Sunday, September 8, 2013

Earliest use of beeswax, 40,000 BP

Beeswax collected and used by hunter-gather group 40,000 years ago...

Wild honeybee comb filled with honey. Photo by author, 2013
Investigators, digging for early evidence of modern human culture at Border Cave, an early occupation site in the ancient lands of South Africa's San people, have identified complex technologies supporting material culture dating to at least 44,000 years ago. Trace analysis of well preserved organic remains of tools demonstrates the first use of beeswax in adhesives for hafting stone points at least 40,000 BP.

Lead investigator Francesco d'Errico reported the oldest use of beeswax in a recipe for hafting based on residues identified on well preserved wood. The recipe included beeswax, Euphorbia resin, and possibly egg matter supporting vegetable twine likely made with stringy inner bark. Francesco d'Errico added: "This complex compound used for hafting arrowheads or tools, which is 40,000 years old, is the oldest known evidence of the use of beeswax."

Complex materials culture is a hallmark of modernity among ancient peoples. This find suggests the early San hunter-gatherers could find, identify, and assemble ingredients for preparing adhesive, making cordage, and joining flaked stone with carved wood for the manufacture of complex tools.

"This research, funded by an ERC Advanced Grant, is published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. © F. d’Errico and L. Backwell"

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