Nav: Home

Neanderthals used resin 'glue' to craft their stone tools

June 26, 2019

Archaeologists working in two Italian caves have discovered some of the earliest known examples of ancient humans using an adhesive on their stone tools--an important technological advance called "hafting."

The new study, which included CU Boulder's Paola Villa, shows that Neanderthals living in Europe from about 55 to 40 thousand years ago traveled away from their caves to collect resin from pine trees. They then used that sticky substance to glue stone tools to handles made out of wood or bone.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that these cousins of Homo sapiens were more clever than some have made them out to be.

"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 Villa, corresponding author of the new study and an adjoint curator at the CU Museum of Natural History.

That insight, she added, came from a chance discovery from Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant'Agostino, a pair of caves near the beaches of what is now Italy's west coast.

Those caves were home to Neanderthals who lived in Europe during the Middle Paleolithic period, thousands of years before Homo sapiens set foot on the continent. Archaeologists have uncovered more than 1,000 stone tools from the two sites, including pieces of flint that measured not much more than an inch or two from end to end.

In a recent study of the tools, Villa and her colleagues noticed a strange residue on just a handful of the flints--bits of what appeared to be 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" Villa said.

To find out, study lead author Ilaria Degano at the University of Pisa conducted a chemical analysis of 10 flints using a technique called gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The tests showed that the stone tools had been coated with resin from local pine trees. In one case, that resin had also been mixed with beeswax.

Villa explained that the Italian Neanderthals didn't just resort to their bare hands to use stone tools. In at least some cases, they also attached those tools to handles to give them better purchase as they sharpened wooden spears or performed other tasks like butchering or scraping leather.

"You need stone tools to cut branches off of trees and make them into a point," Villa said.

The find isn't the oldest known example of hafting by Neanderthals in Europe--two flakes discovered in the Campitello Quarry in central Italy predate it. But it does suggest that this technique was more common than previously believed.

The existence of hafting also provides more evidence that Neanderthals, like their smaller human relatives, were able to build a fire whenever they wanted one, Villa said--something that scientists have long debated. She said that pine resin dries when exposed to air. As a result, Neanderthals needed to warm it over a small fired to make an effective glue.

"This is one of several proofs that strongly indicate that Neanderthals were capable of making fire whenever they needed it," Villa said.
-end-
In other words, enjoying the glow of a warm campfire isn't just for Homo sapiens.

Other coauthors on the study included researchers at Paris Nanterre University in France, University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, University of Wollongong in Australia, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, Istituto Italiano di Paleontologia Umana and the University of Pisa.

The research was funded by a National Science Foundation grant to Paola Villa and Sylvain Soriano.

University of Colorado at Boulder

Related Neanderthals Articles:

Neanderthals already had their characteristic barrel-shaped rib cages at birth
Neanderthal babies were born with the characteristic barrel-shaped rib cage shape previously identified in adult specimens, according to an analysis of digitally reconstructed rib cages from four Neanderthal infants.
Early admixture with humans led to Y chromosome replacement in late Neanderthals
In one of the first studies to comprehensively analyze Y chromosomes of humans' two closest relatives, Denisovans and Neanderthals, researchers report what prior studies have suggested: early gene flow events between archaic and modern humans led to the eventual replacement of archaic Neanderthal Y chromosomes by introgressed Homo sapiens Y chromosomes.
A 48,000 years old tooth that belonged to one of the last Neanderthals in Northern Italy
A child between 11 and 12 years of age lost it near the ''Riparo del Broion'' on the Berici Hills in Veneto.
How Neanderthals adjusted to climate change
Climate change occurring shortly before their disappearance triggered a complex change in the behaviour of late Neanderthals in Europe: they developed more complex tools.
Neanderthals of Western Mediterranean did not become extinct because of changes in climate
According to paleoclimatic reconstructions analysing stalagmites sampled in some caves in the Murge plateau (Apulia, Italy), Neanderthals might have become extinct because Sapiens employed more sophisticated hunting technologies
Doubts about the Nerja cave art having been done by neanderthals
Prehistory research staff at the University of Cordoba is investigating the reliability of Uranium-thorium dating for a chronological study of Paleolithic art and is contesting that Neanderthals made the Paeolithic art in Spanish caves.
ADHD: genomic analysis in samples of Neanderthals and modern humans
The frequency of genetic variants associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has decreased progressively in the evolutionary human lineage from the Palaeolithic to nowadays, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Supercomputer model simulations reveal cause of Neanderthal extinction
IBS climate scientists discover that according to new supercomputer model simulations, only competition between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens can explain the rapid demise of Neanderthals around 43 to 38 thousand years ago.
Icelandic DNA jigsaw-puzzle brings new knowledge about Neanderthals
An international team of researchers has put together a new image of Neanderthals based on the genes Neanderthals left in the DNA of modern humans when they had children with them about 50,000 years ago.
Neanderthal cord weaver
Contrary to popular belief, Neanderthals were no less technologically advanced than Homo sapiens.
More Neanderthals News and Neanderthals Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Sound And Silence
Sound surrounds us, from cacophony even to silence. But depending on how we hear, the world can be a different auditory experience for each of us. This hour, TED speakers explore the science of sound. Guests on the show include NPR All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly, neuroscientist Jim Hudspeth, writer Rebecca Knill, and sound designer Dallas Taylor.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer
With the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there's been a lot of debate about how much power the Supreme Court should really have. We think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful beings, issuing momentous rulings from on high. But they haven't always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, started it all.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.