Neanderthals were smart, used glue to build good tools

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


The beeswax compounds, along with diterpenes from a scraper and a flake from Grotta di Sant’Agostino, showed signs that the resin had been heated. The Sant’Agostino samples contained compounds derived from methanol, which is usually given off by heated wood. That’s a perfect fit with what we know about working with resin. It tends to dry and harden when it’s exposed to air, so the Neanderthals at Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant’Agostino would have needed to heat it over a fire in order to soften it up again.

That suggests Neanderthals could start fires whenever they needed to, which is somehow still a subject of debate despite evidence that, for instance, Neanderthals in Tuscany used fire to shape and harden the ends of digging sticks 171,000 years ago. Archaeologists found traces of charcoal and an ancient fireplace at Grotta del Fossellone, in the same layer as the once-hafted tools, and both caves contained a few pieces of burnt stone.

Those fires may have been used to work on existing tools, not just haft new ones. If you re-heat the hardened resin on a hafted tool, it softens up again, and you can remove or reposition the tool. One scraper from Grotta di Sant’Agostino had pine resin residue on its scraping edge—not where you’d expect a haft to be attached. Degano and her colleagues suggest that someone used the scraper to catch melted resin while re-hafting another tool.

“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 co-author Paolo Villa, adjunct curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

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