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Europe’s Stone Age fishers used beeswax to make a point

This 13,000-year-old fishing spear is the first evidence that northern populations used bee product as glue

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4:17pm, October 6, 2017

BEE STICKY  Chemical analyses show that a barbed bone point from Germany dating to around 13,000 years ago, shown from two sides, contains remnants of a beeswax glue near its base, left. Either honeybees entered northern Europe earlier than thought, as glaciers retreated, or beeswax was traded over long distances, scientists say.

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Late Stone Age people got a grip thanks to honeybees. Northern Europeans attached a barbed bone point to a handle of some kind with a beeswax adhesive around 13,000 years ago, scientists say. The result: a fishing spear.

Using beeswax glue to make tools was common in Africa as early as 40,000 years ago (SN: 8/25/12, p. 16). But this spear is the first evidence of its use in cold parts of Europe at a time toward the end of the Stone Age when the glaciers were receding, say archaeologist Michael Baales of LWL-Archӓologie für Westfalen in Olpe, Germany, and his colleagues.

Where the beeswax came from remains a question. Honeybees may have pushed north into Europe from warmer, Mediterranean locales several thousand years earlier than previously thought, the researchers propose in the October Antiquity. Farmers in Southwest Asia and Europe acquired beeswax and probably honey as early as 9,000 years ago (SN: 12/12/15, p. 13).

Or Northern European hunter-gatherers may instead have obtained beeswax through trade networks extending to Mediterranean areas, Baales’ team says. Stone Age Eurasians formed group alliances over large areas (SN Online: 10/5/17).

New chemical and microscopic analyses of the bone point, discovered in western Germany in the 1930s, identified beeswax mixed with crushed charcoal. Charcoal kept the beeswax from becoming brittle, the investigators suspect.

Citations

M. Baales, S. Birker and F. Mucha. Hafting with beeswax in the Final Paleolithic: a barbed point from Bergkamen. Antiquity. Vol. 91, October 2017, p. 1155. doi:10.15184/aqy.2017.142. Further reading

B. Bower. Ancient humans avoided inbreeding by networking. Science News Online. October 5, 2017.

B. Bower. Honeybees sweetened early farmers’ lives. Science News. Vol. 188, December 12, 2015, p. 13.

M. Rosen. Sticks, stones and bones reveal emergence of a hunter-gatherer culture. Science News. Vol. 182, August 25, 2012, p. 16.

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