A multi-analytical approach reveals flexible compound adhesive technology at Steenbokfontein Cave, Western Cape

Alessandro Aleo, Antonieta Jerardino, Rivka Chasan, Myrto Despotopoulou, Dominique J.M. Ngan-Tillard, Ruud W.A. Hendrikx, Geeske H.J. Langejans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evidence of different compound resin-based adhesives is present in South Africa from at least 77000 years ago. Ancient glue production is considered one of the oldest known highly complex technologies, requiring advanced technological and mental abilities. However, our current knowledge of adhesive materials, recipes, and uses in South Africa is limited by the lack of in-depth analysis and molecular characterization of residues. To deepen our knowledge of past adhesive technology, we performed a detailed multi-analytical analysis (use-wear, XRD, μ-CT, IR spectroscopy, GC-MS) of 30 Later Stone Age tools with adhesive remains from Steenbokfontein Cave, South Africa. At the site, tools made of various rocks were hafted with compound adhesives, and we identified three recipes: 1) resin/tar of Widdringtonia or Podocarpus species combined with hematite; 2) resin/tar of Widdringtonia or Podocarpus species mixed with hematite and another plant exudate; 3) resin/tar without hematite. The studied scrapers were used in hide-working activities, and the studied cutting tools were used to work animal and soft plant matters. All scrapers display evidence of intense resharpening and were discarded when no longer useable. The combination of different methods for residue analysis reveals the flexibility of adhesive technology at Steenbokfontein. Despite the consistent use of conifer resin/tar throughout the sequence, we observed that other ingredients were added or excluded independently of the tools’ raw materials and functions. Our results highlight the long-lasting tradition of using adhesive material from conifer species but also the adaptability and flexibility of adhesive traditions. The systematic application of this multi-analytical approach to Pleistocene adhesives will be useful to better characterise adhesive traditions and enhance the debate on the technological, cognitive, and behavioural implications of this technology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105997
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
StatePublished - Jul 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors


  • Adhesives
  • Hafting
  • Later stone age
  • Ochre
  • South Africa
  • Use-wear

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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