The aceramic production of Betula pubescens (downy birch) bark tar using simple raised structures. A viable Neanderthal technique?
Following on from our previous research into the prehistoric aceramic distillation and production of birch bark tar, this series of exploratory experiments investigated the use of raised structures within a fire. These field-based experiments were conducted using sand, gravel, wood fuel, and bark from Betula pubescens (downy birch). The structures that were created were simple raised sand mounds, which reflected known Neanderthal combustion surfaces from the Middle Palaeolithic. The bulk of the experiments were recorded throughout using a thermocouple to provide temperature readings from the base of the bark pyrolysis chamber. The experiments proved successful at producing birch bark tar and several containers were used to catch the tar for later analysis. Based on the results, the authors contend that not only could Neanderthals control fire but that regular birch bark tar production by Neanderthals was most likely a result of specific chaînes opératoires in order to provide the necessary control and outcomes.
KeywordsMiddle palaeolithic Combustion surfaces Birch bark tar Experimental archaeology
We thank Sharon Hartwell and Hanne Hongset for their help during the experiments.
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