Neanderthals used “glue” to hold parts of their tools together

The collection of the Museum of Prehistory and Early History in Berlin (Germany) contains several stone tools that Neanderthals used in the Middle Paleolithic. These objects were found at the Le Moustier site and have not yet been examined in detail.

A team of researchers from New York University (USA), the University of Tübingen and the National Museums in Berlin, the latter two in Germany, rediscovered these pieces during an internal review. The tools were used at this place of the same name between 120,000 and 40,000 years ago Mousteriaan archaeological culture attributed to the Neanderthals, and preserve evidence of remains of a multi-component adhesive that joined the parts.

The excavation of the collection was carried out by a Swiss archaeologist Otto Hauser in the beginning of the 20th century. “Two people were found at the Le Moustier site. One of them is a young Neanderthal whose burial was discovered by Hauser in 1907 and sold to Berlin. Currently, only the individual’s skull remains; the skeleton was destroyed in World War II. In 1914 another skeleton was discovered, that of a small child. Both come from the lower rock shelter, but the artifacts examined here come from the upper,” he explains to SINC. Ewa DutkiewiczCurator of the Museum of Prehistory and Early History at the Berlin State Museums and main author of the article published in the magazine Scientific advances.

Two people were found at the Le Moustier site. One of them is a young Neanderthal whose burial was discovered by Hauser in 1907 and sold to Berlin

Ewa Dutkiewicz, curator of the Museum of Prehistory and Early History

This find reveals a surprisingly sophisticated construction. The use of adhesives with various components, including various sticky substances such as: Tree resins and ocherwas previously considered the work of early modern people, homo sapiens, from Africa, but not from the first Neanderthals in Europe. Taken together, the development of pendants and their use in the production of these objects is considered some of the best material evidence of the cultural development and cognitive abilities of early humans.

“As part of his bachelor’s thesis, the researcher examined 280 artifacts Günter Möller. He discovered traces of ocher in five pieces and showed them to me. It quickly became clear that it wasn’t just sediment remains. There are always traces running through the artifacts and we were also able to identify remains of other material that was not yet known at the time. The suspicion that it was glue was finally confirmed Patrick Schmidtfrom the University of Tübingen, and his team,” adds Dutkiewicz.

Microscopic examination of the wear of these stone tools revealed that Le Moustier adhesives were used in this way.

These amazingly well-preserved tools demonstrate a technical solution that is very similar to examples of other tools made by early modern people in Africa

Radu Iovita, New York University

“These amazingly well-preserved tools demonstrate a technical solution that is very similar to examples of other tools made by early modern people in Africa, but the exact recipe reflects a Neanderthal “turn,” namely the making of Handles for hand tools,” says Radu IovitaAssociate Professor at the Center for the Study of Human Origins at New York University.

“The objects had been individually wrapped and untouched since the 1960s,” explains Dutkiewicz. “As a result, the adhering remains of organic substances were very well preserved.”

Liquid bitumen and ocher earth pigment before mixing./ Patrick Schmidt

Liquid bitumen and ocher earth pigment before mixing./ Patrick Schmidt

Materials collected from remote locations

In the Le Moustier region Ocher and bitumen They had to be collected from distant locations, which required great effort, planning and a specific approach, according to the authors of this work.

“Mixing two materials that are not in the same place to produce a substance that exactly meets my needs is a cognitive feat of the first order. You have to know where to get raw materials and plan their future use; collect them expensively and transport them over long distances; and, during production, knowing exactly what kind of end product I want to achieve, as well as having enough experience to be able to produce it so well,” emphasizes the curator.

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The mixture was sticky enough for a stone tool to get stuck in it, but without sticking to your handswhich made it a suitable material for a handle.

The Neanderthals, our closest relatives, also spent a long time thinking about the future

Ewa Dutkiewicz

“Neanderthals, also our closest relatives They thought about the future for such long periods of time. We found five pieces containing these remains. “However, we assume that this was produced and used regularly and was therefore part of the species’ normal behavioral repertoire,” argues Dutkiewicz.

From these distances it is clear that Neanderthals were very mobile, knew their surroundings well and knew where to find good raw materials. Also that they planned well in advance. They knew exactly what products they wanted to create and did everything they could to achieve those results. “They were able to produce materials from various components that do not occur in nature,” emphasizes the researcher.

The researchers discovered traces of a mixture of ocher and bitumen on several stone tools, such as: Scrapers, flakes and blades. Ocher is a natural earth pigment; Bitumen is a component of asphalt and can be made from petroleum, but also occurs naturally in the ground.

Their adhesive technologies have equal importance for our understanding of human evolution.

Patrick Schmidt, University of Tübingen

“Our study shows that the first homo sapiens from Africa and the Neanderthals from Europe had similar thought patterns. Their adhesive technologies have the same importance for our understanding of human evolution,” emphasizes Schmidt.

“We were surprised that the ocher content was over 50%. That’s because air-dried bitumen It can be used unchanged as an adhesive, but loses its properties when such large amounts of ocher are added,” says the scientist from the University of Tübingen.

The tools showed two types of microscopic wear: First, the typical grinding on sharp edges that usually occurs when working with other materials. The other was a light-colored polish spread throughout the presumed handpiece but not elsewhere, which the researchers interpret as the result of abrasion of the ocher due to the movement of the tool in the handle.

“Composite adhesives are considered one of the first forms of modern cognitive processes who are still active today,” says Schmidt.

Photomicrographs show signs of wear on a tool used by Neanderthals in the Middle Paleolithic.  / Drawing by D. Greinert, Berlin State Museums

Photomicrographs show signs of wear on a tool used by Neanderthals in the Middle Paleolithic. / Drawing by D. Greinert, Berlin State Museums

Knowledge transfer

Scientists do not completely rule out the possibility of knowledge transfer. “But this one could have gone either way. When we see how long and how successfully Neanderthals lived in Europe, it is difficult to imagine that they would have learned everything from someone else. They made and successfully used stone artifacts for more than 300,000 years. “Why wouldn’t they have found a way to make handles or other utensils?” says Dutkiewicz.

The fact that there is so little evidence of this is due to the preservation conditions. “It is fortunate that these tiny remains have been preserved and can now be analyzed using modern methods. “It is solid evidence of the capabilities of Neanderthals,” he concludes.

Reference:

Ewa Dutkiewicz et al. “Ocher-based composite adhesives at the Moustérien type location document complex findings and high investments.” Scientific advances.

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