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Genes On A Gum…

If you think that chewing gum is a modern habit, then you are wrong! The archaeologists recently recovered human DNA from a nearly 10,000 years old gum, as they claimed that people in Scandinavia had chewed the gum during the Mesolithic Period or the Stone Age.
According to archaeologists, they could reveal many unknown facts of the human history by analysing the DNA. Although the chewing gum was discovered near the western coast of Sweden in the 1990’s, archaeologists recently found DNA of three people – two women and a man – in it!

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During the Stone Age, the Mesolithic hunters used to catch fish at Huseby Klev, the site in western Sweden where the gum was found. According to archaeologists, the Stone Age people of Huseby Klevy used to chew birch pitch, but most likely to use it as glue in tools rather than for pleasure. They opined that their stone tools – largely consisted of small flakes of flint, called ‘microliths’ – were carefully shaped and glued into wooden or bone hafts. The Stone Age people made their harpoon points of bone with small barbs of flint glued, and arrowheads with flint carefully shaped by the technique of pressure flaking.
The archaeologists explained that the gum, chewed by the tool makers at Husebey Kelv, was actually birch pitch – a dark, sticky substance, like tar, that is distilled from birch bark by heating it to around 420 degrees Celsius without letting air get to it. As it was very viscous (solid and rubbery at ambient temperature), it can be used to waterproof objects and also as a glue. The revelation further tells us something about the environment in which the people lived – birch woods rather than pine forest.

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Rock carvings from Mesolithic Age in Sweden. Note the hunter with bow near the top left.

According to archaeologists, so many missing links could be found from the ancient chewing gum and DNAs. The Archaeological Department of Stockholm University has already started conducting researches on the chewing gum! Jan Hoole, a Lecturer in Biology at Keele University, England, claimed that the DNAs of the three people – found in the chewing gum – matched with the people of the Swedish Mesolithic population.

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The preliminary findings suggest that gender roles were more fluid in Sweden during the Stone Age, as women were involved in the prehistoric tool industry. The impressions of milk teeth found in eight samples of mastic suggest that young people – 5-18 years of age – had chewed the mastic. Although it’s unthinkable in modern times that a child of five loose with these sharp and dangerous hunting tools, it might have been possible at that period as the average life expectancy was around 30 years. As a result, a teenager would not only be considered fully adult, but most probably had a family of their own.

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An ancient Swedish flake axe made from flint microliths.

Meanwhile, Hoole said that the archaeologists are trying to find answers of many questions… such as “if women were making tools, were they also using them to hunt? What was the life of a Mesolithic child in Scandinavia like? Did Mesolithic people chew gum for recreational, hygienic and medicinal reasons, as other cultures did? Why did Scandinavian populations continue to use the Eastern European technologies rather than a mixture of Eastern and Western?

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