Neanderthals Made High-Tech Superglue
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Jan. 16 ? Neanderthal tools were built to last, according to a recent analysis of artifacts that revealed Neanderthals made a strong, relatively high-tech adhesive to affix wooden handles to flint stone knives.

The discovery suggests that, despite their bumbling reputation, Neanderthals were perhaps as intelligent and industrious as early modern humans.

Neanderthals appeared approximately 230,000-300,000 years ago and are believed to have gone extinct 30,000 years ago.

The ancient "superglue" was detected on two tool remnants excavated at a site called Koenigsaue in the northeastern foothills of the Harz Mountains in Germany. The first object had a big Neanderthal fingerprint on one side, and grains of wood on the other. The second, smaller object appeared to have been molded by hand. Findings are published in the current issue of the European Journal of Archaeology, which is issued by SAGE publications and the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA).

The adhesive, a form of birch pitch, is tricky to make, and would even be difficult for modern manufacturing plants to duplicate, according to the report.

Author Dietrich Mania and his team, from Freidrich-Schiller University in Jena, wrote that the smoldering process required to turn birch bark into pitch "must be carried out at the correct temperatures and under exclusion of oxygen in order for the biologically conditioned distribution patterns of extractable birch bark components to be maintained."

They explained that birch only turns into usable glue between 340-400 degrees Centigrade. Lower temperatures prohibit resin in the wood from melting and higher temperatures would burn tar exuded from the birch.

" ... The very fact that birch bark pitch was identified (in the artifacts) already proclaims the intellectual and technical abilities of the Neanderthals," concluded the researchers.

Chris Stringer, head of human origins in the Department of Paleontology at The Natural History Museum in London, did not wish to directly comment on Mania's paper, but suggested that the news adds to the argument that Neanderthals were not instantaneously killed off by supposedly superior Cro-Magnons ? early modern humans.

"These days, both DNA and morphological studies support the majority view that Neanderthals were indeed a separate lineage, and probably species, to modern humans," said Stringer. "But equally there is growing evidence from dating techniques that Neanderthals did not vanish overnight, and that in some ways they were as behaviorally sophisticated as Cro-Magnons."

Stringer added that researchers hoped to next study Neanderthal fossils from western Asia, which could solve the mystery behind the apparent Neanderthal extinction.