by Greg Mayer
A paper to be published tomorrow in Science by C.S. Henshilwood and colleagues reports the discovery of a 100,000 year old paint-making shop in a cave in South Africa. They found two abalone shells which had held a mixture of red ochre, animal marrow, and other ingredients, alongside stones and bones apparently used in mixing and perhaps applying the reddish paint.
Ochre has long been known to have been used by early man, and ocher associated with human occupation goes back hundreds of thousands of years. The current find demonstrates a very skilled and deliberate use of the pigment to produce a coloring agent. While carved art is much older, cave painting (such as at the famed caves of Altamira in Spain and Lascaux in France) dates back only to about 30,000 years ago. It’s not known if the paint was used for painting objects (like walls) or the human body. New York Times coverage here; BBC coverage here.
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Henshilwood, C.S., F. d’Errico, K.L. van Niekerk, Y. Coquinot, Z. Jacobs, S.-E. Lauritzen, M. Menu and R. García-Moreno. 2011. A 100,000-year-old ochre-processing workshop at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Science 334:219-222. (abstract)