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Bitumen as a hafting material on Middle Palaeolithic artefacts


A SCRAPER and a Levallois flake, discovered in the Mousterian levels (dated around 40,000 BC) of the Umm el Tlel site in Syria, were submitted to an organic geochemieal study to identify a black substance occurring on their surface. The shape of this black substance suggests that the organic traces are remnants of a hafting material used by Middle Palaeolithic people to glue handles onto their tools. Gas chromatography–mass spectro-metry (GC–MS) analyses of both C15+ alkanes and C15+ aromatics confirm that the black substance is a highly weathered bitumen, the source of which remains unknown. According to some diagnostic molecular information (for example, the occurrence of fluoranthene and pyrene), it seems that the raw bitumen used has been subjected to extreme temperature. The scraper and the Levallois flake described here are, to the best of our knowledge, the first reported examples of Middle Palaeolithic artefacts hutted with bitumen to handles.

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Boëda, E., Connan, J., Dessort, D. et al. Bitumen as a hafting material on Middle Palaeolithic artefacts. Nature 380, 336–338 (1996).

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