Tar collected in a birch bark container from the pit roll experiment, a technique which uses glowing embers placed over a roll of bark in a small pit.

How Neanderthals Made the Very First Glue 200,000-Years-Ago

(Read the article on one page)

The world's oldest known glue was made by Neanderthals. But how did they make it 200,000 years ago? Leiden archaeologists have discovered three possible ways and published their findings in Scientific Reports, 31 August.

A Neanderthal spear is predominantly made up of two parts, a piece of flint for the point, and a stick for the shaft. But one aspect is often overlooked, and has recently been puzzling archaeologists: the glue that fixes the point to the shaft. For this, Neanderthals used tar from birch bark, a material that researchers often assumed was complex and difficult to make.

Replica of Neanderthal Spear construction (Credit: Diederik Pomstra)

Replica of Neanderthal Spear construction (Credit: Diederik Pomstra)

Three Methods

Leiden archaeologists have now shown that this assumption was unfounded. Led by Paul Kozowyk and Geeske Langejans, the researchers discovered no fewer than three different ways to extract tar from birch bark. For the simplest method, all that is needed is a roll of bark and an open fire. This enabled Neanderthals to produce the first glue as early as 200,000 years ago.

Experimental Archaeology

The researchers made this surprising discovery by setting to work with only the tools and materials that Neanderthals possessed. They used experimental archaeology because the preservation of ancient adhesives is incredibly rare and there is no direct archaeological evidence about how tar was made during the Palaeolithic. In situations like this, experimental archaeology provides a window into the past that would not otherwise exist.

Depiction of the increase in complexity of each method and the associated increase in tar yield and decrease in required temperature control.

Depiction of the increase in complexity of each method and the associated increase in tar yield and decrease in required temperature control. (Credit: P.Kozowyk et al)

Temperature Control

'In earlier experimental attempts, researchers only managed to extract small quantities of tar from birch bark, or they didn't get anything at all,' says Kozowyk. 'It was beleived that this was because the fire needed to be controlled to within a narrow temperature range. However, we discovered that there are more ways to produce tar, and that some work even with a significant temperature variation. So, precisely controlling the temperature of the fire is not as important as was initially thought.'

From Simple to Complex

Kozowyk and his colleagues show that Neanderthals discovered tar production by combining existing knowledge and materials. Neandertals may have started with a simple method that required only fire and birch bark, and later adopted a more complex method to obtain higher yields of tar.

(A) The larger of two tar lumps found at Königsaue (photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt, Juraj Lipták) compared with (B) the maximum yield of tar produced with the raised structure method (RS 7).

(A) The larger of two tar lumps found at Königsaue (photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt, Juraj Lipták) compared with ( B) the maximum yield of tar produced with the raised structure method (RS 7). (Credit: P.Kozowyk et al)

Top image: Tar collected in a birch bark container from the pit roll experiment, a technique which uses glowing embers placed over a roll of bark in a small pit. (Image Credit: Paul Kozowyk/ The Seeker )

Reference:

P. R. B. Kozowyk, M. Soressi, D. Pomstra, G. H. J. Langejans. Experimental methods for the Palaeolithic dry distillation of birch bark: implications for the origin and development of Neandertal adhesive technology. Scientific Reports , 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-08106-7

The article, originally titled ‘ How Neanderthals made the very first glue.’ was originally published on Science Daily.

Source: University of Leiden. "How Neanderthals made the very first glue." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 August 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170831093424.htm

Comments

So the suspense is killing me, what is their perfect tar formula??

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Denisova cave, some 150 km (93 mi) south of the city of Barnaul, is the only source of Denisovan's remains. Pictures: The Siberian Times
The distance from the only currently known home of the Denisovans in Altai region to the nearest point of Australia is roughly akin to the length of the Trans-Siberian railway, and yet it is looking increasingly likely that these ancient species of humanoids somehow made this epic journey deep in pre-history, perhaps 65,000 years ago.

Myths & Legends

A vase-scene from about 410 BC. Nimrod/Herakles, wearing his fearsome lion skin headdress, spins Noah/Nereus around and looks him straight in the eye. Noah gets the message and grimaces, grasping his scepter, a symbol of his rule - soon to be displaced in the post-Flood world by Nimrod/Herakles, whose visage reveals a stern smirk.
The Book of Genesis describes human history. Ancient Greek religious art depicts human history. While their viewpoints are opposite, the recounted events and characters match each other in convincing detail. This brief article focuses on how Greek religious art portrayed Noah, and how it portrayed Nimrod in his successful rebellion against Noah’s authority.

Ancient Places

Artist’s representation of the sealed door of Vault B at Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Ropes of gold several meters long, Napoleonic coins, Venetian jewelry, diamond belts, emeralds the size of ostrich eggs, and barrels of golden rice…these are just some of the treasures said to have been hidden within Padmanabhaswamy Temple. But insufferable dangers may also be lurking for those who dare to open the temple’s mysterious sealed door. Would you take the risk?

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article