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Neanderthal toolmaking may have been easier than previously thought



  ** An argument for Neanderthal genius unmasked
Experimental setup for the production of birch tar. Researchers burned birch bark near flat surfaces used by Neanderthals. Picture credits: University of Tübingen, Matthias Blessing

Neanderthals and other early humans produced a tarry glue from birch bark; For a long time this was proof of a high degree of cognitive and cultural development. Researchers had long believed that birch tar-which Neanderthals used to make tools-could only be produced through a complex process in which the bark had to be heated in the absence of air.

An international team led by researchers from the University of Tübingen, including the faculty of the Department of Anthropology at New York University and the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, noted that there is a very easy way to make this useful glue ,

The study was published on August 1

9 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ( PNAS ) They had sophisticated cognitive abilities, "said co-author Radu Iovita, a paleoanthropologist and Paleolithic Archaeologist at the Department of Anthropology of New York University and member of the Faculty of Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology at the University of Tübingen.

Earlier researchers had experimented with pits, clay structures, ash mounds, and metal and ceramic vessels to remove the bark in the absence of oxygen Instead, this research team experimented with conventional materials available in the Stone Age: they collected cut fresh birch bark or dead bark in the forest and burned them near flat boulders After three hours, the process yielded a usable amount of a black sticky one Materials: The tar could e be easily scraped off the surface of the stones. Its molecular properties resembled Neanderthal archaeological samples and formed a stronger adhesive than tar produced in more complex oxygen-free processes. Bark on stone, the stone is covered with tar. Picture credits: University of Tübingen, Claudio Tennie

The team made a wooden scratching tool from the glue and turned to a robot using a force control technology developed by Ludovic Righetti and Johannes Pfleging.

Righetti is Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at NYU Tandon and Senior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen. Pfleging is a visiting scientist for anthropology at New York University and a doctoral student in robotics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich.

Your robot arm carried the tool with a precision that humans can not emulate over 170 strokes. The approach also allowed the researchers to accurately measure the effects: the tool showed no weakening of the adhesive bond.

  ** An Argument for the Neanderthal Genius Unleashed
A robot designed by Ludovic Righetti and dr. Johannes Pfleging tested the adhesive by scraping a block of wood 170 times. Picture credits: NYU Tandon, Johannes Pfleging

In another test, the researchers glued a stone scraper to a wooden handle like the Neanderthals with the glue. Iovita was able to scrape the tough outer membrane of a calf off the femur.

The researchers say that this method of making birch teaser is so simple that early humans could easily have accidentally discovered it in the course of their daily activities. The production and use of birch tar can therefore no longer serve as an indicator of modern or complex behavior.

  ** An Argument for Uncovered Neanderthal Genius
Researchers used birch pitch to attach flint to wood, as Neanderthals would have done However, the wood was processed into a kind of drill, allowing the force-controlled robotic arm to precisely test for adhesion. Picture credits: NYU Tandon, Johannes Pfleging

"The extraction of birch teaser does not prove the complexity of Neanderthal behavior," appears in PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Week of 19 August 2019.


How Neanderthals made the very first glue


Further information:
Patrick Schmidt et al. Birch tar production does not substantiate the complexity of Neanderthal behavior, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2019). DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.1911137116

Provided by
New York University




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Neanderthal toolmaking may have been easier than expected (2019, August 20)
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