Any new knowledge that goes beyond the stone tools and techniques used in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic is most significant as it reveals the cultural and technical capabilities of the people living in these periods. In 1963, two pitch finds were discovered in a lignite open-mining pit in the northern foothills of the Harz Mountains, in a layer the geological age of which was dated as being older than 80,000 years. The great significance of these finds was therefore immediately apparent. One of the finds showed a fingerprint as well as the imprints of a flint stone tool and the structure of wood cells. This was indicative of the pitch piece having served as an adhesive to secure a wooden haft to a flint stone blade.
Over 30 years later these finds were transferred to the Doerner Institut for investigation. The GC and GC/MS analyses revealed that, in both cases, birch pitches, well-known historical adhesives, had been used. These consist predominantly of pentacyclic triterpenoid components of the lupane type, with betulin forming the major component. The comparison with birch bark extracts showed that the biological peak profile (bio-marker) was surprisingly well preserved in these pitch finds and that hardly any degradation products were present.
Today, comparable pitches can easily be produced with modern technical methods, i.e. using airtight laboratory flasks and temperature control facilities. However, any attempt at simulating the conditions of the Neandertal period and at producing these birch pitches without any of these modern facilities will soon be met with many difficulties. This implies that the Neandertals did not come across these pitches by accident but must have produced them with intent. Conscious action is, however, always a clear sign of considerable technical capabilities.