Patterns of change and continuity in ochre use during the late Middle Stone Age of the Horn of Africa: The Porc-Epic Cave record.
ABSTRACT: Ochre is found at numerous Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites and plays a key role in early modern human archaeology. Here we analyse the largest known East African MSA ochre assemblage, comprising 40 kg of ochre, found at Porc-Epic Cave, Ethiopia, spanning a period of at least 4,500 years. Visual characterisation of ochre types, microscopic identification of traces of modification, morphological and morphometric analysis of ochre pieces and modified areas, experimental reproduction of grinding processes, surface texture analysis of archaeological and experimentally ground ochre facets, laser granulometry of ochre powder produced experimentally on different grindstones and by Hamar and Ovahimba women from Ethiopia and Namibia respectively, were, for the first time, combined to explore diachronic shifts in ochre processing technology. Our results identify patterns of continuity in ochre acquisition, treatment and use reflecting both persistent use of the same geological resources and similar uses of iron-rich rocks by late MSA Porc-Epic inhabitants. Considering the large amount of ochre processed at the site, this continuity can be interpreted as the expression of a cohesive cultural adaptation, largely shared by all community members and consistently transmitted through time. A gradual shift in preferred processing techniques and motions is interpreted as reflecting cultural drift within this practice. Evidence for the grinding of ochre to produce small quantities of powder throughout the sequence is consistent with a use in symbolic activities for at least part of the ochre assemblage from Porc-Epic Cave.
Project description:Ochre is a common feature at Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites and has often been interpreted as a proxy for the origin of modern behaviour. However, few ochre processing tools, ochre containers, and ochre-stained artefacts from MSA contexts have been studied in detail within a theoretical framework aimed at inferring the technical steps involved in the acquisition, production and use of these artefacts. Here we analyse 21 ochre processing tools, i.e. upper and lower grindstones, and two ochre-stained artefacts from the MSA layers of Porc-Epic Cave, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, dated to ca. 40 cal kyr BP. These tools, and a large proportion of the 4213 ochre fragments found at the site, were concentrated in an area devoted to ochre processing. Lower grindstones are made of a variety of raw materials, some of which are not locally available. Traces of use indicate that different techniques were employed to process ochre. Optical microscopy, XRD, ?-Raman spectroscopy, and SEM-EDS analyses of residues preserved on worn areas of artefacts show that different types of ferruginous rocks were processed in order to produce ochre powder of different coarseness and shades. A round stone bearing no traces of having been used to process ochre is half covered with residues as if it had been dipped in a liquid ochered medium to paint the object or to use it as a stamp to apply pigment to a soft material. We argue that the ochre reduction sequences identified at Porc-Epic Cave reflect a high degree of behavioural complexity, and represent ochre use, which was probably devoted to a variety of functions.
Project description:Though many European Upper Palaeolithic sites document early examples of symbolic material expressions (e.g., cave art, personal ornaments, figurines), there exist few reports on the use of earth pigments outside of cave art-and occasionally Neanderthal-contexts. Here, we present the first in-depth study of the diachronic changes in ochre use throughout an entire Upper Palaeolithic sequence at Hohle Fels cave, Germany, spanning from ca. 44,000-14,500 cal. yr. BP. A reassessment of the assemblage has yielded 869 individual ochre artefacts, of which 27 show traces of anthropogenic modification. The ochre artefacts are from all Upper Palaeolithic layers, stemming from the earliest Aurignacian horizons to the Holocene. This wide temporal spread demonstrates the long-term presence and continuity of ochre use in a part of Europe where it has not been systematically reported before. The anthropogenic modifications present on the ochre artefacts from the Gravettian and Magdalenian are consistent with pigment powder production, whereas the only modified piece from the Aurignacian displays a possible engraved motif. The non-modified artefacts show that more hematite-rich specular ochres as well as fine-grained deep red iron oxide clays were preferred during the Gravettian and Magdalenian, while the Aurignacian layers contain a broader array of colours and textures. Furthermore, numerous other artefacts such as faunal elements, personal ornaments, shells, and an ochre grindstone further strengthen the conclusion that ochre behaviours were well established during the onset of the Aurignacian and subsequently flourished throughout the Upper Palaeolithic at Hohle Fels cave.
