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Ancient Adhesives - A window on prehistoric technological complexity

Project description

Adhesives in prehistoric complex technology

Understanding behavioural and cognitive complexity is a key element in Palaeolithic archaeology, and particularly the differences and similarities between Neanderthal and modern humans. Adhesives are one of the best representatives of a prehistoric complex technology and are well-suited to studying Neanderthal and modern human behaviour. The EU-funded AncientAdhesives project envisages to create the first trustworthy method to compare ancient technological development and to study differences and similarities in Neanderthal and modern human technology and behavioural complexity. It will establish the first full database on adhesives, develop a novel archaeological methodology and estimate the process of adhesive technological complexity through time in these two species.


AncientAdhesives addresses the most crucial problem in Palaeolithic archaeology: How to reliably infer cognitively complex behaviour in the deep past. To study the evolution of Neandertal and modern human cognitive capacities, certain find categories are taken to reflect behavioural and thus cognitive complexitye.g. Among these are art objects, personal ornaments and complex technology. Of these technology is best-suited to trace changing behavioural complexity, because 1) it is the least vulnerable to differential preservation, and 2) technological behaviours are present throughout the history of our genus. Adhesives are the oldest examples of highly complex technology. They are also known earlier from Neandertal than from modern human contexts. Understanding their technological complexity is thus essential to resolve debates on differences in cognitive complexity of both species. However, currently, there is no agreed-upon method to measure technological complexity.
The aim of AncientAdhesives is to create the first reliable method to compare the complexity of Neandertal and modern human technologies. This is achieved through three main objectives:
1. Collate the first comprehensive body of knowledge on adhesives, including ethnography, archaeology and (experimental) material properties (e.g. preservation, production).
2. Develop a new archaeological methodology by modifying industrial process modelling for archaeological applications.
3. Evaluate the development of adhesive technological complexity through time and across species using a range of explicit complexity measures.
By analysing adhesives, it is possible to measure technological complexity, to identify idiosyncratic behaviours and to track adoption and loss of complex technological know-how. This represents a step-change in debates about the development of behavioural complexity and differences/similarities between Neanderthals and modern humans.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 499 926,00
2628 CN Delft

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West-Nederland Zuid-Holland Delft en Westland
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 499 926,00

Beneficiaries (1)