Archaeological Adhesives

G.H.J. Langejans*, A. Aleo, Sebastian Fajardo, P.R.B. Kozowyk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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An adhesive is any substance that bonds different materials together. This broad definition includes materials used in everything from hafted stone tools to monumental architecture. In addition, the combination of bonding, plasticity, and insolubility meant that some adhesives were exploited for waterproofing and sealing of materials, as self-adhering inlays and putties, and as paints, varnishes, and inks. Adhesives have a history of at least 200,000 years. Throughout (pre)history and around the world, people used materials, including bitumen/ asphalt, carbohydrate polymers such as starches and gums, natural rubbers, mortars, proteins (from casein, soy, blood, and animal connective tissue), insect and plant resins, and tars made from various barks and woods. Adhesives thus are very diverse and have widely varying properties: they can be tacky, pliable, elastic, brittle, water-resistant, fluid, viscous, clear, dark, and much more. They are a plastic avant la lettre. These properties can and were tweaked by mixing ingredients or by further processing. In the study of archaeological adhesives, their characterization is essential and this is best done with chemical and spectroscopic methods. When larger coherent samples as opposed to single finds are analyzed, adhesive studies can provide data on past technologies, socioeconomic organizations, and environments and raw material availability. Through sourcing and mapping of ingredients and adhesive end products, travel and transfer of materials and knowledge can be illuminated. Additionally, experimental reproductions provide data on technological aspects that otherwise are lost in the archaeological record. An archaeology of adhesives can reveal the transport networks, subsistence, mobility strategies, division of labor, and technological know-how that held societies together.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-54
Number of pages54
JournalOxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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  • glue
  • bonding
  • hafting
  • sealant
  • resin
  • tar
  • mortar
  • gum
  • rubber
  • ochre


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