Project description:Investigations in the now-submerged cave systems on the Yucatán Peninsula continue to yield evidence for human presence during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Skeletal remains are scattered throughout the caves of Quintana Roo, most representing individuals who died in situ. The reasons why they explored these underground environments have remained unclear. Here, we announce the discovery of the first subterranean ochre mine of Paleoindian age found in the Americas, offering compelling evidence for mining in three cave systems on the eastern Yucatán over a ~2000-year period between ~12 and 10 ka. The cave passages exhibit preserved evidence for ochre extraction pits, speleothem digging tools, shattered and piled flowstone debris, cairn navigational markers, and hearths yielding charcoal from highly resinous wood species. The sophistication and extent of the activities demonstrate a readiness to venture into the dark zones of the caves to prospect and collect what was evidently a highly valued mineral resource.
Project description:We evaluate the cultural variation between the youngest Howiesons Poort layer (GR) and the oldest post-Howiesons Poort layers (RB-YA) of Sibudu Cave (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa). We first conducted a technological analysis, secondly we performed a cladistic study with all the technological traits and, finally, we compare the technological variability with other data from Sibudu (ochre, micromorphology, fauna and plant remains). The synapomorphies of the cladistical analysis show numerous lithic technological changes between the youngest Howiesons Poort and the oldest post-Howiesons Poort layers as previously concluded. However, some technological strategies that are present, yet uncommon, in the Howiesons Poort become abundant in the overlying layers, whereas others that were fundamental to the Howiesons Poort continue, but are poorly represented in the overlying layers. We further show that lithic technological strategies appear and disappear as pulses in the post-Howiesons Poort layers studied. Among the most notable changes in the post-Howiesons Poort layers is the importance of flake production from discoidal knapping methods, the unstandardized retouched pieces and their infrequent representation, and the higher than usual frequency of grindstones. We evaluate various hypotheses to explain the transformation of a Howiesons Poort formal industry to a more 'expedient' assemblage. Since no marked environmental changes are contemporary with the technological transformation, a change in residential mobility patterns seems a plausible explanation. This hypothesis is supported by the changes observed in stratigraphy, lithic technology, site management, ochre and firewood collection.
Project description:Compound adhesives made from red ochre mixed with plant gum were used in the Middle Stone Age (MSA), South Africa. Replications reported here suggest that early artisans did not merely color their glues red; they deliberately effected physical transformations involving chemical changes from acidic to less acidic pH, dehydration of the adhesive near wood fires, and changes to mechanical workability and electrostatic forces. Some of the steps required for making compound adhesive seem impossible without multitasking and abstract thought. This ability suggests overlap between the cognitive abilities of modern people and people in the MSA. Our multidisciplinary analysis provides a new way to recognize complex cognition in the MSA without necessarily invoking the concept of symbolism.
Project description:Ochre is the common archaeological term for prehistoric pigments. It is applied to a range of uses, from ritual burials to cave art to medications. While a substantial number of Palaeolithic paint mining pits have been identified across Europe, the link between ochre use and provenance, and their antiquity, has never yet been identified. Here we characterise the mineralogical signature of core-shell processed ochre from the Palaeolithic paint mining pits near Lovas in Hungary, using a novel integration of petrographic and mineralogical techniques. We present the first evidence for core-shell processed, natural pigment that was prepared by prehistoric people from hematitic red ochre. This involved combining the darker red outer shell with the less intensely coloured core to efficiently produce an economical, yet still strongly coloured, paint. We demonstrate the antiquity of the site as having operated between 14-13 kcal BP, during the Epigravettian period. This is based on new radiocarbon dating of bone artefacts associated with the quarry site. The dating results indicate the site to be the oldest known evidence for core-shell pigment processing. We show that the ochre mined at Lovas was exported from the site based on its characteristic signature at other archaeological sites in the region. Our discovery not only provides a methodological framework for future characterisation of ochre pigments, but also provides the earliest known evidence for "value-adding" of products for trade.
Project description:This work aimed to determine the influence of superfine grinding on the physicochemical properties of bulbs of Fritillaria unibracteata Hsiao et K.C. Hsia (BFU) powder. For this purpose, fine powder (FP) and two superfine powders (SPs) were obtained via superfine and conventional grinding methods. The properties of different powders were studied and compared. Compared with FP, SPs exhibited higher values in terms of the angle of repose, swelling capacity, ethanol extraction yield, total alkaloid content, and imperialine content, while lower values in terms of particle size and bulk density. Especially, the total alkaloid content of SP-I increased by 66.7%. Proper grinding is more conducive to reduce particle size and improve alkaloid content. FTIR analysis indicates that no new functional groups produced after superfine grinding. XRD analysis suggests that grinding treatment lead to decreases in the crystallinity. Therefore, superfine grinding displays immense potential in the BFU application.
Project description:Shulgan-Tash (Kapova) cave in southern Ural, Russia, is the easternmost European site hosting Late Paleolithic cave art. Most of the 195+ drawings catalogued in the cave are made with red natural pigment (ochre), and only a handful of drawings are made with charcoal, see "Catalogue of images" , "Höhlenmalerei im Ural: Kapova und Ignatievka; die altsteinzeitlichen Bilderhöhlen im sudlichen Ural," . "Constraining the ages of the Late Palaeolithic cave paintings in the Shulgan-Tash cave, Southern Urals, Russia" . None of the charcoal drawings were directly dated by 14C method so far. Black lines delineating a figure similar to the outline of a fox are known in the cave. Here we present data on the 14C AMS date of charcoal with which the lines were drawn. Calibration of the data was performed using the Bomb13NH1 dataset, see "Atmospheric radiocarbon for the period 1950-2010"  and the IntCal13 dataset, see "IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0-50,000 years cal BP" . The calibrated age distribution has maximum probability density (65.3%) between 1877 and 1918.
Project description:The Middle to Later Stone Age transition marks a major change in how Late Pleistocene African populations produced and used stone tool kits, but is manifest in various ways, places and times across the continent. Alongside changing patterns of raw material use and decreasing artefact sizes, changes in artefact types are commonly employed to differentiate Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) assemblages. The current paper employs a quantitative analytical framework based upon the use of neural networks to examine changing constellations of technologies between MSA and LSA assemblages from eastern Africa. Network ensembles were trained to differentiate LSA assemblages from Marine Isotope Stage 3&4 MSA and Marine Isotope Stage 5 MSA assemblages based upon the presence or absence of 16 technologies. Simulations were used to extract significant indicator and contra-indicator technologies for each assemblage class. The trained network ensembles classified over 94% of assemblages correctly, and identified 7 key technologies that significantly distinguish between assemblage classes. These results clarify both temporal changes within the MSA and differences between MSA and LSA assemblages in eastern Africa.
Project description:Evidence for specialised bone tools has recently been reported for the Middle Stone Age of North Africa [one], which complements similar finds of slightly younger age in South Africa [two, three]. However, until now scant reference has been made to lesser known tools also made of bone ('bone retouchers') that were employed specifically as intermediaries for working or refining stone artefacts, that are sometimes present in these assemblages. In this paper we describe 20 bone retouchers from the cave of Grotte des Pigeons at Taforalt in north-east Morocco. This is the largest stratified assemblage of bone retouchers from a North African MSA site, and the biggest single collection so far from the African Continent. A total of 18 bone retouchers was recovered in securely dated archaeological levels spanning a period from ~ 84.5 ka to 24 ka cal BP. A further two bone retouchers were found in a layer at the base of the deposits in association with Aterian artefacts dating to around 85,000 BP and so far represent the earliest evidence of this type of tool at Taforalt. In this paper we present a first, detailed description of the finds and trace the stages of their production, use and discard (chaîne opératoire). At the same time, we assess if there were diachronic changes in their form and function and, finally, explore their presence in relation to stone tools from the same occupation layers of the cave.