Neanderthals used a 'prehistoric SUPERGLUE' to keep their rudimentary tools together


Neanderthals were able to fashion a primitive form of superglue to hold their rudimentary stone and wood tools together over 40,000 years ago.

The early hominins would have used these tools for various tasks, including crafting spears from wood, working leather and butchering the animals they killed. 

An international team of researchers found chemical traces of the glue — made from resin and sometimes with added beeswax — on flints unearthed in two Italian caves. 

The resin, which would have been collected from trees outside of the Neanderthals’ caves, would have needed to be heated over a small fire in order to fashion the glue.

The findings add to the growing evidence suggesting that Neanderthals were more resourceful and advanced that traditionally thought.

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Neanderthals were able to fashion a primitive form of superglue to hold their rudimentary stone and wood tools together over 40,000 years ago

Neanderthals were able to fashion a primitive form of superglue to hold their rudimentary stone and wood tools together over 40,000 years ago

HOW DID NEANDERTHALS MAKE PRIMITIVE GLUE? 

Researchers have discovered chemical traces of glue on flint tools unearthed in two caves in western Italy.

The caves were home to Neanderthals that lived in Europe between around 55–40 thousand years ago. 

Experts found finding that some of the tools had been coated with resin from local pine trees and, in one instance, with a mixture of resin and beeswax. 

Resin would have been collected from trees outside of the caves.

However, the substance, would have needed to be heated over a small fire in order to fashion the glue.

The glue was detected by University of Pisa chemist Ilaria Degano, Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Boulder and colleagues on tools unearthed in two caves — the Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant’Agostino — on Italy’s western coast.

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The caves were home to populations of Neanderthals that lived in Europe between around 55–40 thousand years ago, during the so-called Middle Palaeolithic period, thousands of years before modern humans ever set foot on the continent.

Archaeologists have unearthed more than 1,000 stone tools from the two locations, among which are pieces of flint measuring around an inch in length.

‘We continue to find evidence that the Neanderthals were not inferior primitives but were quite capable of doing things that have traditionally only been attributed to modern humans,’ said Dr Villa, a museum curator at the University of Colorado.

Examining the tools, Dr Villa and her colleagues spotted various strange residue on some of the flints — residue that resembled organic material.

‘Sometimes that material is just inorganic sediment, and sometimes it’s the traces of the adhesive used to keep the tool in its socket,’ Dr Villa said. 

To distinguish between the two, the researchers chemically analysed 10 flints using a technique — finding that some of the tools had been coated with resin from local pine trees and, in one instance, with a mixture of resin and beeswax.

Neanderthals in Italy did not just hold stone tools in their hands, Dr Villa explained. 

Instead, they would also attach the flints to handles — allowing them better grip as they used tools to sharpen wooden spears, work leather and butcher their kills.

The use of a primitive adhesive to glue tools to handles — a technique researchers call ‘hafting’ — is an important technological advance.

‘You need stone tools to cut branches off of trees and make them into a point,’ Dr Villa said, explaining how the Neanderthals would have made spears.

As pine resin dries as it is exposed to air, she added, the Neanderthal crafters would have needed to warm collected resin over a small fire in order to make their glue. 

‘This is one of several proofs that strongly indicate that Neanderthals were capable of making fire whenever they needed it,’ concluded Dr Villa.

The glue was detected by University of Pisa chemist Ilaria Degano, Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Boulder and colleagues on tools unearthed in two caves — the Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant'Agostino (pictured) — on Italy's western coast

The glue was detected by University of Pisa chemist Ilaria Degano, Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Boulder and colleagues on tools unearthed in two caves — the Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant’Agostino (pictured) — on Italy’s western coast

The caves were home to populations of Neanderthals that lived in Europe between around 55–40 thousand years ago, during the so-called Middle Palaeolithic period. Pictured, excavations taking place in the Grotta del Fossellone

The caves were home to populations of Neanderthals that lived in Europe between around 55–40 thousand years ago, during the so-called Middle Palaeolithic period. Pictured, excavations taking place in the Grotta del Fossellone

Indeed, the new discoveries are neither the only or oldest known example of hafting being used by Neanderthals in Europe, with two stone flakes previously unearthed from the Campitello Quarry in central Italy predating the researcher’s finds.

However, the evidence from the caves does suggest that use of the technique was more common than researchers had thought.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

WHO WERE THE NEANDERTHALS?

The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 50,000 years ago.

The species lived in Africa with early humans for hundreds of millennia before moving across to Europe around 500,000 years ago.

They were later joined by humans taking the same journey some time in the past 100,000 years. 

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor - the two species split from a common ancestor -  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor – the two species split from a common ancestor –  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

These were the original ‘cavemen’, historically thought to be dim-witted and brutish compared to modern humans.

In recent years though, and especially over the last decade, it has become increasingly apparent we’ve been selling Neanderthals short.

A growing body of evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented kind of ‘caveman’ than anyone thought possible.

It now seems likely that Neanderthals buried their dead with the concept of an afterlife in mind.

Additionally, their diets and behaviour were surprisingly flexible.

They used body art such as pigments and beads, and they were the very first artists, with Neanderthal cave art (and symbolism) in Spain apparently predating the earliest modern human art by some 20,000 years.

 



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