Myth That Radiation Glows Green Come From?
iStock
iStock

by C Stuart Hardwick

Probably from radium, which was widely used in self-luminous paint starting in 1908. When mixed with phosphorescent copper-doped zinc sulfide, radium emits a characteristic green glow:


Quora

The use of radioluminescent paint was mostly phased out by the mid-1960s. Today, in applications where it is warranted (like spacecraft instrument dials and certain types of sensors, for example), the radiation source is tritium (radioactive hydrogen) or an isotope of promethium, either of which has a vastly shorter half life than radium.

In most consumer products, though, radioluminescence has been replaced by photoluminescence, phosphors that emit light of one frequency after absorbing photons of a difference frequency. Glow-in-the-dark items that recharge to full brightness after brief exposure to sunlight or a fluorescent light only to dim again over a couple of hours are photoluminescent, and contain no radiation.

An aside on aging radium: By now, most radium paint manufactured early in the 20th century has lost most of its glow, but it’s still radioactive. The isotope of radium used has a half life of 1200 years, but the chemical phosphor that makes it glow has broken down from the constant radiation—so if you have luminescent antiques that barely glow, you might want to have them tested with a Geiger counter and take appropriate precautions. The radiation emitted is completely harmless as long as you don’t ingest or inhale the radium—in which case it becomes a serious cancer risk. So as the tell-tale glow continues to fade, how will you prevent your ancient watch dial or whatever from deteriorating and contaminating your great, great grandchildren’s home, or ending up in a landfill and in the local water supply?

Even without the phosphor, pure radium emits enough alpha particles to excite nitrogen in the air, causing it to glow. The color isn’t green, through, but a pale blue similar to that of an electric arc.


Quora

This glow (though not the color) entered the public consciousness through this early illustration of its appearance in Marie Curie’s lab, and became confused with the green glow of radium paints.

The myth is likely kept alive by the phenomenon of Cherenkov glow, which arises when a charged particle (such as an electron or proton) from submerged sources exceeds the local speed of light through the surrounding water.

So in reality, some radionuclides do glow (notably radium and actinium), but not as brightly or in the color people think. Plutonium doesn’t, no matter what Homer Simpson thinks, unless it’s Pu-238—which has such a short half life, it heats itself red hot.


Quora

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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
How Are Royal Babies Named?
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

After much anticipation, England's royal family has finally received a tiny new addition. The birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's second son was confirmed by Kensington Palace on April 23, but the name of the royal newborn has yet to be announced. For the heir to the British throne and his wife, choosing a name for their third child—who is already fifth in line to the throne—likely won't be as easy as flipping through a baby name book; it's tradition for royals to select names that honor important figures from British history.

According to ABC WJLA, selecting three or four names is typical when naming a royal baby. Will and Kate followed this unwritten rule when naming their first child, George Alexander Louis, and their second, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Each name is an opportunity to pay homage to a different British royal who came before them. Some royal monikers have less savory connotations (Prince Harry's given name, Henry, is reminiscent of a certain wife-beheading monarch), but typically royal babies are named for people who held a significant and honorable spot in the family tree.

Because there's a limited pool of honorable monarchs from which to choose, placing bets on the royal baby name as the due date approaches has become a popular British pastime. One name that keeps cropping up this time around is James; the original King James ruled in the early 17th century, and it has been 330 years since a monarch named James wore the crown.

If the royal family does go with James for the first name of their youngest son, that still leaves at least a couple of slots to be filled. So far, the couple has stuck with three names each for their children, but there doesn't seem to be a limit; Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to George VI in 1936, shouldered the full name of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios