Middle Paleolithic complex technology and a Neandertal tar-backed tool from the Dutch North Sea

Marcel J. L. Th. Niekus, Paul R. B. Kozowyk, Geeske Langejans, Dominique Ngan-Tillard, Henk van Keulen, Johannes van der Plicht, Kim M. Cohen, Bertil van Os, Bjørn I. Smit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

We report the discovery of a 50,000-y-old birch tar-hafted flint tool found off the present-day coastline of The Netherlands. The production of adhesives and multicomponent tools is considered complex technology and has a prominent place in discussions about the evolution of human behavior. This find provides evidence on the technological capabilities of Neandertals and illuminates the currently debated conditions under which these technologies could be maintained. 14C-accelerator mass spectrometry dating and the geological provenance of the artifact firmly associates it with a host of Middle Paleolithic stone tools and a Neandertal fossil. The find was analyzed using pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, X-ray micro-computed tomography, and optical light microscopy. The object is a piece of birch tar, encompassing one-third of a flint flake. This find is from northwestern Europe and complements a small set of well-dated and chemically identified adhesives from Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age contexts. Together with data from experiments and other Middle Paleolithic adhesives, it demonstrates that Neandertals mastered complex adhesive production strategies and composite tool use at the northern edge of their range. Thus, a large population size is not a necessary condition for complex behavior and technology. The mitigation of ecological risk, as demonstrated by the challenging conditions during Marine Isotope Stage 4 and 3, provides a better explanation for the transmission and maintenance of technological complexity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22081-22087
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume116
Issue number44
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords

  • Late Pleistocene
  • Hafting
  • Birch bark tar
  • Adhesive
  • Risk mitigation

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