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Ochre Resources, Behavioural Complexity and Regional Patterns in the Howiesons Poort

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New Insights From Klasies River Main Site, South Africa

image of Journal of African Archaeology

The widespread use of ochre during Oxygen Isotope Stage 5 and 4 in South Africa has often been interpreted as reflecting complex behaviours amongst modern human populations. The Howiesons Poort is one of the most documented techno-complexes identified within this timeframe. It is associated with an intensification of a combination of innovative technical and symbolic behaviours. Despite the notable focus on ochre use, detailed analyses of Howiesons Poort assemblages in this respect are rare. New data on ochre exploitation from the Howiesons Poort of Klasies River main site are presented in this paper. We used non-destructive microscopic, colorimetric and chemical analyses (SEM-EDS, XRD) in order to describe the raw materials and the transformation of a selected sample from the Singer and Wymer ochre collection. This sample is composed of red and yellow ferruginous rocks (shale, ferricrete, siltstone and sandstone), along with whitish lumps (calcium phosphates). These lumps may have an anthropogenic origin and may be considered as pigments. Some of the red ochre pieces were probably deliberately heated. Our results enhance the impression of complexity emerging from the technical processes mastered by Howiesons Poort populations. Comparison with other Howiesons Poort ochre assemblages allows a discussion of regional variability and ‘connections’ between the sites. The scale and organization of social interactions in the Howiesons Poort are questioned.L’usage récurrent d’ocre rouge au cours des stades isotopiques 4 et 5 en Afrique du Sud a souvent été interprété comme un témoin de comportements complexes chez les populations d’Homme moderne. L’Howiesons Poort est l’un des technocomplexes associés à ce territoire et cette période parmi les mieux documentés. Malgré l’intérêt croissant porté aux vestiges d’ocre rouge dans ce contexte, l’analyse détaillée d’assemblages Howiesons Poort reste marginale. Nous présentons ici de nouvelles données sur l’exploitation de l’ocre rouge dans les niveaux Howiesons Poort de Klasies River main site. Les modalités de sélection et de transformation des matières premières ont été déterminées à partir de l’analyse technologique (marques de percussion, traces d’usure), colorimétrique, et physico-chimique (MEB-EDS, Difffraction de rayons X), d’un échantillon de la collection Singer et Wymer. Ce corpus est composé de roches ferrugineuses rouges et jaunes, ainsi que de fragments ou « boulettes » blanchâtres de phosphate de calcium. Ces objets pourraient avoir une origine anthropique et avoir été utilisés comme pigments. Plusieurs des objets rouges présentent des indices de chauffe, qui pourrait être intentionnelle. Nos résultats renforcent l’idée de complexité dans les procédés techniques maîtrisés par les populations Howiesons Poort. Une comparaison avec d’autres collections d’ocre Howiesons Poort permet de discuter de l’existence de variations régionales mais également de « connexions » entre sites. Cette comparaison ouvre de nouvelles questions sur l’échelle et la nature des interactions sociales entre groupes Howiesons Poort.This article is in English.

Affiliations: 1: Corresponding author ; 2: CNRS, PACEA UMR5199, Université de Bordeaux Allée Geoffroy Saint Hilaire, cs 50023, F-33615 Pessac CedexFranceInstitut Français d’Afrique du Sud 62 Juta street, JohannesburgSouth Africa ; 3: School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies & Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand JohannesburgSouth Africa ; 4: CNRS, UMR5060-IRAMAT, Université Bordeaux Montaigne PessacFrance


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