Neanderthals’ complex tools discovery


This 2013 video says about itself:

Neanderthal Superglue

Neanderthals devised what is thought to be the world’s first known industrial process. In this video, watch as NOVA attempts to recreate the Neanderthal technique of pitch extraction through a complex process known as dry distillation.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Neanderthal glue from the North Sea

22 October 2019

A flint tool covered with a tar-like substance has turned out to be a top scientific find. Research by a Dutch team of scientists showed the find to be a piece of birch tar that was extracted 50,000 years ago by Neanderthals using complex techniques. The tar was used as an adhesive to make it easier to hold the piece of flint. Details of the find have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Knowledge of chemistry

Dating back 50,000 years means that the artefact is older than the period when modern man inhabited Europe and that it must have been used by a Neanderthal. Chemical analysis has shown that the substance is birch tar. There are different ways – some simple, some more complicated – of extracting tar from birch bark, all requiring a basic knowledge of ‘chemistry’ to be able to carry out the necessary steps in the right order. CT scans of the tar and chemical analysis show that a complex technique was used, including heating the material in a kind of oven.

Knowledge economy

Leiden archaeologists were involved in the research. Gerrit Dusseldorp explains the discovery: ‘This find shows that Neanderthals placed a lot of emphasis on “high-tech” methods, even on the periphery of their inhabited territory. When the North Sea dried up during the last Ice Age, they turned to the knowledge economy to survive the barren environment.’

Paul Kozowyk, whose PhD research is on prehistoric adhesives, is also enthusiastic. ‘What is so interesting about this find is the combination of a large amount of birch tar on a small and simple sliver of stone. It shows that Neanderthals were not only skilled in making tar, but that they also invested in materials that are all too easily to overlook in archaeological research.’

Importance to science

This artefact is of exceptional scientific importance. In the whole of Europe there are only two known sites where tools with birch tar have been found. Gerrit Dusseldorp is delighted with the find.

The other two sites are Königsaue in Germany and Campitello in Italy. The tar remnants from Campitello are 200,000 years old, making them the oldest known examples. The tar at all three sites seems to have been produced in a similar way, indicating that Neanderthals systematically invested a lot of time and energy in making composite tools.

The evolution of complex technologies is often associated with living in large groups at a fixed location. This is by no means typical of Neanderthal communities; Neanderthals generally lived in small, mobile groups. According to the researchers, during the Ice Age Neanderthals in Europe invested in technology to reduce the ecological risks, such as food shortages.

Annemieke Verbaas conducted microscopy research on the object: ‘Even using a microscope, the artefact was too far eroded to be able to identify traces of use, so the purpose of the tool remains a mystery.’

Sand Motor

The tool was found in 2016 on the Sand Motor, a stretch of artificial sandbank off the coast of The Hague, and originated from the North Sea. During the Ice Age this was an inhabited lowland area, where Neanderthals lived in what were often harsh conditions. By applying high-quality knowledge and complex techniques for making tools, they were able to cope better with hardships such as cold and food shortages.

National Museum of Antiquities

The flint tool with traces of birch tar can be seen in the central hall of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden until Sunday 12 January 2020.

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Neanderthal discovery on Naxos island, Greece


This 14 April 2018 video, in English with Greek subtitles, says about itself:

Carter’s Corner #6 – Neanderthals on Naxos!

From McMaster University in Canada:

Scientists find early humans moved through Mediterranean earlier than believed

October 16, 2019

An international research team led by scientists from McMaster University has unearthed new evidence in Greece proving that the island of Naxos was inhabited by Neanderthals and earlier humans at least 200,000 years ago, tens of thousands of years earlier than previously believed.

The findings, published today in the journal Science Advances, are based on years of excavations and challenge current thinking about human movement in the region — long thought to have been inaccessible and uninhabitable to anyone but modern humans. The new evidence is leading researchers to reconsider the routes our early ancestors took as they moved out of Africa into Europe and demonstrates their ability to adapt to new environmental challenges.

