Material and Sensory Experiences of Mesolithic Resinous Substances

Benjamin Elliott, Aimée Little, Andy Needham, Andrew Langley

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Abstract

Mesolithic resinous adhesives are well known for their role as hafting mastic within composite technologies, yet it is increasingly clear that their usage was more diverse than this. Birch-bark tar has been recovered from Mesolithic contexts as chewed lumps linked to medicinal treatment of toothache and oral diseases, and as a decorative element on ornaments and art objects; and an amorphous resinous substance possibly derived from pine or spruce resin has been found within a burial context. This diversity of applications suggests that resins and tars may have been understood in different ways which did not always privilege their mechanical functionality. To underscore the limited archaeological perspective of conifer resins and tars as hafting agents, we draw on data sourced from a wide range of ethnographically documented societies, demonstrating the array of economic and social functions these materials have for contemporary hunter-gatherer groups. Using archaeological case studies, we illustrate how a deeper understanding of the material and sensory properties of resins and tars, and the trees from which they are derived, opens new insights into the diverse roles resinous materials performed within Mesolithic worldviews.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-30
Number of pages30
JournalCambridge Archaeological Journal
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2022

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