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Old-school scholars considered Neanderthals brutish and simple, but recent research shows they made jewelry, had a precision grip, and may have even painted cave art. Now, a tar-caked tool found on a Dutch beach supports the idea that Neanderthals could accomplish complex, multistep tasks that took planning ahead over several days.
In 2016, an amateur collector named Willy van Wingerden found a flint flake partly covered in thick black tar on the Zandmotor, an artificial beach in the Netherlands. The beach, made from sand dredged from the bottom of the North Sea, is a treasure trove of prehistoric artifacts. That’s because the sand used to be part of a wide expanse of dry, cold steppe, connecting the United Kingdom and the Netherlands during the last ice age, when sea levels were much lower than they are today.
Glance - Tool - Much—a - Flint - Flake
At first glance, the tool doesn’t look like much—a small, sharp-edged flint flake with a gob of tar on the end. Once it hardened, the tar provided enough of a handhold for someone to use the flake’s sharp edge as a scraper or blade. “It looks quite simple, but it’s quite a complex tool,” says lead author Marcel Niekus, an independent archaeologist in the Netherlands who analyzed the find. “It took a lot of steps to make and haft the piece.”
When Niekus and his colleagues used radiocarbon dating to analyze the tar on the flake, they found it was 50,000 years old, dating back to a time before modern humans arrived, they write today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Tar - Conditions - Sediments - Meters - Sea
The tar, preserved by the cold, oxygen-free conditions in sediments several meters beneath the sea floor, might have been an essential element of Stone Age tool kits, says co-author Geeske Langejans, an archaeologist at...
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