Stone Age superglue: a first sign of intelligence? Wired - January 30, 2015
Researchers who reverse-engineered an ancient superglue have found that Stone Age people were smarter than we thought. Making the glue, originally used on 70,000-year-old composite tools, clearly required high-level cognitive powers. Anthropologists usually use symbolic art as the benchmark for modern cognition, but making the glue was an equally profound accomplishment. The archaeologists took design cues from stone tools found during a decade of excavation at South Africa’s Sibudu Cave site. The stones were still covered with traces of an iron-rich red pigment and acacia gum, a natural adhesive found in the bark of acacia trees. Acacia gum was almost certainly used to attach the stones to wooden shafts, but researchers have debated the pigment's role. Some suggested that it was decoration. The Witersrand team suspected a more functional use.
Stone Age Superglue Found -- Hints at Unknown Smarts? National Geographic - May 12, 2009
Stone Age humans were adept chemists who whipped up a sophisticated kind of natural glue, a new study says. They knowingly tweaked the chemical and physical properties of an iron-containing pigment known as red ochre with the gum of acacia trees to create adhesives for their shafted tools. Archaeologists had believed the blood-red pigment - used by people in what is now South Africa about 70,000 years ago - served a decorative or symbolic purpose. But the scientists had also suspected that the pigment may have been purposely added to improve glue that held the peoples' tools together. So researchers recreated the ancient glue using only Stone Age materials and technologies.
The results showed that glue containing red ochre was less brittle and more shatterproof than glue made from acacia gum alone. But making the glue wasn't easy for the ancient Africans. It was mentally taxing work that would have required humans to account for differences in the chemistry of gum harvested from different trees and in the iron content of ochre from different sites. The finding also suggests the intelligence of Stone Age humans was more akin to that of modern humans than previously thought.
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