Tar on Rock

A group of scientists in Germany have studied a type of black pitch named birch tar (sometimes called birch bark pitch), claimed to be the “oldest synthetic substance made by early humans”.  This substance has been found in Neanderthal sites and was used as an adhesive in tools and artefacts. It also has waterproofing and anti-microbial properties. 

Birch tar can form when birch bark is heated on in a fire, and it has been assumed that Neanderthals simply collected this when it happened to form on an open campfire.  However, there is a method of deliberately manufacturing birch tar by a complex distillation process involving heating rolls of birch bark in a confined space with restricted flow of oxygen and controlling the temperature of a fire.  This requires deliberately setting up and controlling the process in an underground structure, and produces a tar with a different chemical composition from that formed as above ground fire residue. 

The research team made samples of birch tar by above ground fire and below ground distillation methods and compared chemical composition of their tars with two samples of birch tar found in Neanderthal sites in Germany.  They found the Neanderthal tar matched the tar made by the below ground distillation method.

An article in the website Interesting Engineering commented: “This study challenges our perceptions of human intelligence and enhances our understanding of Neanderthals. It emphasizes that not only modern people can create complicated manufacturing processes and material synthesis.”

References: Interesting Engineering 31 May 2023; Science Alert 4 June 2023; Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 22 May 2023, doi:10.1007/s12520-023-01789-2

Editorial Comment: It is no surprise to us that Neanderthals were capable of producing a useful synthetic substance using a complex manufacturing process that involved careful planning and control.  Neanderthals were not primitive people, still evolving from ape-like ancestors.  They were intelligent descendants of Noah with bigger brains than today’s average brain size.  The reason they were able to manufacture birch tar is that they were the immediate descendants of the highly intelligent, technologically skilled people who were building the Tower of Babel until God intervened.  God, Himself recognised the intelligence and creative skill of the people at Babel when He said “this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now bee impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6).  To let you in on a little known fact – the people at Babel were descendants of Noah’s family, who had manufactured a lot of waterproof pitch to cover the Ark (see Genesis 6:14). Therefore, it is no surprise that some of those who scattered from Babel carried with them the knowledge of making pitch and tar from tree bark and were able to work out how to do it, using whatever resources they found in their new location.

Creation Research New 21 June 2023

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