Neanderthals, who lived in Europe between 200,000 and 30,000 years ago and then disappeared (or interbred with modern man) were not the dumb brutes that we think of when we use the term as an unflattering description of someone. Actually, it should be a compliment: They were sensitive creatures who buried their dead in elaborate (for that time) ceremonies.

Many of us may be part Neanderthal: When scientists reconstructed the Neanderthal genome in 2010, they found that that between 1 and 4% of the genome of non-African humans is derived from Neanderthals.

They may have died out because they were unable to plan ahead or incorporate new technology of contemporary Homo sapiens into their own tools and weapons, and this may have contributed to their demise. So perhaps it’s a correct term for someone who is too stubborn to change.

In the December 28th edition of the New York Times, Katherine Bouton quotes researchers Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge as saying that "European folk traditions of trolls, Cyclops and even dwarfs have roots in the ancient encounter between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons." Or maybe not: "Tales of strange humanlike creatures are common the world over, and Neanderthals were not."

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