Neanderthals knew how to make tar
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.”