“Until recently, this part of the world was seen as irrelevant to early human studies but the results force us to completely rethink the history of the Mediterranean islands,” says Tristan Carter, an associate professor of anthropology at McMaster University and lead author on the study. He conducted the work with Dimitris Athanasoulis, head of archaeology at the Cycladic Ephorate of Antiquities within the Greek Ministry of Culture.

While Stone Age hunters are known to have been living on mainland Europe for over 1 million years, the Mediterranean islands were previously believed to be settled only 9,000 years ago, by farmers, the idea being that only modern humans — Homo sapiens — were sophisticated enough to build seafaring vessels.

Scholars had believed the Aegean Sea, separating western Anatolia (modern Turkey) from continental Greece, was therefore impassable to the Neanderthals and earlier hominins, with the only obvious route in and out of Europe was across the land bridge of Thrace (southeast Balkans).

The authors of this paper suggest that the Aegean basin was in fact accessible much earlier than believed. At certain times of the Ice Age the sea was much lower exposing a land route between the continents that would have allowed early prehistoric populations to walk to Stelida, and an alternative migration route connecting Europe and Africa. Researchers believe the area would have been attractive to early humans because of its abundance of raw materials ideal for toolmaking and for its fresh water.

At the same time however, “in entering this region the pre-Neanderthal populations would have been faced with a new and challenging environment, with different animals, plants and diseases, all requiring new adaptive strategies,” says Carter.

In this paper, the team details evidence of human activity spanning almost 200,000 years at Stelida, a prehistoric quarry on the northwest coast of Naxos. Here early Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and earlier humans used the local stone (chert) to make their tools and hunting weapons, of which the team has unearthed hundreds of thousands.

Reams of scientific data collected at the site add to the ongoing debate about the importance of coastal and marine routes to human movement. While present data suggests that the Aegean could be crossed by foot over 200,000 years ago, the authors also raise the possibility that Neanderthals may also have fashioned crude seafaring boats capable of crossing short distances.

This research is part of the Stelida Naxos Archeological Project, a larger collaboration involving scholars from all over the world. They have been working at the site since 2013.

For more on the project, visit the Stelida Naxos Archeological Project’s website.

The colour yellow in ancient Egypt


This January 2018 video says about itself:

The world’s first artificial pigment, Egyptian blue, may help scientists prevent forgery and even save lives.

From the University of Southern Denmark:

Discovered: Unknown yellow colors from antiquity

October 15, 2019

Summary: Antique artefacts have been studied by chemists, revealing a hitherto unknown use of yellow in Ancient Egypt

Archaeologists have long known that artefacts from the Antiquity were far more colorful than one would think when looking at the bright white statues and temples, left behind for today.

The statues and buildings only appear white today because the colors have degraded over time. Initially, lots of colors were in use.

This was also true for King Apries I‘s palace in Ancient Egypt. This palace was situated in the Nile Delta, and from here King Apries ruled from 589 to approx. 568 BC.

Fragments of the palace are today kept at the Glyptoteket Museum in Copenhagen, and recently they have been the focus of a collaboration between archaeologists from Glyptoteket, the British Museum, the University of Pisa and a chemist from the University of Southern Denmark.

“We are interested in learning more about the use of pigments, binders and the techniques associated with using them in the Antuquity. It has an obvious relevance for art historians, but it can also tell us about how different cultures in the Mediterranean and the Near East exchanged materials and knowledge and thus connected,” says Cecilie Brøns, classical archaeologist at Glyptoteket.

With this in mind, the archaeologists have worked with professor of archaeometry Kaare Lund Rasmussen from the University of Southern Denmark.

Professor Rasmussen is an expert in conducting advanced chemical analyzes of archaeological objects. Among other things, he has examined the beard of renaissance astronomer Tycho Brahe, Italian monk skeletons, medieval syphilis-infested bones, sacred relics and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

For this project he has taken samples of the palace fragments to learn more about the pigments and binders used.

The project has resulted in two scientific articles, the last one just been published. They can both be found in the journal Heritage Science.

“We have discovered no less than two pigments whose use in Antiquity has hitherto been completely unknown,” says Kaare Lund Rasmussen.

These are lead-antimonate yellow and lead-tin yellow. Both are naturally occurring mineral pigments.

