Aceramic dry distillation of birch bark tar (2009)


Sixteen attempts were made to produce birch bark tar without the use of ceramic containers. The starting point for the experiments were the finds of ancient birch bark tar, from Königsaue in Germany and tooth marks on several Scandinavian Mesolithic specimens.


A variety of structures were created to try and replicate the production of birch bark tar without pottery.




The experiments were performed in paired structures to simultaneously observe similar variables. A number of structures were pits of various depth, piled with dried birch bark and sealed with sand and turf, then a fire was lit on top.

However, the temperatures seemed not to reach those necessary for tar distillation, therefore the piles were eventually placed above ground and surrounded by fire.


Experiments were also conducted with birch bark sheets laid flat underground and covered with turf, to observe the effects of time as a variable in the experiments.




None of the experiments resulted in useable tar, however, two showed evidence of the initial stages of tar production.



The publication of the experiments can be found in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 2013 vol 5 issue 3, or online here.



The experiments were undertaken in collaboration with public archaeologist Grethe Moéll Pedersen, and Sagnlandet, Lejre, Denmark, provided us with the facilities and necessary funding.


The project is registered at Sagnlandet under reference no J.W. 12/09.



Our most recent experiments built on the results of this work.


Our latest publication is available at”. Here



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