Following their tears: Production and use of plant exudates in the Neolithic of North Aegean and the Balkans
Dushka Urem-Kotsou, Sofia Mitkidou, Evangelia Dimitrakoudi, Nikolaos Kokkinos & Maria Ntinou Quaternary International 496 (2018): 68-79
Resinous and tarry materials have been valuable commodities since prehistory as their widespread use for numerous purposes indicates, but remain largely neglected by archaeological research, in part due to their poor preservation and the need for chemical analyses to identify them. This paper explores the use of these plant exudates in northern Greece and the Balkans during the Early and Middle Holocene with the aim of documenting the production and use of tarry materials and the exploitation of woodland resources. To this end tarry material found on pottery from 10 neolithic settlements located in North Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, spanning the Early to Late Neolithic periods (7th to 5th millennia BC), were analysed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and identified using the biomarker approach. Data from analysis of wood charcoal found at Neolithic sites together with the pollen record have also been considered in order to assess the availability of raw materials to local populations. The results of biomolecular analysis show that birch-bark tar was almost exclusively used by Neolithic communities located in the Balkan hinterland, while a more complex picture arises for the northern Aegean area. Here, in addition to the predominant birch-bark tar, pine resin and pitch have also been identified as well as beeswax. The pollen and anthracological record suggest that birch existed in northern Greece and the Balkans hinterland during the Early Holocene, but must have been restricted to the uplands. Procurement of raw material may have taken place, therefore, at some distances from the settlements, involving the movement of people and raw materials or final products within the wider region. Chemical analysis provides evidence for variability in the production of tarry materials between settlements in northern Greece, while in the Balkan interior tar-making appears to have followed a more standardised recipe.