Neanderthals made glue 200,000 years ago

For glue, Neanderthals used tar from birch bark. But how they extracted and made the tar a process researchers assumed to be difficult and complex was a mystery.
By Jackie Flores | Sep 06, 2017
Archaeologists have been scratching their heads about a puzzling aspect of Neanderthal spear production: how these ancient human cousins managed to glue the point, made of flint, to the wooden stick used for a shaft.

For glue, Neanderthals used tar from birch bark. But how they extracted and made the tar a process researchers assumed to be difficult and complex was a mystery.

Now, researchers from the University of Leiden believe they have found the answer. They describe their experimental methods in the journal Scientific Reports.

The research team, led by Paul Kozowyk and Geeske Langejans, found as many as three different ways to extract tar from birch bark using only tools and materials available to Neanderthals 200,000 years ago.

"In earlier experimental attempts, researchers only managed to extract small quantities of tar from birch bark, or they didn't get anything at all," said Kozowyk, in a university statement. "It was believed 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."

The researchers show Neanderthals produced tar by using existing knowledge and available materials. They suggest Neanderthals began with a simple method that required only birch bark and fire, but later developed a more complex way to extract higher yields of tar.

---

Have something to say? Let us know in the comments section or send an email to the author. You can share ideas for stories by contacting us here.

Comments
Comments should take into account that readers may hold different opinions. With that in mind, please make sure comments are respectful, insightful, and remain focused on the article topic.