Ne­an­derthals knew how to make tar

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NEWS -

Ne­an­derthals seem stuck with un­flat­ter­ing rep­u­ta­tions. The en­tire species of early hu­man an­ces­tors has long been re­duced to a pe­jo­ra­tive for de­scrib­ing some­one who isn’t very bright, de­spite grow­ing ev­i­dence of the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of Homo ne­an­derthalen­sis. And re­cent re­search sug­gests an­other over­looked mark of their in­ge­nu­ity: They made the first glues in the form of tar.

The tar was dis­tilled from the bark of birch trees some 200,000 years ago, and seemed to have been used for haft­ing, or at­tach­ing han­dles to stone tools and weapons. But sci­en­tists did not know how Ne­an­derthals pro­duced the dark, sticky sub­stance. Now, in a study pub­lished re­cently in the jour­nal Sci­en­tific Reports, a team of ar­chae­ol­o­gists has used ma­te­ri­als avail­able dur­ing pre­his­toric times to demon­strate three pos­si­ble ways Ne­an­derthals could have de­lib­er­ately made tar.

While the study does not prove that Ne­an­derthals used any of these meth­ods, it aims to demon­strate that they had ac­cess to the in­gre­di­ents and means to pro­duce tar.

“There’s this pop­u­lar per­spec­tive of Ne­an­derthals as be­ing these sim­ple cave­men and slow-type brutes,” said Paul Ko­zowyk, a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Lei­den Univer­sity in the Nether­lands and lead au­thor of the study. “This tar pro­duc­tion, and its use for haft­ing, is ev­i­dence that this isn’t re­ally true.”

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