Neanderthals used a ‘prehistoric superglue’

Neanderthals used a ‘prehistoric superglue’
The glue was detected on tools unearthed in two caves, the Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant’Agostino (pictured) on Italy’s western coast.
July 7, (Agencies) | Publish Date: 7/7/2019 12:08:31 PM IST

 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.  

(Ian Randall 

for Mailonline)


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