In the Dordogne, Neanderthals were well equipped… intellectually – liberation

In the Dordogne, Neanderthals were well equipped… intellectually – liberation

The more we learn about Neanderthals, the more we are amazed by their intelligence and sophistication. For two centuries, our ancient cousin (which appeared about 400,000 years ago and disappeared about 30,000 years ago) has had the image of a rugged prehistoric man, perhaps since we discovered its physical appearance with the remains of its skull and skeleton in the mid-19th century. . . Neanderthals are strong and stocky, with a large brow bone and a receding forehead. Yes, but Neanderthals painted animals in caves. He buries his dead. Maybe he even plays the flute. It makes an advanced super glue.

An international team of researchers discovered this when they removed five stone tools from drawers still stained with adhesive. They were found at Moutiers, a prehistoric site in the Dordogne known since 1860, and are attributed to Neanderthals and were made between 40,000 and 120,000 BC. However, because it was buried among the mass of tools found at Mostier, it had not previously been examined in detail. They were discovered during an internal review of the group, and their scientific interest was finally understood. “The pieces have been individually wrapped and have not been touched since the 1960s. The sticky organic residue has therefore been very well preserved.” explains Ewa Dutkiewicz, an archaeologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, who co-directed The study was published at the end of February in Advancement of science.

A type of modeling clay

On these five stone flakes we see traces of red and yellow dye on their sides. On four of the five tools we also find shiny, sometimes thick, black residue. “The red and yellow spots were confined to only part of the tools, forming a barrier separating the stained part from the clean part.” Archaeologists described in their study. They concluded that the colored half of the stone was previously covered with a protective case to facilitate handling, while the clean half was the useful sharp part of the tool, which was used for cutting or carving. “These discoveries feed into the hypothesis that the Mustier artifacts were part of composite tools. They were assembled by attaching them to a hilt or handle with an adhesive, or alternatively, as other archaeological examples of Neanderthals show, the adhesive was molded onto the tools and served as Handle itself.

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In fact, the Neanderthals at Mustair seem to have developed a recipe for a type of clay with which they boiled the bottoms of their sharp tools. Researchers from the University of Tübingen, accompanied by researchers from the University of Strasbourg and New York University, embarked on experimental archaeology to test their hypothesis. They tried to make this sticky paste with materials and means available to primitive man: in this case, we are sure that the pigments in Moustiers are ocher – yellow or red rock dust. The black residue appears to be natural bitumen. But in what proportions?

“malleable block”

It was, says Patrick Schmidt, a prehistorian in Tübingen and co-director of the study “We are surprised to note that ocher represents more than 50% of the adhesive composition, because air-dried bitumen loses its adhesive properties when such amounts of ocher are added.” We had to test other ways of doing things. “It was different when we used liquid bitumen, which is not really suitable for making glue. But if we add 55% ochre, it forms a flexible mass. Bingo. The paste recreated in the 21st century is thick and sticky enough to stay well around the stone, but does not stick to the skin of the hand holding the tool.

Other evidence suggests that this is how Neanderthals used their stone flakes: when viewed under a microscope, the five fragments studied show two completely different types of wear. One is the classic wear experienced by stone acting as a tool in friction with other materials. The other form of wearing is like “A bright polish distributed over the entire surface of the part that is supposed to be present in the handle of the tool, which is not present anywhere else on the stone. We interpret it as the result of the abrasion of the ocher due to the movement of the tool within its handle. explains Radu Iovita, a human paleontologist at New York University and co-author of the study.

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Strong glue for assembling tools

In addition to the satisfaction of understanding how these tools were made and used, the study highlights the talent of Neanderthals. “The adhesives used in multicomponent tools are among the best physical evidence of the cultural evolution and cognitive processes of early humans.” He remembers studying. Recipes based on ocher and the sticky substance were already known among early Homo sapiens in Africa, who made strong glue to assemble tools. But we don't know yet “Neanderthal touch” As Radu calls it iovita, which consists of amplifying the proportions of ochre. “The quantities are so large that they reduce the performance of the adhesive. […] But when the high-ochre adhesive itself serves as a handle for cutting tools – a behavior known among Neanderthals – it offers a real benefit by improving strength and rigidity. Summarizes the study.

For Patrick Schmidt, “What our work shows is that early Homo sapiens in Africa and Neanderthals in Europe had similar thought patterns. Their adhesive techniques are equally important to our understanding of human evolution.”

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