Scientists have made a surprising discovery about the advanced capabilities of ancient humans in Europe over 40,000 years ago. A team of researchers reexamining stone tools from the Neanderthal site of Le Moustier in southwestern France found evidence that the early cave dwellers were using a multi-component adhesive to attach handles to spear points and blades.

The adhesive was a sophisticated mixture of ochre and bitumen, two raw materials that would have required procurement from distant locations in the region.

This represents the earliest known use of a multi-component glue in Europe. The research was led by Dr. Patrick Schmidt of the University of Tübingen and Dr. Ewa Dutkiewicz of the German Archaeological Institute.

The stone tools from Le Moustier have been held in the museum collection of the German Archaeological Institute for over a century, originally recovered by archaeologist Otto Hauser in 1907.

During a re-examination of the collection, the researchers discovered residues of the ochre-bitumen adhesive still adhered toseveral stone artifacts after all this time, including scrapers, flakes, and blades.

Microscopic analysis revealed the substances showed use-wear patterns consistent with being hafted to handles. Through experimentation, the team determined the optimal mixture was over 50% ochre with bitumen, creating a malleable paste that could bind a tool while keeping hands clean during the manufacturing process.

The discovery shows Neanderthals in Europe were employing similar complex cognitive behaviors known previously only in early modern humans in Africa, like planning, procurement of distant resources, and multi-stage manufacturing techniques.

The use of compound adhesives is considered one of the earliest expressions of modern human cognitive processes still used today.

Both Neanderthals in Europe and early modern humans in Africa displayed sophisticated mental capacities for technological design, suggesting greater similarities than previously thought in ancestral human species.


Universitaet Tübingen | Patrick Schmidt et al. , Ochre-based compound adhesives at the Mousterian type-site document complex cognition and high investment. Sci. Adv. 10, eadl0822(2024). DOI:10.1126/sciadv.adl0822

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