Here's How Neanderthals Differed From Homo Sapiens

Marvel at the power of modern humans. We've done so much. Created so much. Everything from modern medicine to social media to climate catastrophe. We're the masters of our own fates. We've conquered the land, the air, and the sea. We're the only species on the planet to travel, well, off the planet. At least on purpose. There have been animals shot into space, but humans did that too. But modern humans aren't the only humans to ever walk the planet.

Modern humans, homo sapien sapiens, cohabited the Earth with several other human species at one point in time. One of the most commonly known of these other humans is the Neanderthal, Homo neanderthalensis, which went extinct around 40,000 years ago. Modern humans and Neanderthals share common ancestors but one didn't evolve from the other, though it's generally believed that Neanderthals and homo sapiens interbred from time to time. In fact, says the National Library of Medicine, you might have some Neanderthal DNA of your very own. Think of them as cousins. Just like you and your cousins, Homo sapiens and Neanderthals had some key differences.

How different could they be?

Neanderthals looked different, behaved differently, even spoke differently. To start with, the differences in build between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals were drastic. You might think of all early humans as looking like cavemen, but Neanderthals weren't that far off. They were shorter and stockier than Homo sapiens. As Discover Magazine explains, they were thicker. Body, muscles, bones, everything. Homo sapiens were taller and thinner because they were built to run — chasing down food and escaping from trouble. Neanderthals simply gave both predators and prey a serious beat-down. They were built to hide in the bushes and ambush their food. It sounds insane, but Smithsonian reports that they regularly took down woolly rhinos at close quarters with spears, hunting in groups, not individually.

You'd recognize a Neanderthal distinct features right away. Their noses were broad, with flared nostrils, which some scientists believe was beneficial since they tended to live in colder climates — Think northern Europe, as compared to northern Africa. Along with the nose, they had weak chins and huge brow ridges. You're not swiping right if you see a Neanderthal on Tinder, that's for sure.

Were they dumber than we were?

Neanderthal intelligence is a question for the ages. Modern humans love nothing more than to believe we're the smartest creatures in the universe. We have a desire to be better than everything and everyone else. To be human is to be an evolutionary narcissist. To be honest, we're not sure whether Neanderthals were as smart as Homo sapiens or not. It was previously believed that we were smarter and that's why we survived while Neanderthals died out, but that was the past.

In recent years, we've discovered several things about Neanderthals that suggest they may have been just as intelligent as their Homo sapiens contemporaries. For one, says Discover, their brains were larger than ours. That doesn't necessarily mean they were smarter, but it might. Next, says Smithsonian, scientists have discovered evidence that Neanderthals hunted in groups, which means they had societies. They were smart enough to communicate, coordinate, and cooperate. To add insult to our injured egos, Neanderthals were the first known humans to create art. Cave paintings were discovered in Spain that predate any art created by Homo sapiens, per Nature. So, before you go getting a big head, it's important to remember a big part of survival, in evolutionary terms, is luck. We're not as special as we think we are.