As we learn from recent studies of the University of Tübingen and New York University (NYU), the Neanderthal man may have seemed more intelligent to us than it really was.
The experimental archaeological project found that tar, a product with a thick tarry texture resulting from the dry distillation of wood or bark of various species of trees and shrubs, used by our cousins to construct tools, did not require a complex process at all, so it cannot be evidence of a high level of development cognitive and cultural. One of the problems occurring during research and attempts to understand our past is the fact that although technology is constantly changing and developing, until recently – which is obvious – was not described in any way, so all we have to do is guess.
As a result, archaeologists often look at evidence that our ancestors did something complicated, e.g. melted metals or baked bread, but are unable to determine how they did it. That is why experimental archeology was created, in which scientists try on found reverse engineering objects to determine how they actually arose techguides. For example, experiments on how copper was first melted began by throwing a few pieces of malachite into the fire and wondering why it wasn’t melting, but eventually led to the discovery that it was a case of the past, when ancient potters, who used copper ore when decorating their dishes, one day found pieces of metal in their furnaces.
Of course, it is not always possible to properly decipher the puzzle, which is why we often find ourselves in a blind alley, and apparently this is the case with Neanderthals and their pitch. Making tar from wood is a well-known process, practiced to this day, but it is a very complex activity that requires either appropriate vessels made of metal or ceramics, or the entire tar plant, where the wood is meticulously laid, covered with earth and clay, and then set on fire to due to lack of oxygen, it turned into carbon. It was the knowledge of this process that confirmed many scientists that Neanderthals were intellectually and culturally advanced – research showed that their tools used tar as an adhesive to attach stone fragments to wood or bones.
However, when the scientists mentioned at the beginning looked at this issue, they discovered that there was definitely an easier way to obtain tar from raw materials, e.g. birch bark. Instead of building complicated equipment, it was enough to collect fresh or dead birch bark and set it on fire. Researchers quickly decided to test their theory in practice, so they laid birch bark on the stones by the river and set fire to it – after 3 hours, the stones were covered with a black, greasy substance, i.e. tar. They took their pitch for research in the laboratory, where it turned out that in terms of composition, it was very similar to that found on Neanderthal instruments.
What’s more, they followed the blow and constructed a tool similar to those found during excavations, which confirmed that the binder was very durable and could easily withstand hitting or scraping the outer membrane from the calf femur. In short, the method is very simple and works in practice, which is why scientists have recognized that only Neanderthal tools alone cannot be a determinant of the high intellectual or cultural level of this species.