“We do not know whether the two pigments were commonly available or rare. Future chemical studies of other antiquity artefacts may shed more light,” he says.

Lead-antimonate yellow and lead-tin yellow have so far only been found in paintings dating to the Middle Ages or younger than that. The oldest known use of lead-tin yellow is in European paintings from ca. 1300 AD. The oldest known use of lead-antimonate yellow is from the beginning of the 16th century AD.

Analyzing binders is more difficult than analyzing pigments. Pigments are inorganic and do not deteriorate as easily as most binders which are organic and therefore deteriorate faster.

Nevertheless, Kaare Lund Rasmussen’s Italian colleagues from Professor Maria Perla Colombini’s research group at the University of Pisa managed to find traces of two binders, namely rubber and animal glue.

The rubber is probably tapped from an acacia tree and served as a solvent for powdered pigment. Rubber was widely used as a binder, and it has also been found on stone columns in the Karnak Temple and murals in Queen Nefertite‘s tomb.

Animal glue was also commonly available. It was made by boiling animal parts, in particular the hides and bones, in water to a gel-like mass which could be dried and pulverized. When needed, the powder was stirred with warm water and ready to use.

The researchers also found these color pigments:

  • Calcite (white).
  • Gypsum (white).
  • Egyptian Blue (a synthetic pigment, invented in the 3rd millennium BC)
  • Atacamite (green).
  • Hematite (red).
  • Orpiment (golden yellow).

20 ancient coffins discovered in Luxor, Egypt: here.

Neanderthals and art, videos


This 9 October 2019 video says about itself:

There is a huge debate around whether and to what extent Neanderthals made art. Here to help me set the record straight is Dr. Wragg Sykes, Neanderthal expert, archaeologist and author.

Sites mentioned in the interview:

Bruniquel Cave, France

Cioarei-Borosteni, Romania

Fumane Cave, Italy

This video is about the Bruniquel cave.

Why big Ice Age mammals became extinct


This 2015 video is called 10 Amazing Extinct Animals from the Pleistocene.

From the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany:

Microscopic evidence sheds light on the disappearance of the world’s largest mammals

New, state-of-the-art methods provide detailed insights into the timing and causes of ‘megafauna’ extinctions in the past

October 2, 2019

Understanding the causes and consequences of Late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions is increasingly important in a world of growing human populations and climate change. A new review, led by scholars at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, highlights the role that cutting-edge scientific methods can play in broadening the discussions about megafaunal extinction and enabling more localized insights into ecosystems and species-specific responses to climate change and human activities.

The disappearance of many of the world’s largest mammal species occurred around the same time that two other major transformations in Earth’s history were unfolding: dramatic climatic change at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary (c. 10,000 B.P.) and the dispersal of Homo sapiens to new continents. Untangling the role each of these played in Late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions has been the subject of intense scholarly debate for decades. However, recent advances in archaeological and paleontological science methods have helped demonstrate that megafaunal extinctions are more complex than any single humans-versus-climate answer can provide.

The new article, published in BioScience, emphasizes contributions from five different approaches: radiocarbon dating, stable isotope analysis, ancient DNA, ancient proteins, and microscopy. These techniques can offer robust, high-resolution insights into climate change and extinction chronologies, past habitat transformations, ecological relationships, and species diet and ranging. Especially when used in combination, these advanced methods offer unprecedented levels of detail that can help to better understand causes of extinctions in the past, which can then be applied to contemporary animal management aims, including risk assessments and rewilding efforts.

The review is an international and multidisciplinary collaboration between leading experts in megafaunal extinction research and emerging laboratory science methods. “When we started this collaboration, we were worried that we’d never get everyone to see eye-to-eye on megafaunal extinctions,” says Jillian Swift, lead author and archaeologist at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. “But it was easy to agree on the urgency of understanding deep-time human impacts to Earth systems, so that we can continue to make informed conservation decisions for our future.”

“Approaches to extinctions of ‘megafauna’ in the past are often based on sweeping narratives that assume that all species are equally vulnerable to external threats such as environmental change and human hunting,” says Patrick Roberts, of the Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and co-author on the study. “Archaeological science methods allow us to get past these generalizations and explore how the diets, demography, and mobility of individual species and populations changed through time, providing a far more complex, and accurate, picture of past ecosystems.”

