Dating sites for pot heads
Two small, hardened lumps of black material were found during the dig, one bearing a fingerprint and the other the impression of a wooden haft or handle.
In 2001, the lumps were dated to at least 40,000 years ago and were shown to have the chemical signature of birch bark pitch produced by the dry distillation process.
The Campitello find dates back over 200,000 years, a remarkably early origin for this complex process.
A third Neanderthal site at Inden-Altdorf, overlooking the Inde River in Germany and dating to around 128,000 to 115,000 years ago, features more than 80 stone tools flecked with black material, but the chemical analysis indicating that this was distilled pitch requires further confirmation.
But the process was known in Europe long before that.
This was the site of an ancient lakeside hunting camp, from which Neanderthals had hunted now extinct Ice Age creatures such as mammoth and woolly rhino as well as red deer, horses, and reindeer.In the confined space at the bottom of the pit, the smoldering bark quickly uses up oxygen and causes the pitch to "sweat," or condense, out of the roll of bark onto the surface of the pebble. "On the earliest evidence for the habitual use of fire in Europe." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,108 (13), 5209—5214. While still hot, the pitch is a sticky liquid that can be used immediately as glue. Sauter, F., Jordis, U., Graf, A., Werther, W., Varmusa, K, 2000. "A Stone-Age Meeting of Minds." American Scientist 96, 44- 52. Chemists have discovered that distilling pitch from birch bark requires an oxygen-free environment and sustained temperatures of over 650° F.
How could Neanderthals, with their Stone Age technology, have produced such conditions?
Simple though it sounds in theory, the technique is highly challenging in practice. "Studies in organic achaeometry I: identification of the prehistoric adhesive used by the "Tyrolean Iceman" to fix his weapons." in ARKIVOC 2000 (v) 735—747. "Compound-adhesive manufacture as a behavioral proxy for complex cognition in the Middle Stone Age." Current Anthropology 51(1), 111–119.