The day our an­ces­tors stum­ble upon chem­istry

iD magazine - - History -

When the Mon­gols at­tack Eastern Europe (see far left), the bat­tles are pri­mar­ily de­cided by one pow­er­ful sub­stance: ad­he­sive. The Mon­gols con­quer the world with horse bows glued to­gether with a spe­cial paste of bone and car­ti­lage. But they are not the first: “Ad­he­sives have been around for at least 180,000 years,” says poly­mer chemist Ul­rich Suter. Stone Age hu­mans ac­quired the first all-pur­pose ad­he­sive from birch tar, which is con­tained in the white bark of birch trees. This is the old­est chem­i­cal prod­uct cre­ated by hu­mans. Re­searchers still won­der how they man­aged this, as the ex­tract called be­tulin can only be dis­tilled at tem­per­a­tures around 750°F.

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