There is no denying that flashy or highly unusual artifacts are fascinating. As the world of archaeology turns more glitzy, these items hit the headlines more than their dull, unglamorous counterparts.
But history holds no such prejudice. Sometimes, it’s the more mundane artifacts that tell us the most about our ancestors and how they lived. A lump of tar, an erased page, or a dead bee can change what we know in an instant. No glitter required.
10. The Glue Caves
For decades, caves in Germany yielded what appeared to be lowly tar lumps. Although they were indeed tar lumps, they were far from lowly. Researchers have always known that the ancients used tar as an adhesive and sealant. But these 200,000-year-old globs were found in caves and on tools where Neanderthals lived.
Recent times have painted a new picture of this extinct human cousin. Instead of spending the day brainlessly clubbing anything that moved, Neanderthals are now credited with a complex culture. The tar proves that they also invented the world’s first glue, a feat previously attributed to anatomically modern humans.
Not only did Neanderthals beat humans to this high-tech skill, but they created up to three sophisticated ways to process tar from birch bark. Each produced different amounts, which was smart. A Neanderthal hunter, quickly needing to fix a weapon, could choose the fastest technique that made the least.
Homo sapiens, on the other hand, began using adhesives only 70,000 years ago. While these early Africans probably invented glue independently, it is quite plausible that they could have learned the birch bark techniques from Neanderthals.