Haft-Way There!

I don’t recall why I would have ‘unpublished’ this. Nevertheless, it’s back now. Published on February 8, 2012.

Of late you’ve seen two really good examples of how archaeologists can ‘get it wrong.’ One was Pawlik and Thissen‘s claim from Inden-Altdorf, in Germany, in which I questioned their empirical observations and conclusions. The other you saw just yesterday, in which it appears that a tar-encased flake was very probably recovered in (at best) a mixed depositional context, which would lead to an overestimate of its age. Let’s see… as I understand it, there were four articles crucial to the claim that the Neanderthals engineered birch tar as a hafting mastic–no small feat, even for people like you and me. [Thanks again to Marco Langbroek and Iain Davidson for bringing me up to date on that literature, albeit for different reasons.] 
     That leaves only two. One is a real beauty: an argument, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. 

This tiny flake fragment (proximal-distal length a mere 14 mm) is interpreted as part of ‘A Levallois point embedded in the vertebra of a wild ass (Equus africanus): hafting, projectiles and Mousterian hunting weapons,’ by Boëda, Geneste and Griggo (Antiquity 73:394-402, 1999).

The other is (near enough) what naughty kids get for Christmas. It’s two small lumps of birch tar from a lignite quarry near Königsaue, Landkreis Aschersleben-Staßurt (Germany).

A lump of birch tar (27 x 20 mm). From ‘High-Tech in the Middle Palaeolithic: Neandertal-Manufactured Pitch Identified, by Koller, Baumer and Mania (European Journal of Archaeology 4:385-397, 2001).

As I’ve said in the recent past, this stuff really hurts my brain. So it means I might not show up here for a day or two. But, Arnold-like, I’ll be back. Count on it.


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