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?

What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Antoninapotapenko/iStock via Getty Images
Antoninapotapenko/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25 and ends on January 5. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Tevarak/iStock via Getty Images
Tevarak/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER