They didn’t have Wrigley’s, but ancient Scandinavian and Nordic cultures were big fans of chewing on tree bark. In 2007, a boy in Finland found chewing gum made from birch bark that was 5,000 years old. But at 10,000 years old, this birch-based gum offers scientists a chance to study ancient hunter-gatherer societies.
“DNA from these ancient chewing gums have an enormous potential not only for tracing the origin and movement of peoples long time ago, but also for providing insights in their social relations, diseases and food,” says Per Persson, of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, in a press statement.
In Scandinavian hunter-gatherer (SHG) culture, birch bark was used for a variety of purposes. Sometimes it was an adhesive substance for practices like sealing wood or ceramic vessels. Other times, it was strictly chewed for recreational purposes.
Genetically speaking, the chewing gum shares an affinity with other SHG groups. But the excavation site where the gum was found offers up a different story, featuring lithic technology brought to Scandinavia from the East European Plain, or modern day Russia. That means the gum was likely at the center of a cross-cultural exchange.
“When Per Persson and Mikael Maininen proposed to look for hunter-gatherer DNA in these chewing gums from Huseby Klev [a site on Sweden’s west coast], we were hesitant, but really impressed that archaeologists took care during the excavations and preserved such fragile material”, says Natalija Kashuba, who was affiliated with The Museum of Cultural History in Oslo when she performed the experiments in cooperation with Stockholm University, in the statement.
It’s been a big month for ancient cultures in very cold climates. A few weeks ago, the first evidence emerged that the mysterious human ancestors known as the Denisovans ever ventured beyond a single cave.
Originally published on Popular Mechanics