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Birch-bark tar in the Roman world: the persistence of an ancient craft tradition?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 November 2019

Martine Regert*
Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS, CEPAM, France
Isabelle Rodet-Belarbi
Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS, CEPAM, France Inrap Méditerranée, Institut National de Recherche en Archéologie Préventive, 561 rue Etienne Lenoir, Km Delta, F –30 900, Nîmes, France
Arnaud Mazuy
Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS, CEPAM, France
Gaëlle Le Dantec
Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS, CEPAM, France
Rosa Maria Dessì
Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS, CEPAM, France
Stéphanie Le Briz
Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS, CEPAM, France
Auréade Henry
Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS, CEPAM, France
Maxime Rageot
Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS, CEPAM, France Department of Pre- and Protohistory, University of Tübingen, Burgsteige 11, Tübingen72070, Germany
*Author for correspondence (Email:


Birch-bark tar, used continuously in the territory of modern Europe from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Iron Age, is conspicuous by its absence in the archaeological record of the Roman period, suggesting its replacement by conifer-based products. The results of chemical analyses of residues on Roman hinges, however, now challenge this interpretation. The presence of birch-bark tar in most of the samples demonstrates the persistence of a long-established practice into the Roman period. Examined in relation to textual and environmental evidence, these results illuminate the transmission of technical knowledge and the development of long-distance trade networks associated with birch-bark tar.

Antiquity , Volume 93 , Issue 372 , December 2019 , pp. 1553 - 1568
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2019

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