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NewsNeanderthals turned out to be advanced chemists. This was shown by the analysis of ancient tar

Neanderthals turned out to be advanced chemists. This was shown by the analysis of ancient tar

Neanderthals were skilled chemists and mastered the complex methods of producing resin from birch bark as early as 200,000 years ago. This conclusion was drawn by German archaeologists in an article published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

One of the oldest examples of the use of fire to obtain substances and materials not found in nature is the production of resin (tar) from birch bark by Neanderthals, who l already did 200,000 years ago. The discovery of the remains of this tar in Neanderthal sites is interpreted as evidence of the high technical culture of people’s ancestors and the ability to pass skills on to their descendants. However, recent research has shown that birch tar may have been produced using relatively simple campfire processes, or even by accident.

Archaeological and anthropological sciences

To understand how sophisticated the Neanderthal technique was, scientists led by Patrick Schmidt from the University of Tübingen carried out a chemical analysis of two samples of birch tar found at the Neanderthal site of Königsaue (Germany). The study used the method of infrared spectroscopy and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The composition of these samples was then compared to that of dozens of experimental tar samples that the scientists produced themselves from birch bark using five different Stone Age techniques.

Scientists have experimentally proven that the resin obtained by placing a bundle of birch bark in the ground under a fire contains the naturally occurring biopolymer suberin. All other simpler manufacturing methods exclude the presence of this substance in the resin. Considering that both samples from Koenigsaue contain suberin, scientists have come to the conclusion that in the manufacture of tar, Neanderthals deliberately used a complex method, during which bundles of bark were buried in a pit under a fire, which, when heated, excluded access to oxygen.

Archaeological and anthropological sciences

“Since suberin is only found in resin produced using underground techniques, its presence in Königsaue resin clearly indicates the use of one of these techniques,” explain the authors. “Neanderthals cleaned tar in a specially created underground space that excluded oxygen and remained invisible during the process. Such a complex process could hardly have developed by chance. Our results show that Neanderthals developed this process based on simpler ancient methods and are clear indicators of cumulative cultural evolution in the European Middle Paleolithic,” the scientists concluded.

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