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.
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.