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Neanderthals and other early humans produced a tarry glue from birch bark; this was long considered proof of a high level of cognitive and cultural development. Researchers had long believed that birch tar—used by the Neanderthals to make tools—could only be created through a complex process in which the bark had to be heated in the absence of air.
However, an international team led by researchers at the University of Tübingen and including faculty from New York University's Department of Anthropology and the NYU Tandon School of Engineering found that there is a very simple way to make this useful glue.
Study - August - Proceedings - National - Academy
The study was published August 19 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"Our paper challenges common beliefs that the presence of birch tar in Neanderthal archaeological assemblages means they had sophisticated cognitive abilities," said co-author Radu Iovita, a paleoanthropologist and Paleolithic archaeologist in the Department of Anthropology at NYU and a member of the faculty of the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology at the University of Tübingen.
Prior - Researchers - Pits - Clay - Structures
Prior researchers had experimented with pits, clay structures, ash mounds, and metal and ceramic vessels as means to heat the bark in the absence of oxygen. Instead, this research team experimented with ordinary materials available in the Stone Age. They collected cut fresh birch bark or dead bark in the forest and burned it near flat river stones. After three hours, the process yielded a usable amount of a black sticky material. The tar could easily be scraped off the surface of the stones. Its molecular characteristics were similar...
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