BOULDER, Colo. – Score one for the Neanderthals.
A new study co-published this month by CU Boulder researcher Paola Villa found evidence that our pre-Homo sapien cousins collected resin off pine trees to stick tools and handles together.
Basically, they invented glue, or at least the concept of it.
The study wasn't the first discovery of evidence that suggests Neanderthals glued together tools, such as bone and wood, a practice known as hafting. But it does support the idea from Villa and others that Neanderthals were a tad more advanced than some we've been led to believe.
"We continue to find evidence that the Neanderthals were not inferior primitives but were quite capable of doing things that have traditionally only been attributed to modern humans," Villa said in a story about the study on the CU Boulder website.
Villa co-authored the study with researchers from universities in France, South Africa, Australia, Germany and Italy.
The discovery came from a pair of caves along Italy's western coast, where Neanderthals lived during the Middle Paleolithic period 40,000-55,000 years ago, thousands of years before Homo sapiens.
Archaeologists have unearthed more than 1,000 stone tools from the two caves – Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant'Agostino. The tools included tiny pieces of flint, not much more than an inch or two long.
When Villa and the other researchers examined the flint, they found "a strange residue" on some of the tools, the CU story said. A chemical analysis found a coat of pine-tree resin on 10 pieces of flints, and some of the resin was mixed with beeswax.
The mixture was likely formed into a glue by fire, since pine resin dries when exposed to air, Villa said. Consider that another victory for the oft-mocked reputation of the Neanderthal: Not only were they apparently making their own fire, as scientists have debated for years, but they were making their own glue with it.