Article | Differences in birch tar composition are explained by adhesive function in the central European Iron Age

Koch T. J., Saurel M., Bocquillon H., Pisanin D. F., Bonnabel L., Little A., Stacey R., Rageot M., Regert M., 2024. Plos ONE 19 (4), e0301103.

Open access :

Birch bark tar is the most widely documented adhesive in prehistoric Europe. More recent periods attest to a diversification in terms of the materials used as adhesives and their application. Some studies have shown that conifer resins and beeswax were added to produce compound adhesives. For the Iron Age, no comparative large-scale studies have been conducted to provide a wider perspective on adhesive technologies. To address this issue, we identify adhesive substances from the Iron Age in north-eastern France. We applied organic residue analysis to 65 samples from 16 archaeological sites. This included residues adhering to ceramics, from vessel surface coatings, repaired ceramics, vessel contents, and adhesive lumps. Our findings show that, even during the Iron Age in north-eastern France, birch bark tar is one of the best-preserved adhesive substances, used for at least 400 years. To a lesser extent, Pinaceae resin and beeswax were also identified. Through statistical analyses, we show that molecular composition differs in samples, correlating with adhesive function. This has implications for our understanding of birch bark tar production, processing and mode of use during the Iron Age in France and beyond.