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J Sep Sci. 2004 Feb;27(3):244-54.

Investigating the history of prehistoric glues by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

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Laboratoire du Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, UMR-CNRS 171, 6, rue des Pyramides, 75041 Paris Cedex 01, France.


Although organic materials are very sensitive to biochemical alteration processes, they may be preserved for millennia in various archaeological contexts. Remains of adhesives made during prehistory were discovered at different sites, in the form of residues adhering to flint tools and ceramic vessels or as free lumps in sediment. To characterise the natural substances exploited for adhesive production during late prehistory, we undertook GC and GC/MS analysis of 90 samples from 8 sites dating from the Neolithic to Iron Age periods. This paper discusses our approach to the study of organic adhesives preserved in archaeological contexts, with a particular focus on the presentation of the various categories of organic adhesives that we analysed and the choice of chromatographic conditions adapted to the specificity of such samples. The results obtained show that birch bark tar, a triterpenoid adhesive made by destructive distillation of white birch bark, was predominantly used during the neolithic period even though other materials such as various barks or organic fossil substance were also used. During the Bronze and Iron ages, which follow the Neolithic period, adhesive production is evolving through the expansion of the range of the natural substances used (identification of diterpenoid pine resin) and the addition of beeswax as a plasticiser to birch bark tar. By combining chromatographic analysis and archaeological data, it was thus possible to follow the evolution of adhesive making at the end of prehistory, testifying to the inventiveness of the craftsmen whatever the period considered.


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