“We believe that large, multidisciplinary collaborations such as this offer the best way to approach questions of such magnitude as ‘megafaunal extinctions‘”, says Nicole Boivin, Director of the Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and co-author. “It is only by coming together, from a variety of fields and backgrounds, that we can apply very different expertise and methodologies to build up more detailed understandings of the past that have major, pressing implications for present-day processes and threats.”

Denisovan hominins and Ice Age predators


This 12 December 2018 video is called 50,000 year old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory found in world famous Denisova Cave.

From Flinders University in Australia:

Dishing the dirt on an early man cave

Microscopic study yields intriguing ancient Denisovan secrets

September 26, 2019

Summary: Fossil animal droppings, charcoal from ancient fires and bone fragments litter the ground of one of the world’s most important human evolution sites, new research reveals. A team of scientists have used modern geoarchaeological techniques to unearth new details of day-to-day life in the famous Denisova Cave complex in Siberia’s Altai Mountains.

Fossil animal droppings, charcoal from ancient fires and bone fragments litter the ground of one of the world’s most important human evolution sites, new research reveals.

The latest evidence from southern Siberia shows that large cave-dwelling carnivores once dominated the landscape, competing for more than 300,000 years with ancient tribes for prime space in cave shelters.

A team of Russian and Australian scientists have used modern geoarchaeological techniques to unearth new details of day-to-day life in the famous Denisova Cave complex in Siberia’s Altai Mountains.

Large carnivores such hyena, wolves and even bears and at least three early nomadic human groups (hominins) — Denisovans, Neanderthals, and early Homo sapiens — used this famous archaeological site, the researchers say in a new Scientific Reports study examining the dirt deposited in the cave complex over thousands of years.

“These hominin groups and large carnivores such as hyenas and wolves left a wealth of microscopic traces that illuminate the use of the cave over the last three glacial-interglacial cycles,” says lead author, Flinders University ARC Future Fellow Dr Mike Morley.

“Our results complement previous work by some of our colleagues at the site that has identified ancient DNA in the same dirt, belonging to Neanderthals and a previously unknown human group, the Denisovans, as well as a wide range of other animals.”

But it now seems that it was the animals that mostly ruled the cave space back then.

Microscopic studies of 3-4 metres of sediment left in the cave network includes fossil droppings left by predatory animals such as cave hyenas, wolves and possibly bears, many of their kind made immortal in ancient rock art before going extinct across much of Eurasia.

From their ‘micromorphology’ examination of the dirt found in Denisova Cave, the team discovered clues about the use of the cave, including fire-use by ancient humans and the presence of other animals.

The study of intact sediment blocks collected from the cave has yielded information not evident to the naked eye or gleaned from previous studies of ancient DNA, stone tools or animal and plant remains.

Co-author of the new research, University of Wollongong Distinguished Professor Richard (Bert) Roberts, says the study is very significant because it shows how much can be achieved by sifting through sedimentary material using advanced microscopy and other archaeological science methods to find critical new evidence about human and non-human life on Earth.

“Using microscopic analyses, our latest study shows sporadic hominin visits, illustrated by traces of the use of fire such as miniscule fragments, but with continuous use of the site by cave-dwelling carnivores such as hyenas and wolves,” says Professor Roberts.

“Fossil droppings (coprolites) indicate the persistent presence of non-human cave dwellers, which are very unlikely to have co-habited with humans using the cave for shelter.”

This implies that ancient groups probably came and went for short-lived episodes, and at all other times the cave was occupied by these large predators.

The Siberian site came to prominence more than a decade ago with the discovery of the fossil remains of a previously unknown human group, dubbed the Denisovans after the local name for the cave.

In a surprising twist, the recent discovery of a bone fragment in the cave sediments showed that a teenage girl was born of a Neanderthal mother and Denisovan father more than 90,000 years ago.

Denisovans and Neanderthals inhabited parts of Eurasia until perhaps 50,000 to 40,000 years ago, when they were replaced by modern humans (Homo sapiens).

The study was funded by the Australian Research Council and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research.